Working towards Aboriginal Nation governance

Daryle 2An initiative to create a system of Aboriginal regional authorities across South Australia is set to transform Aboriginal affairs in the State. Executive staff from 14 government departments and agencies are today attending a one-day workshop at Flinders University Victoria Square to learn how it would work and how they could contribute.

The workshop was opened by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Kyam Maher.

Professor Daryle Rigney, Dean of Indigenous Strategy and Engagement at Flinders (pictured), who is the main presenter, said the idea behind the policy initiative, adopted by the Labor Government before the last election, is to increase Aboriginal self-determination by developing bodies that would negotiate directly with government across a range of issues.

The approach is intended to provide Aboriginal people an improved mechanism to influence government decisions that affect them, to allow better co-ordinated programs and services, to strengthen local Aboriginal organisations by bringing them together under a single regional structure and to provide better opportunities for Aboriginal nation rebuilding.

“What we’re talking about is Aboriginal nations building their governance, and building their government, in order that they’re able to run their affairs and negotiate with the State on a nation-to-nation basis,” Professor Rigney said.

“This nation-building education program supports the policy and the legislative framework that we hope will follow.”

The workshop is part of an educative process for both public servants and Aboriginal communities, and delivering the curriculum for the project involves a collaboration between the Office of Indigenous Strategy and Engagement at Flinders, the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona, the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Melbourne.

Professor Rigney said the curriculum draws on evidence and experience from Indigenous nation-building frameworks overseas in countries including the US, Canada and New Zealand as well as within Australia, including local models.

Professor Rigney and colleague Associate Professor Steve Hemming were heavily involved in the establishment of the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, which was set up in 2007. The Authority meets regularly with senior State Government bureaucrats to negotiate issues that include the management of natural resources and cultural heritage.

It is hoped that other Aboriginal communities across the State will eventually develop structures appropriate to their own needs.

“This policy initiative is a recognition by the State Government of the value of this mechanism as a way of addressing key issues in Aboriginal affairs and of improving the lives of Aboriginal people and their wellbeing,” Professor Rigney said.

“Support for the development of regional authorities will help build capacity in the communities and allow them to take increasing responsibility for their own work.”

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