This is a thought provoking article from Welcome To Country.

Aside from the important topic of cultural intellectual property, I believe the term “exploited” is getting outdated, but that does not lessen the issues being faced. The lack of enablers to practice and achieve “self determination” is the major issue.

In many parts of Australia, Indigenous Australians are no longer on their mob’s country, both for some bad reasons (eg frontier conflicts and forced relocation / separation in past generations) and for other reasons eg movement to seek opportunities, education, careers, marriage….just like the broader Australian population.

For example, when I look at the addresses of Members within PBCs that I work with, normally the vast percentage of mob are no longer on country. They may visit occasionally, or attend and vote at the PBCs annual general meetings (unless they use a proxy). Connection with culture may remain strong, but depending on circumstances, for many, visiting country and mob that have remained on country may not occur very often, if at all.

There is little doubt that on the topic of “community” and all the positives this can bring, that thousands of years of sustainable existence and culturally based governance is strong evidence of how powerful “country” and “on-country” is. So it is equally understandable how damaging the loss of physical connection with country and loss of cultural governance on-country has been over the last 2 centuries.

The article talks about Native Title. Traditional Ownership is now recognised across the country, and Positive Determinations now exist over more than 30% of Australia (and growing). But what does this actually mean…or not mean? Examples of what it does not mean includes:

  • Traditional Owners (TOs) living on country cannot simply choose to live where they traditionally used to or effectively utilise traditional socio-economics, but instead like other Australians they need to earn an income, purchase land & property wherever they can find and afford, or live within government built settlements (locations selected by government) as tenants (often accessing welfare in an environment with little in the way of an economy).
  • In some other parts of the world, TO groups do obtain title and exclusive use to traditional and culturally important lands (eg reservations), which also comes with a cultural governance / law / economic framework that bears the closest resemblance to traditional community. I’m not a big fan of some of the economics that occur on reservations overseas (eg casinos), but in terms of self governance, organic economic development, financial autonomy, positive social impacts, TOs wanting to be or spend more time on country, etc, there is certainly some room for improvement in Australia.

It is of little surprise that many Indigenous Australians living on-country never fully (or even remotely) return to a existence that is robust in terms of culturally driven governance & socio-economics.

As such it is no mystery to me that the massive amount of programs that currently make up “Indigenous Reform” do suffer varying degrees of sketchiness when it comes to efficacy or return on investment. I think part of the issue is that Indigenous Reform is a highly political space (ie 3 layers of government all on short election cycles…1 federal, 8 states & territories, 560 local) which can and does contribute to grid-lock and inertia rather than cohesive, inclusive, progressive and long term approaches. COAG is the tent that all levels of government meet in (2-3 times per year), but in monitoring its activities (link here) the amount of meat on this topic seems wanting. The one Indigenous topic on COAGs Dashboard is life expectancy (link here).

Most Australias are not aware that all levels of government are collectively spending in order of $10 billion a year on the topic of Indigenous Reform & services [Australian Productivity Commission]. Furthermore, it is estimated that the “gap” that needs closing equates to a lost opportunity of $7 billion per year for Australia’s economy [Deloitte]. Talk about a worthy Standing Item for COAG meeting agendas!

There is great stuff happening (funnily enough Linkedin is where I become aware of many initiatives and great folks working in this space…keep it up!). I’ll be posting shortly on a recent little known initiative (not one of mine) involving state and local governments which I think is a tremendous example of governments and Traditional Owner groups working together and taking new steps to recognise and weave in Native Title.

I believe the Native Title construct is the best we have at this point for Indigenous communities and Traditional Owner groups to not only be recognised, but to move forward and own some of the solutions. At we work with communities and other stakeholders (eg industry) towards TO groups not simply “holding Native Title”, but leveraging it toward economic and social development…core elements of sustainability and self-determination, and addressing the price tags mentioned earlier. The Native Title tide will help lift many boats in the broader Indigenous reform agenda.

I’m interested in others’ thoughts and experiences!