Rethinking the design of indigenous organisations: The need for strategic engagement

Author/editor: Martin, D
Year published: 2003
Issue no.: 248


This paper argues that a fundamental issue confronting Australian indigenous groups and communities is how to develop the capacity to engage strategically with the general Australian society, in particular with its political and economic dimensions. ‘Strategic engagement’ refers to the processes through which indigenous individuals, groups and communities are able to interact with, contribute to, draw from—and of course potentially reject—the formal and informal institutions of the dominant Australian society in a considered and informed manner that provides them with real choices as to where to go, and how to get there. It refers to a process, not an outcome.

This capacity for strategic engagement is dependent upon many factors, but effective governance mechanisms in particular are critical. Governance can be seen as the formal and informal structures and processes through which a group, community or society conducts and regulates both its internal affairs and its relations with others. This paper focuses on principles for effective governance within indigenous organisations. It argues that nowhere in Australia do indigenous people live in self-defining and self-reproducing worlds of meaning and practices; rather they inhabit complex and contested intercultural worlds.

Therefore, if institutions for more effective governance are essential to strategic engagement, then they must draw not only from indigenous values and practices, but also from those of the general Australian society, and indeed from relevant international experience. It is argued that it is no longer defensible to resort to the mantra of ‘cultural appropriateness’, nor solely to traditions and customary practices in determining principles by which effective indigenous institutions should be established and should operate. Rather, the challenge is to develop distinctively indigenous institutions which nonetheless facilitate effective engagement rather than limiting it. This paper suggests a set of principles for this task.

ISBN: 0 7315 5623 2

ISSN:1036 1774

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