Deakin’s Indigenous Knowledges Systems Lab is a space where Indigenous practitioners can apply their thinking and systems to different contexts around the world.

While promoting his book Sand Talk Dr Tyson Yunkaporta shared the following quote:

“…rarely do we see the sustainability of our world analysed by the Indigenous peoples whose patterns still flow with the movement of the earth.” 

Released in 2019, Sand Talk explores the connected methodologies of Indigenous thinking and how its application could help us develop new approaches to some of the world’s biggest challenges. 

Today, as a senior research fellow at Deakin University, Dr Yunkaporta is exploring how to create a space where Indigenous practitioners – not just academics – can come together and apply their thinking and their systems to different contexts around the world. 

“A lot of my research focuses on Indigenous cognition and Indigenous pedagogies; things like Indigenous governance models, economic systems,” Dr Yunkaporta says.  

By shifting our thinking to be about the knowledge that exists in connected systems, Dr Yunkaporta says we can solve a lot of the problems and issues we face on a global scale.

Solving the sticky and complex issues 

Sustainability is an area Dr Yunkaporta might classify as “sticky and complex” because it’s not just one issue – it’s many problems that together contribute to a global meta crisis.  

Only recently does Dr Yunkaporta feel sustainability has been taken seriously. 

“Not just criticising and critiquing these problems, like has happened for at least a decade, but actually getting in and trying to figure out ways of allowing new systems to emerge that will work better. 

“So, a lot of complexity theory and systems thinking is beginning to inform the way we meet these challenges around the globe. I think that presents a unique opportunity for our Indigenous communities and practitioners of ancient, complex thinking to really be able to make a massive contribution to this change.” 

The Indigenous Knowledges Systems Lab

Supported by a gift from Kearney Group, Dr Yunkaporta can spend his time setting up the Indigenous Knowledges (IK) Systems Lab. 

Originally pitched by Dr Yunkaporta more than a decade ago, the IK Systems Lab is a place Indigenous practitioners can work together to integrate Indigenous thinking and systems into other practices. 

Currently, Dr Yunkaporta is working on a variety of separate projects with different organisations and institutions.

This includes rolling out a virtual reality project as a resource for Australian schools; working with technology businesses on Indigenous business practices; an artificial intelligence protocol with Old Ways New and ANU; research projects and research translation through a podcast about Indigenous technology use with Telstra and RMIT, as Indigenous communities, like many other global communities, are late adopters to some of this technology. 

“I’m in a dialogue – quite a public dialogue – with a lot of people at the moment, as they think about new ways to leverage technology; to change the governance models that are currently running the world; how to change the institutions to make them better reflect our reality; alternative economic systems, currencies, things like that.” 

As these projects progress, the goal is for the IK Systems Lab to attract philanthropic support to continue to fund these projects and positions for other researchers. 

“A lot of people are very keen on speaking with Indigenous people and working with a better understanding of Indigenous Knowledge, because lots of these disciplines are built on a foundation of suppositions about what paleolithic life was like and what actually motivates human beings.”

The power of kinship

When donor and Kearney Group CEO Paul Kearney read Sand Talk he was looking to further develop his understanding about the myth of civilisation.

Working in financial services, Kearney was keen to better understand how communities interact in order to better service his clients and his employees.    

“One of the really powerful insights I got out of Tyson’s work was the concept of kinship, how real kinship is, and how the relationships are actually real things to be cultivated; not sort of background ideas that manage relationships while you’re trying to do your work – that the relationships are the work inside the organisation and outside the organisation,” Kearney says. 

Knowledge exists within the relationships we develop, and Kearney is invested in seeing how Dr Yunkaporta’s work can further establish kinship in society’s protocols and systems. 

“I felt I couldn’t sit back and sort of wait for [research] to try and take shape – we could act now and do our little bit to bring this into fruition and bring this to life,” Kearney says of his gift to support Dr Yunkaporta’s work.

Guided by the research towards a solution 

Australia, and many other countries, still have a long way to go before truly recognising Indigenous thinking. 

Dr Yunkaporta’s work is integral in helping protect this earth from destruction. 

His wish is to see IK Systems Labs pop up around the country and attract Indigenous thinkers from the country and the world, who bring their expertise and can infuse these systems into other projects to further develop our global solutions. 

With additional support, the goal is to bring in additional research fellows and grad students, as well as establish residencies for Indigenous knowledge keepers. 

This, Dr Yunkaporta says, will help us start to grapple with some of these ideas and see where the research can take us.  

Dr Tyson Yunkaporta is a Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges within the National Indigenous Knowledges Education Research Innovation (NIKERI) Institute at Deakin University.

Curious? Discover more about the IK Systems Lab.