Using indigenous thinking to solve economic problems

Wednesday 7th April 2021 Penny Pryor

Senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledge at Deakin University and author of Sand Talk, Tyson Yunkaporta, is working with chief executive officer of financial planning organisation Kearney Group, Paul Kearney, to research ways in which indigenous thinking and practices can be applied to solve some of the major economic problems of our time.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab

Kearney has provided seed funding to catalyse the development of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab at Deakin University's NIKERI Institute (National Indigenous Knowledges Education and Research Institute).

Kearney says he sought out Yunkaporta after reading Sand Talk, which led him to see the myriad of potential solutions to the world’s problems buried in indigenous thinking.

“I was at the tail end of a series of reading I was doing, and I stumbled across Tyson Yunkaporta’s book, which I have to say is so densely packed with wisdom and insight,” Kearney said.

“The different perspectives and way of looking at the world was so utterly compelling. I can’t say I’ve ever read anything that’s had the same impact on me.”

Economic problem solving

Yunkaporta stresses that indigenous knowledge is collective knowledge and to this end, the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab will develop a strong team of indigenous researchers through programs and residencies for elders and knowledge keepers.

He says that indigenous thinking can be used to address issues such as The Tragedy of the Commons, where individuals in an economic system pursue personal gain at the expense of the community, resulting in over-consumption and a depletion of resources.

“It’s how do you remove the element of competition from economic and governance systems in a way that people are still going to be highly motivated,” Yunkaporta says.

“If we resolve that economic problem of The Tragedy of the Commons and we find a way to have people thrive economically and remain productive without having to be rivalrous.”

Through this kind of thinking, Yunkaporta also wants to offer alternatives to the bigger global systems that are threatening indigenous communities.

Circuit breaker

Kearney hopes that Yunkaporta’s indigenous knowledge approach and perspective might serve as a circuit-breaker and help interrupt the trajectory on which humans currently find themselves.

“I think Tyson is one of the more important minds and voices in the world,” he says.

For Kearney, the investment is the ultimate in impact investing. It is investing in the long-term future of the world.

“So much of our investing is so short term … as investors we need to have a much longer time framework [that] we need to have impact over,” he says.

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