Thursday, August 4, 2022
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Learning from Indigenous science

REDFERN: Associate Professor Joanne Jamie of Macquarie University’s Department of Molecular Sciences is enthusiastic about Indigenous science, convinced of its importance and value. The SSH met with Ms Jamie at the recent National Science Week and Sydney Science Festival event, the Indigenous Science Experience, held at the Redfern Community Centre.

Ms Jamie is the coordinator of the National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP), set up to “build self-belief in Indigenous youth and make them leaders, using science to do so.

“From Indigenous science we have learned – and may yet learn – to manage our environment and to recognise the value of Australian Aboriginal ‘bush’ foods and medicines,” Ms Jamie said.

NISEP was started in collaboration with Elders of Yaegl country (in northern NSW). Bush medicine has long been of interest to Ms Jamie, whose own research has focussed on the natural chemical compounds found in medicinal plants and their efficacy.

“Many contemporary approaches to health and wellbeing draw on the knowledge of Indigenous people,” Ms Jamie said. “Globally many of our current medicines actually derive from such medicinal plant knowledge. In the case of Australian Aboriginal medicinal plant knowledge, there is much untapped potential.”

The Associate Professor knows that bush foods and bush medicines can really benefit our health. She believes, in consultation with Elders who are the custodians of ancient knowledge, there is a real opportunity to provide benefits for Aboriginal communities and wider society. She also sees value in supporting Indigenous youth.

“Our Indigenous youth are the leaders of the future. NISEP is about Indigenous youth recognising and reaching their potential, using science to put them in leadership roles, excel in their studies and throughout their lives,” she said.

His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley, Governor of NSW, who attended the event, recognises the importance of science to students, and in particular Indigenous students who are benefiting from the education program. “We are trying to attract young Aboriginal kids, encouraging them to stay in school … we have youngsters here who have had brothers and sisters go through this program – they’re now looking to continue into tertiary education,” he said.

Maclean High, in Yaegl country, is just one of the schools benefiting from the program. Maclean High School teacher Krystle Jurd, who teaches humanities and Aboriginal studies, said: “It’s been a really productive program, we’ve seen more kids at the school engaging with courses. We’re also seeing a high completion of the Higher School Certificate with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait students.”

Ms Jurd’s work is recognised by the Department of Education and she has received an award for teaching excellence.

“The program is giving us opportunities to learn about our culture through science,” said Maclean High student Melanie, aged 16. “Instead of just listening to teachers we are able to demonstrate to our community through science.”

Fellow student Toby is fascinated by genetics and biology. William wants to go further into emergency services and Rebecca wants to study diabetic medicine and education. “If you get an opportunity, take it, even if it scares you,” one student exclaimed.

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