Katherine Aigner

PhD Candidate
National Centre for Indigenous Studies

Katherine has worked as a historian, filmmaker and ethnologist with cultural Elders and knowledge holders around Australia and overseas on issues of cultural heritage protection. Her ethnographic film experience started when she was 21 living with Dyak people of central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Documenting ancestral worship rituals, she also witnessed the clear-fell logging affecting the region. Katherine filmed cultural custodian Loraine Mafi-Williams in northern NSW over a three-year period and draws on longitudinal research with the family for her thesis. The life and events around Mafi-Williams instilled a deep interest not only in Indigenous custodianship, but also in how local, national and international politics intersect, impede, and influence traditional roles.

Katherine has lived and worked in Rome and Berlin and was an assistant curator at the National Museum of Australia between 2008 and 2011. Since 2009, she has collaborated with the Vatican Ethnological Museum in the Vatican Museums, studying their indigenous collections, re-connecting source communities and working with them to bring indigenous perspectives into the museum space. Her work on the collections from the Americas for an upcoming catalogue includes fieldtrips to; pre-Columbian Mayan sites (2012), the Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Columbia (2014), the Lakota people in South Dakota (2014), Pueblo peoples in New Mexico (2015), the Qom people in Argentina (2013) and Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego, Chile (2012). She is currently working on the Oceanic collection.

In 2012, Katherine received funding through The Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Lincei Academy in Rome to study Indigenous Australian collections in Italy. She was an Associate of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia and is currently a project associate on the ARC Laureate project The collective biography of archaeology in the Pacific: a hidden history. Katherine has lectured in the Museums and Collections Program at ANU on overseas collections, on re-connecting Indigenous communities with collections, and on Indigenous issues of representation.

Research interests

Katherine's thesis consolidates longitudinal research on matriarchal knowledge holders in northern NSW, looking at issues of authenticity, agency, conflicts of interest and transmission of culture in the post-Mabo native title environment. Her interest is how Indigenous groups negotiate to protect cultural heritage in environmental policy making and how Indigenous stakeholders have a voice in natural resource management. There is also the added complexity for knowledge holders and Elders who are protecting cultural heritage with the impact and influence of local, national and international political environments and legal instruments.