The article really excited me and I'm now going to check out the various websites. Please note, that I have broken up a few of the original paragraphs to emphasise the points that Professor Dodson makes. I also added the links and hope I got them all right. Enjoy this article, I know you will.
'The 2012 Indigenous Governance Awards recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that are successfully working to build better communities. Mick Dodson argues the case for Indigenous self-determination.
In the recent Northern Territory elections remote-living Aboriginal voters played a pivotal role in changing the government.
They were making a clear statement about being shut out of decision-making processes and how they feel about governments who offer ever-diminishing opportunities for genuine Indigenous control.
What I know, and what I've seen in the last few months visiting the eight finalists of the 2012 Reconciliation Australia and BHP Billiton Indigenous Governance Awards (IGAs), is that the best and most viable solution to overcoming the enormous social, economic and political issues affecting Indigenous Australia is self-determination. By that I mean Indigenous people in charge of making and implementing the important decisions about their lives and futures.
The 2012 IGA winners and finalists demonstrate that strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have proven themselves more effective than governments and mainstream organisations. It's time we take note of this success and work with communities and their organisations to strengthen and support their capacity to take charge of issues that impact them.
Visiting these remarkable organisations and initiatives in close succession only served to highlight their commonalities. Chief among them is culture, or more correctly the centrality of culture to everything they do.
Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council, winners in this year's IGAs in Category A (outstanding examples of Indigenous governance in an Indigenous incorporated organisations) clearly illustrate the point when they say: "we all hold strong Tjukurpa (dreaming) and we don't want to see our culture lost. We must keep teaching our young girls the Laws of our grandmothers because we want them to carry it into the future. We must sort out our problems and we must speak out strongly."
The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly, who received the highly commended award in Category B (outstanding examples of Indigenous governance in a non-incorporated initiative or project); represent 16 regional communities in Western New South Wales. Recently, Murdi Paaki engaged in planning exercises in which they listed their top priorities for funding and support - number one was culture, or culture and language.
Finalist Martumili Artists and winner for Category B, the Yiriman Project, are organisations servicing vast expanses of remote Australia, both drawing their strength and purpose from the cultural authority of the elders who lead them. The Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC) of Yuendumu - formerly the Mt Theo program - led the first successful program in Central Australia to end petrol sniffing. They did it by using Country and culture. Taking kids out of communities to places where elders and family could care for them by telling them stories, singing them songs, teaching them to understand who they are.
This dynamic and responsive cultural agenda clearly has nothing to do with turning communities into 'cultural museums'. All of the finalists are focused on the future and on creating economies and healthy lives for their communities.
But they know that can't do this on someone else's terms. It won't fit and they have seen it fail time and time again. They know that imbuing young people with a strong sense of their culture and identity gives them the best chance of finding their way in the world.
Embedding culture in communities and young people is a form of Indigenous investment. The people driving these organisations invest their knowledge time and resources in young people because they know no-one else, not teachers, or social workers or governments, can give what they give.
The Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care's (SNAICC) vision is of "an Australian society in which our communities are empowered to determine their own future, where the rights of our children, young people and families are protected, our cultural identity and achievements are valued."
MG Corporation in Kununurra is having significant success placing local Aboriginal people in work; many for the first time. MG understands the social barriers to employment and the cultural demands that can inhibit certain forms of workplace participation, and have designed flexible and responsive employment models in partnership with employers.
We've tried taking control away from communities and it hasn't worked. People who feel a lack of control over their lives are far more likely to be disengaged. International research like that of Canada's Professor Michael Chandler tells us that communities more in control are healthier, more robust. Communities with less control suffer higher youth suicide rates.
Self-determination is politically unpopular. It's risky because there will be failures, there will be cases with poor outcomes. Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to make and implement decisions about their communities and futures is a long-term concern.
Self-determination does not mean communities do it alone, or be left by themselves to grapple with the enormous issues that confront them. The strong organisations I've seen don't do it alone. They bring in expert advisers where necessary, they consult, they bring partners on board. They are explicit about wanting to walk side-by side with governments, business and NGOs.
NPY Women's Council have a set of sound principles for non-Anangu (Aboriginal) people who come to work and conduct research in their communities. I think they form a good base for the kind of mutual capacity-building relationships that are necessary for our communities to thrive.
Maru manu piranpatjungu nyinara wangkara kulilkatinyi: black and white sitting together and discussing over a long period of time.
Kulilkatinyi munu myakukatinyi: listening and looking over a long period of time. Not just observing but becoming part of the community and gaining an understanding of their perspective.
They also insist on malparara - which loosely means, working together, or working hand-in-hand.
I know and understand that many Indigenous organisations aren't doing as well as the IGA finalists. It is incredibly tough out there for such entities.
The finalists - organisations large and small, remote, regional and urban - told a familiar story of multiple and complicated funding agreements and reporting requirements, creating layers of burdensome red-tape.
Then there is their daily battle to see services that are taken for granted by most Australians delivered to their communities. Why should WYDAC have to scrounge, beg and consider sourcing philanthropic support in order to run the town swimming pool? The citizens of most metropolitan suburbs don't have to consider these options as they head towards summer. Why should Western Desert Dialysis patients have to sleep rough in the Todd River to access basic health services in Alice Springs?
In spite of this, and in spite of their often challenging operating environments, strong Indigenous organisations are succeeding in providing innovative and responsive service delivery and advocacy.
They are entrepreneurial and proactively creating economic development opportunities for their members and communities.
Their governance models are rooted in culture, yet entirely modern in their efficiency, legitimacy and accountability.
They all deftly negotiate the terrain between their communities and the requirements of funders and mainstream stakeholders.
They are driven by strong partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; and they show us how such partnerships can work.
They are making decisions; they are getting on with their futures. They are self-determination in action.
Find out more about the Indigenous Governance awards by visiting Reconciliation Australia.
Professor Mick Dodson is a member of the Yawuru peoples the traditional Aboriginal owners of land and waters in the Broome area of the southern Kimberley region of Western Australia.