Dust & Health of the Anindilyakwa People
The Groote Eylandt Archipelago is a pristine set of remote islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, home to both the Anindilyakwa people and one of the biggest Manganese mines in the world. A number of traditional family groups reside in several permanent communities spread across the Archipelago and into mainland Numbulwar.
One of these communities lies in close proximity to the mining operation. In response to poor early childhood development outcomes in this community, the Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) sought independent scientific advice as to whether possible metals in the dust from the surrounding mining operation might be a contributing factor. Based on the established relationship between the Wilson Performance Lab and the ALC Land & Sea Rangers operation through the Quoll research, we were the natural partner for this project.
Manganese and other heavy metals are essential elements in human health but can be toxic at elevated levels within the body. Some reported effects of metal toxicity include motor control deficits and reductions in cognitive functioning. By measuring levels of metal in the body, and performance in a range of motor and cognitive tests, we are investigating whether or not environmental pollutants are a health concern for the Anindilyakwa people.
Anindilyakwa people traditionally transfer knowledge orally and grow-up predominantly speaking their local Aboriginal language - Anindilyakwa. Across the Groote Archipelago and Numbulwar at least four languages are spoken: Anindilyakwa, Wubuy, English-based-Kriol and English. Levels of literacy vary greatly across these communities, and many Indigenous locals are unfamiliar with Western research practices. This presents an interesting challenge in terms of communicating with the Anindilyakwa people about the research project and collecting data in the communities . With regard to communication, we created bilingual multimedia (see sections from our information video below) and utilise friendly local liaisons to aid in two-way exchange of ideas about the study, ethical requirements and recruit potential volunteers. This has been an incredibly effective method, as it has sparked informed conversations and provided a clear consistent message about the science - essential to the success of this project.
Collecting biological samples can also be challenging in the Anindilyakwa context because of the local cultural beliefs. So after we show the bilingual information video about removing ID labels and handling of samples, volunteers can ask any questions and decide if and how we collect their hair & toenail samples for metal analysis.
Volunteers also complete a few short tasks measuring cognitive and motor performance. Due to the unfamiliarity with mainstream research techniques, we discovered most traditional standardised tests weren’t effective because of the lack of cultural relevance and inability to engage the local people, particularly kids. With this in mind we created some fun games on iPads/Tablets to measure the traits we were interested in.
See our blog for project updates & stories: