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By Bronwyn Fox 27 May 2022 4 min read

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are part of the longest continuous living culture on the planet. This is incredibly special and something for all Australians to treasure. At the national science agency, we recognise the extraordinary contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made to our economy, our culture, and to science.

Science is about better understanding the world we live in, and Indigenous Australians have always held a deep understanding and connection to Country. There is so much we can learn from this knowledge, and so much we can achieve through partnership.

But it's not just about science. Reconciliation is everybody’s business, and our latest Reconciliation Action Plan[Link will open in a new window] (RAP) emphasises this.

Our plan focuses on three areas:  relationships, respect and opportunities. It's a critical document for us, and as CSIRO's Chief Scientist[Link will open in a new window], I am proud to be championing it.

We still have a long way to go, but I want to share what we are doing on the road towards reconciliation.

Our plan for reconciliation

Our RAP is a comprehensive plan so we can play our part in advancing reconciliation in Australia. For that to happen we must achieve our aims. It’s great to have a plan, but I am all about execution. And we’ve got a lot of work to do to achieve the 90 deliverables we have committed to.

To track and measure our progress we will use weavr – an Indigenous-created digital reporting tool. It will help us identify opportunities and challenges throughout the process so we can keep moving forward.

I’m especially excited that engagement is a measure of success. As a scientific organisation, we are naturally focused on outcomes. But the way we engage to achieve an outcome is an important part of our work, especially when we are talking about Indigenous communities.

Improving our engagement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will both further reconciliation and help us improve our science outcomes through greater partnership and understanding.

Indigenous engagement is front and centre

One of our RAP deliverables is to double the number of people working at CSIRO who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. This is an important milestone and will bring our total up to three per cent of CSIRO people.

To help support this, we've added an Acknowledgement of Country at the start of all our recruitment ads[Link will open in a new window]. This is the first step to helping us achieve our recruitment deliverable. We think we may be the first Australian organisation of our size to be leading job ads like this. We're also recruiting for several Indigenous-identified roles as part of our current ‘Impossible without you' campaign[Link will open in a new window].

Recognising local cultural knowledge and history is also crucial to building respect and relationships. For example, our Parkes radio telescope was honoured in 2020 with a traditional name[Link will open in a new window] chosen by Wiradjuri Elders. It received the name Murriyang, which represents the ‘Skyworld’ where a prominent creator spirit of the Wiradjuri Dreaming, Biyaami (Baiame), lives. Two smaller telescopes at our Parkes Observatory also received Wiradjuri names.

Over two years, we worked in collaboration with Wiradjuri Elders, the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and the North West Wiradjuri Language and Culture Nest on the telescope naming project. By giving the telescopes traditional names, we acknowledge the astronomical knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Wiradjuri language.

Empowering Indigenous-led science

Our aspiration is to integrate more Indigenous-led science into our research programs, and to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to ensure that Indigenous voices are included in everything we do.

We need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander science leaders and programs to create opportunities for Indigenous youth. The Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy[Link will open in a new window] is building this successful future.

In collaboration with CareerTrackers, the program received $20 million from the National Indigenous Australians Agency to design and deliver a national 10-year program. The program is for high achieving female students from Year 8 through to higher education and graduate employment.

There are currently 330 young women participating in the Academy, including 87 at university. Late last year, we held a celebration for Year 10 Academy students in far north Queensland to acknowledge reaching an important milestone in their education. The graduation was a wonderful way to bring everyone together. It acknowledged the hard work put in by the young women and the important role their families, teachers and schools play in supporting them.

Their final message to other young women was this: “Be brave. Ask for help. Reach for the stars. You are deadly!” I was so inspired by that and continue to be inspired by the incredible young women in the program.

Nothing would make me happier than to welcome them to the national science agency one day.

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