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The Indigenous Entrepreneur & STEM Pathways Project | Edition Three

Newsletter, June 3 2022


An update on our progress:

It's been a busy few months for the Indigenous Entrepreneur & STEM Pathways Project, with regional hub projects launching and lots of work going on behind the scenes.

Here is an overview of what we've achieved to catch you up on our work so far:



The project has also involved:

  • Seventy Indigenous girls at school

  • Forty-eight Indigenous women at TAFE & university

  • Fourteen Indigenous women in entrepreneurship

We can't wait to continue the work we're doing, with the hope that over time barriers to participation will be reduced and Indigenous women will be empowered to lead in the growth of the native ag + food sector.


Native grain growing on Yuin Country. Photo courtesy of Black Duck Foods


Food Sovereignty through an Indigenous-led native foods industry

An interview with Luke Williams


Luke Williams is a proud descendent of the Gumbaynggirr people of northern NSW.

He is currently completing his PhD research at RMIT University in Toxicology, which involves assessing the dietary safety of a range of native Australian foods, including traditional Aboriginal foods. He is also exploring how food regulatory frameworks can better accommodate traditional culture and knowledge into the overall risk assessment of traditional food products that are being developed for commercial markets.

As part of his PhD research, Luke is actively bringing together the research sector and the national food regulatory body, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) with a range of Aboriginal stakeholders. The ultimate goal of Luke’s research is to facilitate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander food sovereignty through an Indigenous-led native foods industry.


Hey Luke, could you provide a brief overview of your current research and what you're aiming to achieve?

My current research is looking at a range of native Australian foods, including Traditional Aboriginal foods, that are being developed for commercial food markets within Australia. I am working with Traditional Owner groups, Aboriginal owned businesses and the Aboriginal-led native foods industry body to ensure that these foods can safely be incorporated into today’s modern food markets.

There are two parts to my project. One part is taking the foods into the lab to begin developing a scientific evidence base that meets current food safety standards. The second part involves working closely with the national food regulatory body, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), to begin developing appropriate food safety assessment frameworks. This is because current frameworks for assessing Traditional Foods do not have the capacity to accommodate the unique history and culture held by the various Indigenous populations of the world, so we are keen to explore how we can develop these frameworks so that they are culturally appropriate for Traditional-Owners who wish to develop their food products for today’s markets.


Can you describe what First Peoples food sovereignty looks like/how it works?

First Peoples food sovereignty will be achieved when we have strong First Peoples-led value chains from paddock to plate. Currently, around 2% of revenue generated by the native foods industry makes it back to the First Peoples of Australia. This is not acceptable when the vast majority of native food products that are currently being sold on commercial markets are Traditional Aboriginal foods. There are many research groups and organisations working on various pieces that are going to make market access for First Peoples more accessible. In this vein, we need to congratulate FSANZ for recognising the problem within the regulatory system and taking action to make the regulatory pathway more accessible to First Peoples and their businesses.


In your view, what are some of the best ways for food regulatory frameworks to work together with First Nations people to ensure the acknowledgement of the history of native foods and cultural knowledge?

An important aspect when considering the safety of a traditional food is understanding how it has been used in the past, or its 'history of use'. Currently, food regulatory frameworks require documented evidence to prove this history of use. For Western cultures, this is usually no problem as Western history and culture has been documented and recorded in writing through time. However, Aboriginal people rarely recorded their history or culture in written form, instead passing on Traditional Knowledge through language, stories, art, and various other cultural expressions.

To successfully move forward, the regulatory requirements need to be able to accommodate this undocumented history of use held by First Peoples, while also ensuring that any traditional foods developed for commercial markets are going to be safe and healthy for the general population.

What do you view as the ongoing impact of a First Peoples-led native foods industry?

A strong and successful traditional food industry that is First Peoples owned and operated provides an opportunity for people to stay and work on Country and within Community. It provides an opportunity for people to practice their culture and care for food systems that the Old People have maintained for tens of thousands of years. It offers a greater opportunity for knowledge transfer through generations as Elders can pass on knowledge to younger people. Aside from the cultural elements, a successful industry also provides a means to participate in the Western economy, have a job, and begin working towards financial independence and stability.


Murnong growing on Black Duck Foods farm. Yuin Country


Regional Hub Feature: Central NSW

In our upcoming newsletters, we will be featuring each of our regional hubs and giving you the inside scoop on the day to day operations of each hub, their projects and the people that make it all happen. Introducing our Central NSW hub project coordinator, Holly Hoad!




Holly is a Wiradjuri woman, living and working on Wiradjuri Country in Dubbo, NSW. She oversees the operations and workings of the Central NSW hub, ensuring that projects are developed and run with the aim of promoting lasting systemic change and appropriate community consultation. We caught up with Holly to chat about all things Central NSW and how the projects are going.




Holly, what are your favourite parts about the Central NSW community and what do you think the community will gain from their involvement with this project?

Our Indigenous community is very strong and resilient. The community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are open and willing to try new opportunities and ways of doing business. We are feeling the effects of COVID-19 in the bush, and many people have already started to diversify themselves as employees or their business as entrepreneurs. I think it is an exciting time to roll out the program in our community – there are so many women who have started entrepreneurial ventures, and it is a great opportunity to support them, as well as develop these women as mentors for the future.

Can you outline some of the projects that are underway and upcoming in Central NSW?

We have a program underway with Narromine High School working with teachers and Aboriginal Education staff to build a native food garden and native bee hives, to increase the population of native bees in the area (which are currently endangered). We are working with the teachers to embed parts of the program into curriculum, with Year 7 & 8 Design and Technology students constructing the beehives and agriculture students in Years 9 & 10 learning about the native plants required to keep native bees healthy and thriving, as well as how to cultivate native plants. We also have plans to implement a native food program in the Year 11 & 12 Hospitality curriculum at Dubbo College Senior Campus and we’re working with Aboriginal Education and Engagement Officers at TAFE Dubbo to deliver programs to help Indigenous Women gain employment in the food industry, in line with community opportunity.


What are some of the benefits and challenges to working as the project coordinator in the Central NSW hub?

There are so many people already working with Indigenous students and entrepreneurs in this space and using the ‘Koori Grapevine’ has been a great way to engage with local entrepreneurs and other stakeholders. Someone always knows someone else trying to achieve a similar goal! Our rural location will always be a challenge - it affects our supply chains, our face to face communication and rapport building, and access to support and resources. As we build the programs and networks, so too will our capacity build and increase success and sustainability.

What do you envision for the Central NSW hub in 5 years' time?

Overall, I see a greater connection with Indigenous culture and knowledge within both Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. All stakeholders have been so interested in learning more and committed to doing what they can to embed culture into their businesses. There will be greater career opportunities for Indigenous people in our region, ensuring that our people can stay on Country to learn and work, and ultimately give back to community.


 

Native ag + food news

  • Native Foodways, one of the fantastic businesses supported by our project, has collaborated with a local Indigenous-led business to deliver food using bush food recipes to flood-affected communities. SBS News

  • Cosmos Magazine put together a round up of some of the best stories about Indigenous science and scientists in 2021. Cosmos Magazine

  • A podcast featuring Wiradjuri scholar Professor Mark McMillian, documenting his latest project to create and supply Indigenous Gourmet Popcorn, called 'Uncle Charlie's Tastes of Country' and using Australian native foods and botanicals for flavours, into the Australian Snack Food market. ABC News

 

This project received grant funding from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science Energy and Resources through the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship Round 3 program


We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present.

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