Indigenous Nation Building

Yoko Akama and Peter West with partner researchers from Melbourne University, Flinders University, University of Technology Sydney, University of Arizona, Harvard University, Washington University in St Louis, Charles Sturt University, and, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority Inc.

Dates: 2014-2017

Today a growing number of Indigenous peoples are engaged in the process of ‘nation building’: they are expressing greater desires for self-governance and creating legitimate and effective governing institutions. Depending upon community and location, nation building is at different stages; some Indigenous nations already possess decision-making institutions, whereas others are just starting conversations about self- governing. These differences provide the opportunity for university-led scholarship concerning this critical legal, social, economic and political development.

The ‘Indigenous Nation Building Project’ uses case analysis among other methods to examine Indigenous nation building by attending its logic, organisation, limits and opportunities. The cluster is designed to engage emerging theory about Indigenous nation building, provide the ‘raw material’ for hypothesis testing, and inform communities and policy-makers.

Within these broad objectives, our project has three specific aims:

  • To examine the Indigenous ‘movement’ for self-governance in Australia
  • Compare the Australian movement to those in other English settler states and embed Australian Indigenous nation building in a broader international context
  • Contribute to international dialogues about Indigenous nationhood within a nation-state, especially by observing choices made in a context (Australia) notable for the absence of formal recognition by colonial governments.

The emergence of Indigenous nationhood and institutions provides an opportunity to add to a nascent theory of Indigenous nation building.

Based on evidence that effective governance is a necessary precursor to Indigenous communities’ economic, social and cultural outcomes, this project aims to strengthen Australian Indigenous communities by learning and sharing lessons about sustainable and effective Indigenous governance. In collaboration with three Aboriginal communities in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales that are differentially engaged in Indigenous governance processes, the project aims to identify innovation in community governance, test the usefulness of Australian governance assessment tools, and foster an Indigenous Australian and global network to share successful strategies. In doing so, the project contributes to an emerging theory of Indigenous nation building.

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