NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Mediating relationships – creating ethical spaces for Indigenous storytelling

By Dr Romaine Moreton — Indigenous media production at the cultural interface is the ancient application of what is already known, an accumulation of knowledges gained through throughout millennia for the purpose of producing and reproducing Indigenous values of balance, harmony, and sustainability.

In the cosmologies of Indigenous peoples, we live in a world of constant flux, inhabiting multiverses rather than universes, where meaning and truths are multiple and co-existing, and the concept of property and ownership is foreign. Our stories are dynamic, living, and have agency. Stories in Indigenous cultural contexts are better understood as responsibilities rather than intellectual property and are fundamental principles in how Indigenous peoples articulate and express our experience of having emerged from the land, and how our identities and belonging are specific to place. This place-based understanding of Indigenous peoples use of knowledges, media and technologies have endured for millennia and continue into the present. It is this enduring cultural legacy of emerging from the land and deep belonging that is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP is an instrument that protects Indigenous peoples globally to be who we are, culturally, philosophically, cosmologically, and to practice our cultures daily. For this purpose, Pathways and Protocols: A Filmmakers Guide to Working with Indigenous People, Cultures and Concepts by Screen Australia and Terri Janke is intended to support filmmakers in navigating the complex, intersecting spaces of Indigenous knowledge systems and western knowledge systems, a space Dr Martin Nakata refers to as the “cultural interface”[1]. Filmmaking, radio and media production are very much an example of the cultural interface as stated by Nakata. Two key considerations to be explored in this essay, are Indigenous Knowledges (IK) and Indigenous Technologies (IT).

Blackfoot scholar Dr Leroy Little Bear discusses important definitions of Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Technology. Little Bear quoting Battiste and Henderson, defines Indigenous Knowledges (IK) as “… part of the collective genius of humanity. It represents the accumulated experience, wisdom and know-how unique to nations, societies, and or communities of people, living in specific ecosystems of America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania,” where “Knowledge is relational” and is about relationships[2]. In addition, Little Bear defines technology as the application of what is already known[3]. Given this, Indigenous media production at the cultural interface is the ancient application of what is already known, an accumulation of knowledges gained through throughout millennia for the purpose of producing and reproducing Indigenous values of balance, harmony, and sustainability. It is these principles and understanding that frame an online course designed by Drs Romaine Moreton and Lou Bennett. Based on our extensive practice-based research, myself and Dr Lou Bennett were commissioned by AFTRS in 2018 to design an online course based on Screen Australia and Terri Janke’s Pathways and Protocols document. What we found was a document that directed Indigenous and non-Indigenous media practitioners towards co-creating an ethical space of engagement[4].

An Introduction to Indigenous Media Ethics & Aesthetics is designed to introduce course participants to the historical emergence of Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property (ICIP) and its impact on Australian screen production. The course will bundle models of ethics and aesthetics for course participants to use as a tool kit when producing media with, for or about Indigenous peoples and communities. The ICIP protocols are widely used in Australia and are claimed to be an industry standard. The protocols have emerged through the global recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples, and their self-determining rights to their heritage and culture based on Indigenous knowledge systems embedded in relationships specific to lands, culture, and communities. The protocols are offered as a guide to inform production processes, and course participants will explore ICIPs within a philosophical framework and emergent Indigenous screen ethics and aesthetics to learn about the complexity of the materialisation, codification and commodification of Indigenous cultural knowledge in both Indigenous and settler colonial screen productions. In using a philosophical frame to explore the role of the Pathways & Protocols document and Janke’s precise articulation of the ICIPs, it is the intention of the course to use Indigenous inspired innovation to address how media technology has “… altered our relations to one another and to ourselves.”[5] The online curriculum shows the relevance of Indigenous knowledge’s and values that when applied to western media technology can be used to advocate for ecological balance by maintaining relationships with and responsibilities to land and each other.

[1] Nakata, Martin. DISCIPLINING THE SAVAGES, SAVAGING THE DISCIPLINES, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007, page 195

[2] Little Bear, L., (2009). Naturalizing Indigenous Knowledge, Synthesis Paper. (ISBN: 978-1- 926612-32-4) University of Saskatchewan, Aboriginal Education Research Centre, Saskatoon, Sask. and Indigenous and Adult Higher Education Consortium, Calgary, Alta, page 7

[3], accessed 22/8/2021

[4] Ermine, Willie. The Ethical Space of Engagement. Indigenous Law Journal/Volume 6/Issue 1/2007, page 193

[5] McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, MIT Press Edition, 1994, pages 7-8

Dr Romaine Moreton is Goenpul Yagerabul Minjungbul Bundjalung from Tjerangeri (Stradbroke Island) and what is now northern New South Wales. Romaine is the Director of First Nations & Outreach at AFTRS. She is an internationally recognised writer of poetry, prose and film. While a Research Fellow Filmmaker in Residence at Monash, she completed the powerful transmedia work One Billion Beats, that examined the historical representation of Aboriginal people in Australian cinema. Prior to that, she was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Newcastle and worked on a project about Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property in the digital space. With Dr Lou Bennett, Romaine has been working closely with AFTRS over the last two years on a first-of-its-kind Indigenous Curriculum for screen and broadcast, focussed through the lens of ethics and aesthetics.

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By Alejandra Canales and Susan Danta — It is truly an honour and privilege to collaborate with NiTRO to co-edit an edition on the topic of Collaboration and Authorship. The ideas for this topic grow out of a lecture series within the capstone subject in the Master of Arts: Screen at Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
By Professor Stacy Holman Jones — Collaboration, authorship and preparing a new generation of storytellers who critically question and ethically engage with knowledge systems and representations is at the heart of a new minor in critical performance studies at Monash University.
By Associate Professor Cathy Henkel and Isabel Turner — Diverse and equitable representation, both on and off screen, is the subject of considerable debate in the screen industry sector. Screen Australia’s Seeing Ourselves report (2016) was a milestone study in representation on screen and prompted the formation of Screen Australia’s Equity and Inclusion Strategy and multiple state and industry initiatives to foster a culture of inclusive story-telling.
By Associate Professor Sue Joseph — My first experience of a university ethics committee was as a candidate in the latter days of my doctorate, investigating voicelessness and the media. I was a new academic, teaching into the journalism school.
By Associate Professor Beata Batorowicz and Dr Linda Clark — Women-artists often encounter a “double-bind” which involves an irreconcilable social demand of being “too much or not enough” within their personal lives and professional careers (Catalyst 2007; Williams 2018). The pressures of juggling family responsibilities and career are further exacerbated by making this undertaking appear effortless, with this overall set up leading to never being “good enough.”
By Dr Karen Pearlman — Film industries have poor records of treatment, opportunities, and recognition of women (see Loist & Verhoeven 2019). The Screen Australia media release on Gender Matters of 15/10/2020 states that “we aren’t seeing enough meaningful change in the sector”. It calls for “cultural change” to address the gender equity issues in the screen industries.
By Dr Kath Dooley, Associate Professor Marsha Berry, Margaret McHugh, Professor Craig Batty and Professor James Verdon — In recent years, cultural movements such as #metoo and #OscarsSoWhite have drawn attention to low levels of diversity on screen and behind the camera in the global screen industries.
By Pearl Tan — The push for diversity in many arenas is stronger than ever. In higher education, one way this can manifest, is in higher numbers of students from diverse backgrounds. With more diverse student cohorts, it’s certain that teachers will encounter students who are telling stories from cultures that we do not have lived experience of or are intimately familiar with.
By EO Gill — As COVID-19 corrodes our creative industries, I find myself scrambling to identify anything that might signal a brighter future. At the same time, I am wary of pandemic-born states of panic, since rapid-response initiatives often work to further disenfranchise already vulnerable members of the arts community.
By Dr Julia Prendergast — Jared Diamond asked the acclaimed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) why Aristotle didn’t come up with the theory of evolution. Mayr’s answer was “Frage stellen” which Diamond translates as “a way of asking questions [sic]” (Byrne 2013).
By Anna Tow and Deborah Turnbull Tillman — In a world where there is daily anxiety around the economy, our health and public engagement, we offer a pedagogy that promotes resilience, self-reliance and employability. As Collaborator, Deborah Turnbull Tillman is curator concerned with disrupting conventional process and situating her students as expert in their own practice rather than as subjects within hierarchical models of curating.
By Rowan Woods and Dr Duncan McLean — Film school programs are only useful to students and industry if attention is paid to the winds of change surrounding screen authorship.