Indigenous Governance The Harvard Project on Native American Economic Development and appropriate principles of governance for Aboriginal Australia

Indigenous Governance The Harvard Project on Native American Economic Development and appropriate principles of governance for Aboriginal Australia Report

AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper

  • Author(s): Patrick Sullivan
  • Published: 2006
  • Publisher: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies; Native Title Research Unit
  • Volume: AIATSIS Research Publications

Abstract: It is widely acknowledged that indigenous communities in Australia are in crisis (Dodson 2003; Sutton 2001), and increasingly that this is a crisis of governance. Anthropological analysis of pre-colonial Aboriginal political life has characterised it as ‘ordered anarchy’ (Hiatt 1998). The introduction of order into anarchy results from the tension between relatedness and autonomy mediated by an ideology of nurturing (Myers 1986). Colonisation of Australia resulted in the coercion of Aboriginal people into settlements - either missions or pastoral enterprises. Since de jure emancipation settlements have been nominally under Aboriginal control (Sullivan 1996). The conundrum for post-colonial public policy in Australia, that this paper addresses, is how to effectively service Aboriginal people’s needs, encourage the good governance that self-determination requires, institute regimes of respect for civil and human rights within these communities and still remain sensitive to the fact of a continuing lively Aboriginal culture informed by pre-colonial forms of sociality. The Harvard Project on Indian Economic Development (US) appears to hold out the hope of a post-colonial indigenised governance attractive to both government and indigenous interests. It proposes that there are three prerequisites for development in indigenous communities: sovereignty, good institutions (meaning, in this instance, good management), and cultural match (Jorgensen and Taylor 2000; Cornell 2002; Dodson and Smith 2003). This paper takes the Harvard project’s prescriptions as problems rather than solutions and asks whether they are reconcilable with Aboriginal political life. Indigenous communities are clearly embedded in post-colonial settler relations in multiple ways (Benhabib 2002; Tully 1995:10-11; Waldron 1992). Authority in indigenous life, as much as in post-colonial administration, is layered, contextual, contested and continuously subject to exegesis such that both the totality of the settler state and the essentialised nature of indigenous groups that confront it are called in question (Martin 2003:2-6). It is not adequate, this paper suggests, to conceive of Aboriginal culture as a set of institutions that can be translated, in one way or another, into effective organisational structures for self-management or commerce. It proposes disentangling Aboriginal cultural processes from effective organisational structures and linking these only through lines of information sharing, and permission-getting, that is by engagement with communal political processes. Added to this is the need for protection of minority and dissident interests by providing guidelines for the acceptable exercise of authority within an Aboriginal domain. This paper looks for ways of meeting three competing aims: effective indigenous governance, respect for indigenous culture, and acknowledgement of the need for human and civil rights within indigenous communities that reflect the fact that they are embedded in a wider sociality.

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Suggested Citation
Patrick Sullivan, 2006, Indigenous Governance The Harvard Project on Native American Economic Development and appropriate principles of governance for Aboriginal Australia, Volume:AIATSIS Research Publications, Report, viewed 18 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=3287.

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