Strategies for Success in Indigenous Governing for Development: An international conversation

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  • Strategies for Success in Indigenous Governing for Development: An international conversation

This international workshop assembles leading Indigenous researchers, private sector and community leaders for a cross-country conversation on what is happening that is innovative and productive in Indigenous development of lands and resources. The goal of the workshop is to share governance experiences, strategies, and solutions that can assist Indigenous communities in meeting their contemporary needs and aspirations.

Indigenous peoples across the world face challenges in the interrelated areas of self-determination, governance and economic development. This is certainly true of the CANZUS countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA). While the Indigenous cultures in the four countries are different in some obvious and critical ways, they also share key commonalities in their colonial heritages and challenges in addressing development needs. This workshop will share experiences, strategies, accomplishments and lessons to better understand the conditions involved in governing and sustaining socioeconomic development on Indigenous lands. It aims to stimulate new thinking and innovative practices in the arena. The outcomes will include policy recommendations, new collaborative international research relationships, and the publication an edited volume.

The three-day workshop will focus on self-determined governance and development amongst Indigenous communities and groups in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and USA (CANZUS). While the diverse Indigenous cultures in the four countries are different in some obvious and critical ways, they also share key commonalities in their colonial heritage and, in all four cases, evidence a common resilience of Indigenous demands for self-determination and self-governance.

The growing focus on Indigenous self-determination and, in particular, self-governance has multiple sources. There has been at least some—if variable—progress in all four countries in the Indigenous rights agenda. But progress has led directly to a critical issue: how do you use those rights effectively to accomplish the goals of the community, tribe, iwi, or nation? This has turned out to be a very different task from that of securing rights.

Today, Indigenous groups in all four countries are negotiating resource agreements, securing property rights, extending the bases of their jurisdictional authority, and establishing enterprises that operate largely under their own control. As a consequence, they face the governance tasks involved in managing major land and natural resource endowments, and translating development into sustained benefits for their people. As Canadian Indigenous leader Neil Sterritt points out (2001: 9), the challenge ‘is not only to gain more control over [our] affairs, but to find ways to make control meaningful’.

At the same time, there is the discouraging persistence of Indigenous disadvantage and distress. In the CANZUS countries, Indigenous peoples have high rates of poverty, unemployment, early mortality, and reliance on welfare transfers, alongside lower levels of income and education relative to other citizens. In each country, the Indigenous population is also increasing at a faster rate than other populations, so that young families are forming faster; the implication being that without sustained development, current levels of disadvantage are likely to remain high. Yet external policy interventions in each country have failed to effectively address these complex conditions, leading some Indigenous groups to look for solutions in their own ideas, cultural resources, and adaptive capacities.

As Indigenous people begin to replace outsiders’ agendas with their own, they are often confronted with the realities not only of external funding limits, but of the divergence (in some cases substantial) between their priorities and those of funders. In addition, many have recognised the incongruity of governing in the name of self-determination while remaining substantially dependent for operating funds on decisions made by external governments.

As a result, growing numbers of Indigenous leaders have recognised the need for Indigenously generated revenues. While some groups and communities are far more involved in pursuing this goal than others, it has led to a massive and diverse trialling of economic and other development initiatives across the four countries. In the process, Indigenous peoples have discovered the significance of governance as a critical factor in sustaining those initiatives (Cornell 2007).

For many Indigenous peoples, the internal ‘test’ of sustainability in their development initiatives, and of effectiveness and legitimacy in their governing systems involves coming up with answers to a set of difficult questions, many of which call for future-thinking; for example:

  • What kind of nation or community are we trying to build, not only for ourselves but for future generations?
  • What kinds of governance arrangements might be acceptable and consented to now, and remain acceptable to our people in the future?
  • What role should collective Indigenous culture play in governance arrangements and development initiatives, and how might that change over time?
  • Who should benefit from development, and will the benefits of current development still be available for future generations?

An examination of such questions in this workshop is timely as research in all four countries suggests that that effective Indigenous governance pays a ‘development dividend’ (see the United Nations Development Program (2013); World Bank (1994, 2011); Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (Cornell & Kalt 2003); the Australian Indigenous Community Governance Research Project (Dodson & Smith 2003; Hunt & Smith 2006, 2008). In other words, governance is a ‘development enabler’ and a ‘disadvantage disabler’ (Guisselquist 2012; UNDP 2013). As the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development”.

The result is that governance has joined economic development near the top of many Indigenous communities’ lists of concerns (Human Rights Commission 2012; Productivity Commission 2014).

At the same time, there is growing awareness of the need to move beyond the well-worn paradigms of western-based models of governance and development, to embrace intercultural solutions.

It is now widely acknowledged that a single model of governance should not be imposed as part of a global development agenda. Governance varies across contexts and cultures. Each country faces specific challenges, and there are different approaches, visions, models and tools available for each to achieve sustainable development. (UNDP 2013)

Governments acting alone are unable to overcome the socioeconomic challenges confronting Indigenous peoples (BMZ 2012; Cornell 2007). Meaningful change also requires continuing involvement and action by Indigenous peoples themselves, with support from the private and non-profit sectors and the general community (COAG 2009, 2010).

In the context of considering sustainable futures for New Zealand, Sir Mason Durie (2003, 2011) commented that ‘as we go into the future … we will make progress much quicker if we unite in different ways’ … if ‘we can convert the common ground into a path into the future’.

These comments have resonance for this workshop which is founded on the hope that within a context of clear structural and cultural difference, nevertheless what works in one country in strengthening Indigenous self-determination, governance and development outcomes may hold valuable lessons for the others and for the future.

To inform these workshop discussions, a Background Paper will be written by the Convenors which considers the comparative differences and commonalities, and suggests some preliminary concepts and research questions.

Delegates will be asked to author draft papers which will be precirculated. Feedback provided during the workshop will enable participants to edit their papers for subsequent inclusion in an edited volume of proceedings from the workshop.

In addition, early career researchers will be encouraged to publish a version of their papers in disciplinary journals.

Policy and governance-practice recommendations arising from the workshop will be uploaded onto institutional and academy websites (NCIS, AIGI, Udall Centre). Convenors will author a media article for newspaper publication.

For more information, please contact:
Mr Murray Radcliffe
Deputy Director
murray.radcliffe [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788

Event Schedule

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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