Looking Back to Forge Ahead


NAIDOC Week 2023 focused on honouring and recognising the pivotal role of Elders in First Nations communities and societies. The article emphasises the importance of learning from the unique ways of knowing and being that have evolved over 70,000 years in First Nations culture. Author Tyson Yunkaporta's book, "Sand Talk," introduces five interconnected frameworks of thinking or "open source" ways of knowing: Kinship mind, Story mind, Ancestor mind, Dreaming mind, and Pattern mind. The article calls for embracing these ways of knowing to address critical issues like sustainability and highlights the opportunity to engage with a uniquely Australian custodial way of thinking during a significant year for recognising the First Peoples of Australia.


NAIDOC Week 2023 celebrated the theme of 'For Our Elders,' acknowledging the pivotal role that Elders play in First Nations communities and societies. This celebration served as a reminder to all Australians to learn from and appreciate the rich culture that has evolved uniquely for over 70,000 years on this land. However, this rich history has faced significant challenges due to colonial occupation, disease, and government policies over the past two and a half centuries. These challenges have not only impacted First Nations communities but have also shaped how Australian society perceives and understands the First Peoples and their culture. In the face of critical global issues, particularly sustainability, there is much we can learn from the custodial relationship that First Nations people have with the land. Tyson Yunkaporta's book, "Sand Talk," introduces five interconnected frameworks of thinking, or "open source" ways of knowing, which can offer valuable insights for addressing contemporary challenges.

Yunkaporta's 5 Minds and Their Significance

Figure 1. Yunkaporta's 5 minds

In 'Sand Talk,' Tyson Yunkaporta presents five interconnected frameworks of thinking or "open source" ways of knowing: Kinship mind, Story mind, Dreaming mind, Ancestor mind, and Pattern mind. Each of these frameworks offers valuable insights into various aspects of knowledge and understanding.

  • Kinship mind: This framework emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and working within a system that values connectedness and relationships. It encourages considering collective good and inter-generational well-being when making decisions and taking actions.
  • Story mind: Storytelling and oral traditions are highlighted as crucial means of building values and understanding reality. Yunkaporta emphasizes the power of "yarning" and exchanging stories as a formative element in fostering innovation and creativity.
  • Dreaming mind: This framework encompasses abstract and spiritual knowledge captured through metaphors, art, song, language, and artifacts.
  • Ancestor mind: Ancestor mind represents a timeless state of mind that transcends time and space. Yunkaporta describes it as being "in the zone" or in an alpha wave state, where productivity flourishes as one taps into universal abundance.
  • Pattern mind: Pattern mind refers to the ability to recognise macro and micro trends and patterns across entire systems and histories. It allows for producing solutions to complex issues by understanding these patterns.

Embracing a Uniquely Australian Paradigm

The article challenges readers to consider these ways of knowing individually as well as in combination, with Pattern mind acting as a unifying framework. It suggests that, during a significant year in which Australians vote on recognising the First Peoples through a constitutional referendum, there is an opportunity for deeper engagement and adoption of a uniquely Australian custodial way of thinking and way of being. This could lead to profound changes in how society approaches critical issues and paves the way for a better future.


NAIDOC Week 2023's theme, 'For Our Elders,' emphasised the significant role played by Elders in First Nations communities and societies. It also called on broader Australian society to learn and appreciate the unique ways of knowing and being that have evolved over thousands of years. Tyson Yunkaporta's five interconnected frameworks of thinking provide valuable insights into understanding various aspects of knowledge, from kinship and storytelling to abstract spiritual knowledge and pattern recognition. Embracing these ways of knowing can offer new perspectives on addressing critical issues like sustainability. As Australia stands at a historic moment with a referendum to recognise the First Peoples, a deeper engagement with these custodial ways of thinking may pave the way for a more harmonious and enlightened future for all. By looking back and learning from the wisdom of the past, we have the opportunity to forge ahead and contribute to a better world.


Yunkaporta, T. (2019). Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.