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Trans-Tasman collaboration builds cross-cultural engagement

By Leanne Coleman

Maori Relations Advisor Alby Marsh, Northern Institute Director Professor Ruth Wallace and Elder on Country Kathy Gothadjaka Maori Relations Advisor Alby Marsh, Northern Institute Director Professor Ruth Wallace and Elder on Country Kathy Gothadjaka

Improving community engagement and sharing ceremonial and cultural processes to improve engagement with Indigenous groups was the focus of a visit by a delegation from New Zealand to Charles Darwin University’s Northern Institute recently.

Aboriginal Researchers from the Northern Institute are working on a collaborative community engagement program with the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited.

The project is working towards sharing knowledge to improve and evaluate methods for engaging Indigenous communities in science and innovation, particularly in relation to recognising and responding to biosecurity risks to traditional crops.

Maori Relations Advisor Alby Marsh said the visit to the Territory had been valuable from a cross-cultural perspective.

“We visited several Aboriginal groups in northern Australia and learnt about their culture,” Mr Marsh said. “We were also able to share our Maori cultural engagement experience.”

Mr Marsh said the Plant & Food NZ team had worked on several biosecurity projects with Maori people and there were key cultural activities to consider.

“We have been working to assist organisations to better engage with Maori communities and to help start conversations about working collaboratively, particularly in relation to biosecurity incursions,” Mr Marsh said.

“In Maori, “Powhiri” is the process by which strangers are introduced to each other and precedes any meetings, or consultation. It involves a welcoming ceremony, where histories and food are shared and representatives talk more freely about why they wish to meet with Indigenous people. It is also important to ask the Indigenous communities about their related problems and how to work towards a solution.

Northern Institute’s Dr Payi Linda Ford said it was invaluable to have several Indigenous ceremonial traditions come together for the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre project: Program 4: Secure Futures.

“It is important for communities to discuss their own cultural ways of engagement before developing tools to work in the biosecurity of Australia and NZ’s plant and food industries,” Dr Ford said.