Environmental issues are often highly politicized. Indigenous peoples may be reluctant to participate in research due to a history of colonization and negative experiences with researchers—described as a “chronic conflict”. We present a case where an acute conflict (an event that creates intense mistrust among stakeholders) occurred during a research project. The project studied a contentious issue: the sharing of dugong and turtle meat by Indigenous Australians. The chronic conflict of colonial history and Western research was exacerbated by media coverage of related issues when the project was starting, making participants unwilling to participate in our research. We adapted established Indigenous engagement protocols and—both literally and figuratively—set the table in response to the sociopolitical context of the research. This engagement process enabled us to establish trusting relationships with participants, and could benefit most researchers seeking to engage people, irrespective of Indigeneity or context.