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Tech Initiative to Help Indigenous Rangers Digitalise

Image Credits: CSIRO, Press Release

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) and CSIRO, in collaboration with The philanthropic arm of an Australian telecom, an American IT company, the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Resilient Landscapes Hub and the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program, unveiled the initiative which enables local Indigenous rangers to work with scientists and technology specialists to learn and use new inclusive AI and digital skills to monitor the health of their country.

With a focus on digital inclusion, the collaboration will see Indigenous rangers, tech companies and national research organisations working together to co-design a digital skills training program that will deliver environmental, cultural, and economic benefits for local Indigenous communities and land management.

The North Australian Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) today announced a unique partnership between major digital technology and communications companies research institutions and Indigenous organisations to bring leading-edge technology to the bush.

A new training program will build on the award-winning Healthy Country AI partnership co-developed with Traditional Owners, NESP scientists and Microsoft, which is a world-first program that mixes responsible artificial intelligence and modern science with traditional knowledge to solve complex environmental management problems, and care for animal species and habitats.

Photo: Interactive data dashboard to explore weed coverage changes after management. Source: CSIRO, Press Release

The NAILSMA CEO welcomed this funding boost from the Healthy Country AI partners and says, this initiative will advance the important data collection and work Indigenous rangers are already doing.

He noted that for Indigenous land managers, the success of new technology is measured through its on-ground application. We want this technology to provide Indigenous rangers with useful solutions to the problems they have identified.

If it’s basic digital literacy skills that the rangers want, then that’s what will be created, all the way up to introducing advanced training modules such as drone surveying, to collecting and storing that important data using specialised software, he added.

Five Indigenous organisations will help develop this program working across Cape York and the Northern Territory managing over 3 million hectares of globally important ecosystems and cultural landscapes. Now, work can also be directly done with these 5 Indigenous organisations and prioritise what the values are for their country.

Modern partnerships require new skill sets for both Indigenous people and their partners and we need to think carefully about the role of technology in the country. The advancement of digital technology can help transform the way Indigenous land managers look after the country.

The Operations Director of one of the local groups that have committed to embedding the training into their day-to-day operations noted that the training program is important to ensure that people are doing all elements of this work from land management activities to managing data and reporting.

The philanthropic arm of an Australian telecom, in collaboration with an American IT company and the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program, is proud to support this training initiative.

The Head of the foundation noted that Australia’s First Nations people have been successfully innovating for tens of thousands of years to create environmental, wellbeing and cultural outcomes. The partnership is about working together to enhance digital skills so that more First Nations communities can use digital technologies in their caring-for-Country activities, in line with the wisdom of traditional Indigenous knowledge systems, she said.

Dr Justin Perry (NAILSMA), Dr Cathy Robinson (Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO), and Dr Jennifer Macdonald (CDU-CSIRO) will coordinate the on-ground digital training for the healthy Country monitoring program, which will be co-designed to suit local contexts and empower Indigenous rangers to build critical digital skills for future work on Country.

This collaboration will enable Indigenous rangers to drive and develop AI and digital support tools to support evidence-based decisions on their Country and also provide critical digital skills for future work on Country.

It was noted that a core aspect of this effort is Indigenous custodians and scientists working together to develop new ways and skills to apply science and Indigenous knowledge to produce practical solutions for conserving precious ecosystems. The initiative will roll out steadily over the next two years and a review of the initiative will assist in creating a model for rangers across the country to adopt.


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