Indigenous women rangers earn responsible digital tech credentials

August 18th, 2023

With digital technologies and Elders’ guidance, Indigenous rangers are learning how to responsibly monitor important species and habitats on-Country, through the Healthy Country AI and Digital Impact Program.
Six women gathered in the Australian bush smile together. One holds a small dog in her lap and another, wearing a rangers uniform, holds a clipboard.
Celebrating the joint verification of Anthea Lawrence’s completion of the Healthy Country ‘Site Survey Using Drones’ digital badge. L-R: CDU-CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellow in Responsible Innovation Dr Jennifer Macdonald; Senior Daluk (women) elder and cultural authority, Lydia Lawrence; Mimal Woman Ranger Coordinator Lewellyn Moulin; Healthy Country AI and digital (HCA&D) training program co-leader Dr Cathy Robinson; Mimal Daluk (women) Ranger Anthea Lawrence; HCA&D team member Dr Justine Murray. Photo: Jackie Coates.

Indigenous rangers are learning to use digital technologies like drones and camera traps, to support their work monitoring important habitats and species on Country. Research collaborators are learning what Indigenous-led responsible innovation looks like in practice. 

Rangers can earn credentials in the form of “digital badges,” through the Healthy Country AI and Digital Impact Program – a partnership between CSIRO, North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) and Charles Darwin University (CDU). 

The Healthy Country Digital Monitoring badges are flexible, short-form courses that have been co-designed by a team of researchers, Indigenous rangers, and Elders.  

“These badges offer an accessible pathway to learn about responsible digital technology practice and reflects another example of the innovation and collaboration that is being supported by the CDU-CSIRO Northern Australia Research Alliance,” said CDU Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Ruth Wallace 

Culturally-safe learning, delivered on-Country

The courses deliver a culturally-safe learning experience, as Indigenous rangers master the use of digital technologies on Country. Technical trainers teach rangers to use drones, camera traps, video and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to collect data and track changes on Country over time. 

Each badge is authorised by an Indigenous senior authority, which ensures the monitoring technologies are used safely, responsibly, and for a clear purpose. For example, drones have been used to monitor the effectiveness of feral animal control, while camera traps can detect what wildlife is on Country.  

On offer are introductory and advanced badges for Site Survey Using Drones, and Site Survey Using Camera Traps. There are further courses in development on collecting and caring for data.  

A celebration of achievement 

Anthea Lawrence became the first person to earn the Site Survey Using Drones introductory digital badge, celebrating alongside researchers, Elders, rangers, and program staff during a workshop for digital women rangers Manmoyi, West Arnhem in the Northern Territory in May 2023.  

The completion of Anthea’s training was authorised by senior Elder and Mimal Ranger Lydia Lawrence, who confirmed that Anthea will use drones safely and responsibly on Country.  

Four women stand in the shade of a tree in West Arnhem Land, flying a drone which is silhouetted against the blue sky above.
Women Indigenous rangers learn and share their digital skills. Photo: Cathy Robinson.

Anthea showed such skill at using the drone that she confidently delivered peer-to-peer training to the other Indigenous women rangers at the workshop.  

“The main thing I love is the drone and learning from other women and their digital skills so we can all work together to tell stories about Country with data,” said Anthea.  

The digital badges give students an online record of their assessments and achievements, which they can share via social media and on personal or professional websites.  

CSIRO researcher and program co-leader Cathy Robinson said, “incorporating digital skills into Indigenous-led innovation can lead to effective ways of monitoring and managing the land.

The digital badge serves as a tangible reminder of these accomplishments, encouraging further collaboration and responsible practices involving researchers, rangers, Elders, and the Indigenous community.”  

Anthea and the West Arnhem Land and Kakadu Daluk (women) Rangers continue exploring how digital technologies like camera traps, touch GIS, and drones can be used in the right way to monitor significant species and habitats, while supporting Traditional Owners’ aspirations for their country. 

The Telstra Foundation is supporting this program. As CEO Jackie Coates explained, “offering culturally safe credentials as part of the Healthy Country AI training program is key to engaging more young Indigenous Rangers to learn new tech skills in AI and data.” 

The digital women ranger groups continues to grow, bringing Elders, rangers and researchers together to learn how to apply responsible AI and digital technology protocols on country, while respecting Traditional Owners’ aspirations for their land.