Framework 85 Using Australian Indigenous Knowledge as a Basis to Change (includes 5 Appendices)


Please note: this a Non-Indigenous person's attempt to develop a framework for change by applying principles used in Indigenous cultural practices. The work of Tyson Yunkaporta (Sand Talk, 2019) is the main source material and he observes

"... Indigenous knowledge is constantly under threat from......amendments and misinterpretations, from within and without..."

Tyson Yunkaporta, 2019

In this framework we endeavour to accurately convey the strengths and specific disciplines utilised in traditional Indigenous communities as a basis for cohesive change.

At the same time, we need to be careful of generalising, stereotyping, translations, etc

Some core elements of this approach for change management:

- everything is connected (the land, sea, rivers, animals, people, plants, etc are all interconnected and depend upon each other)

- custodians, not owners (managers of resources for future generation benefit, etc; not for exploitation now)

- encourage harmony (live in harmony rather than exploit resources, situations, people, etc)

- relationships paramount (maintaining the right relationships with people is more important than completing tasks, ie people-orientated rather than task-orientated)

- respect LORE (respecting traditional knowledge based around 'share, care and respect the land, the people and the environment' rather than enact parliamentary laws, rules and regulations)

- knowledge transfer (passing of traditional knowledge and wisdom from senior members to younger generations)

- respect all points of view (irrespective of your own views show respect to different points of view irrespective of their basis)

- reciprocity (sharing rather than hoarding; community rather than individual focus)

- storytelling/yarning (way to pass on knowledge and wisdom; educating younger generations)

- reality focus (focus on what is happening now, ie real time; real-life; doing rather than talking)

- heterarchical structure (informal sharing of power and authority; networks of common interest; non-hierarchical)
- induction
(introduction process to LORE)

- hybridisation (organic patterns of creation and improvement)

- negotiations (consensus)

- community focus (all activities)

- context (place is important), etc(for more core elements and details see Appendices 1, 2 & 3 at the end of this framework)

Words (potential ambiguity and confusion)

In using this framework, there are some words in the Indigenous languages have no direct translation and/or equivalent meaning in English. So great care needs to be exercised when attempting to describe in English something from Indigenous culture. An example is the word non-linear. The Aboriginal notion of time has been described as "non-linear" in English - but the Indigenous language does not have a word meaning "non-linear".

"...nobody would consider traveling, thinking or talking in a straight line in the first place. The winding path is just how a path is, and therefore it needs no name.......many stories to tell us how we must travel and think in free ranging it will be stories, imagery and yarns......with meaning being made in the meandering paths between words, not the isolated words themselves..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(for more examples see Apppendix 4 at the end of this framework)


Consider the following 5 forms of Australian Indigenous Knowledge by putting yourself in the shoes of an Indigenous person as a basis to think differently, ie

i) kinship-mind (a way of thinking and learning that depends upon linking knowledge through relationships & connections with people and places, eg construct a network map to highlight who you are most connected to in your organisation/community, etc)

ii) story-mind (using narratives, storytelling, etc to carry and transmit knowledge, eg, use storytelling to get your message across, etc)

iii) dreaming-mind (deals in metaphors - images, songs, dances, words, objects, yarning, drawing, gestures, rituals, culture, etc, eg use mind mapping to explore concepts, etc)

iv) ancestor-mind (a transcendental way of thinking that is about connecting with a timeless state of mind, eg use history mapping and/or history trip to understand the background of the organisation)

v) pattern-mind (finding patterns and trends, and using them to make big picture predictions and finding solutions, eg use tools like PESTLE to understand the bigger picture, driving forces analysis, etc)

Tyson Yunkaporta's diagram below summarises his book and exploring the 5 forms of Australian Indigenous Knowledge




More on each of these 5 forms of Australian Indigenous Knowledge from the book entitled Sand Talk:

i) kinship-mind

"...kinship-mind is a way of improving and preserving memory in relationships with others. If you learn something with or from another person, this knowledge now sits in the relationship between you. You can access the memory of it best if you are together, but if you are separated you can recall the knowledge by picturing the other person or calling out their name. This way of thinking and remembering is not limited to relationships with people. The kinship-mind symbol shows the connectedness between two things - places or people or knowledge or any combination of these.......the two distinct entities form a pair, connected via a relationship......each entity is connected out to a multitude of other peers and so the relationship is dynamic, responsive to shifting contexts. There is a tension and balance maintained between individuality of each entity in each pair and their interdependence in a network of about relationships and connectedness......there are no isolated variables - every hour must be considered in relationship to other elements in the context. Areas of knowledge are integrated, not separated......the relationship......facilitates shared memory and sustainable knowledge systems..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

As a generalisation, the Non-Indigenous education system is good at technical development and achievements like putting a man on the moon, building a smart phone, performing complicated surgical operations like organ transplants, developing the Internet of Things, etc but not very good at building relationships, as witnessed by the number of major conflicts over the centuries in Non-Indigenous society, eg WW 1 & 2. At the same time, the Non-Indigenous education system

"...has no special powers in terms of many important matters such as promoting constructive human relationships, controlling industrial greed and maintaining ethical systems. It may even have harmed industrial societies in the sense that, for example, it has allowed us to trivialise alternative forms of learning and self-knowledge, such as intuition, mysticism or religious experience..."

Stephen Harris 1992

In Indigenous culture, relationships are paramount in everything, eg Indigenous groups are 

"...more concerned about maintaining respect for each other and keeping the unity of the group.......harmonious relationships are more important than being on time..."

Stephen Harris 1992

The important things are the forces for connection in the relationships.

For example, in knowledge transmission, there can be no exchange or dialogue until the protocols on establishing relationships are established.

The important questions for developing the relationship are

"...- Who are you?
- Where are you from?
- Where are you going?
- What is your true purpose here?
- Where does the knowledge you carry come from and who shared it with you?
- What are the applications and potential impacts of this knowledge on this place?
- What impacts has it had on other places?
- What other knowledge is it related to?
- Who are you to be saying these things?..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

"...Relationships between systems are just as important as the relationships within them. Oral tradition is grounded in profound relationships which represent a way of thinking that backs up knowledge in biological peer-to-peer networks......It also mixes things up cognitively and allows the brains to wire itself in more healthy ways..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(for organisations this is about relationships and networks within the organisation and associated stakeholders - includes diversity)

ii) story-mind (see more details in section on story-telling)

"...about the role of narrative in memory and knowledge transmission. It is the most powerful tool for memorisation, particularly when connected meaningfully to place. This is how song lines have worked in Australia for millennia to store knowledge in stories mapped in the land and reflected in the night sky. it includes yarning as a method of knowledge production and transmission..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

Part of this is yarning

"...yarning is more than just a story or conversation in Aboriginal culture - it is a structured cultural activity that is recognised even in research circles as a valid and rigourous methodology of knowledge production, enquiry and transmission. It is a ritual that incorporates elements such as story, humour, gesture and mimicry for consensus-building, meaning-making and innovations. It references places, relationships and is highly has protocols of active listening, mutual respect and building on what others have said rather than openly contradicting them or debating their is non-linear......all things are diverse themes and topics that often returning to revisited ideas in ways that find connections and correlations between diverse sets of data that otherwise not be found in more analytical modes of dialogue......the endpoint of the yarn is a set of understandings, values and directions shared by all members of the group in a loose consensus that is inclusive of diverse points of view..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

Yarning involves narratives like sharing of anecdotes, stories and experiences from live reality. Sharing food and drinks is often part of the ritual, as is sharing cultural activities like painting, weaving, cooking, etc. It is best done where everyone can see everybody else like in a circle; this removes hierarchical barriers and the need to be in front of an audience
"...Yarns and yarning can be more than tools to enhance memory and engagement. They can be a disruptive innovation that is empowering and liberating when transformed to contemporary media..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(for organisations this is about using stories, etc to explain situations and understand messages)

iii) dreaming-mind

It is all about using metaphors to work with knowledge (abstract, tangible, etc).

Involves communication by metaphors between physical and non-physical world via images, dance, song, language, culture objects, rituals, gestures, etc.

Feedback loop must be linked with practical action.

"...even written word is a metaphors and helps carry communications between abstract and practical realms......metaphors are the language of a secular view of reality as a relationship between theory and practice..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(for organisations this is about visioning, ie where you want to be in the future and how you are going to get there)

iv) ancestor-mind

" all about the engagement, connecting with a state of mind or 'alpha wave state', an optimal neural state of learning......reached......through Aboriginal cultural activities. It is characterised by complete concentration, engagement and losing track of linear time......can involve immersive visualisation and extra-cognitive learning such as revealed knowledge in dreams and inherited knowledge in cellular memory..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

"...this means tapping into ancestral knowing that is intuitive and inherent, stored in the body and the land and in the spirit, access to a peak mental state that allows new knowledge to be absorbed at a phenomenal rate......can be achieved through cultural activities like carving, painting, weaving, fencing, and any preparation for ritual or ceremony. It makes you completely open to new and old knowledge..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

" close your eyes and relax, gradually coming into a deep state of ancestor-mind focus, while you go through a vivid imagining of a process or a story. In this activity, there are no limits to what you might experience......Use rhythmic language where possible, alliteration and rhythm with repetition - these are the devices oral cultures around the world have always used to assist in transformative application of spoken texts. These devices survive mostly in poetry and song today but have lost their true place in complex knowledge transmissions..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(for organisations this is about building on the past as a foundation for the future)

v) pattern-mind, ie around Indigenous pattern-thinking to critique contemporary systems (not the usual cause-effect situation of the Non Indigenous way of thinking)" about seeing entire systems and the trends and patterns within them, using these to make accurate predictions and find solutions to complex is about true holistic, contextual reasoning......links back to the beginning, to the first symbol of kinship-mind, to the assertion that everything is interconnected..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

" the skill of seeing a whole and not just the parts, a big picture understanding of how things work. If you can see the whole system and you have a map of it in your head, and you can see the cause-and-effect relationships between every tiny detail..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

"...about seeing the overall shape of the connections between things. Look beyond the things and focus on the connection between them. Then look beyond the connections and see the patterns they make. Find the sites of potential risk increase......trends and surprises emerge within the whole design, and what seems like chaos has patterns and shapes that you can only discern with a holistic view"

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

"...Contemporary science is beginning to understand this way of knowing through chaos theory, complexity theory, network theory and fractal geometry. It is becoming clear that complex systems are adaptive, self-organising and patterns with a logic that can be discerned and used for trend analysis and predictive technologies. Second-wave automation, artificial intelligence and block chain's technologies seek to harness this complexity. But it is a complexity that cannot function through external design and control..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(for organisations this is about acknowledging, honouring and then building on the past plus understanding the trends, relationships and their impact and ensuring that a cohesion envelops the whole organisation; it is in contrast to a compartmentalised, fragmented approach is)

In summary

"...think about what it means through each - vast complexities of our kinship system and country; the way our stories form intricate webs like maps cross country: the images, objects and other metaphors we use to communicate across multiple cultural groups: the ancestral practices and phenomenal feats of concentration required to achieve all of this......think about the big picture meaning of kinship-mind and story-mind together as an intellectual practice......think about the pattern and purpose of that relationship, of the generative link between dreaming-mind and story-mind, the story as an extended metaphor......reflect on the link between dreaming-mind and ancestor-mind, the way cultural activities in peak mental states give rise to metaphors that make meaning and transfer that knowledge with integrity and intensity..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019


Mastery of Indigenous Epistemology (ways of knowing) demands being able to see beyond the object of study, to seek a viewpoint incorporating complex contextual information and group consensus about what is real. This is the difference between oral and print-based cultures......They have no isolated variables: all thinking is dependent on the field for context. Print-based cultures, by contrast, are low-context or field-independent reasoning cultures. This is because they remain independent of the field or context, focusing on ideas and objects in isolation..."

Tyson Yunkaporta 2019

(sources: Tyson Yunkaporta 2019; James Fernyhough 2019; Stephen Harris, 1992; Jennie Teasdale et al, 1992)


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