A collaborative painting from Aboriginal Yamaji Artists from Western Australia and a collaborative quilt from South African indigenous artists exposed at the Shared Sky exhibition. Left: © 2014 Yamaji Art Centre. Right: © 2014 Bethesda Foundation. All rights reserved.
The SKA is committed to the sustainable development of the project across the globe, with a particular focus on building partnerships with Indigenous and local communities at the remote sites where the dishes and antennas will be located.
In South Africa, the Karoo region in which SKA1-Mid will be built was walked by the early ancestors of the San people, one of the most ancient civilizations on the planet. In 2017, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with representatives of the San people that is structured around the protection and promotion of San culture and heritage, as well as the development of San youth. The San were also involved in ecology and heritage studies conducted as part of the strategic environmental assessment required to construct the SKA in the Karoo. More broadly, the SKA and its precursor MeerKAT now located on the SKA1-Mid site are important vehicles for human capital development across a variety of demographics on the African continent. For example, 90% of Karoo-based MeerKAT staff originate from local communities, while the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) project has provided radio astronomy and data science training to hundreds of students in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.
SKA1-Low in Australia will be located on the traditional lands of the Wajarri Yamaji in the Mid West Region of Western Australia. It is an ancient landscape on which some of the oldest rocks on Earth have been identified, along with evidence that the Wajarri Yamaji have lived on this land for tens of thousands of years. In 2009, the Australian Government entered into an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the Wajarri Yamaji that provides them a range of financial and non-financial benefits in exchange for their consent to establish the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO) on their traditional lands, on which the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) now sit. Negotiations are currently underway for a new ILUA for the SKA1-Low Design Baseline Telescope, with a focus on sustainable and intergenerational benefits for the Wajarri Yamaji that build upon the existing relationship and the lessons learned from the MRO ILUA. Wajarri Yamaji heritage and its protection at the SKA site is of critical importance, and walkthroughs of the land since 2018 have already resulted in modifications to the SKA1-Low station locations to preserve culturally significant areas.
Building partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and local communities at the SKA sites is part of a larger initiative to maximize the global societal impact of the project by contributing to a variety of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and related activities will be resourced by the Director General’s office of the Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) that will build and operate the SKA.