I recently completed my summer 2020 Aurora internship placement with Barengi Gadjin Land Council (BGLC) in Horsham, western Victoria.
BGLC is both a Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) under the Commonwealth Native Title Act rights and a Registered Aboriginal Party under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act. Accordingly, it holds Native Title rights and interests of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples and protects and manages Aboriginal Cultural Heritage within the recognised geographic area. During my time with BGLC, I quickly began to observe both the opportunities and limitations these legislated roles offer the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples BGLC represents.
Indigenous nation-building is a topic of growing interest in Australia and my main task was to support the development of a nation-building program at BGLC. The “nation-building” concept arose in the United States (US) where I grew up and was involved in a few nation-building discussions there. A key driver there, likely applicable to Australia and BGLC, for “Native nation (re)building” has been the presence of US legislation allowing for Indigenous representative bodies to form. In Australia, PBC’s offer an opportunity to drive nation-building.
The functions of PBCs are defined by legislation. For example, I attended a “Full Group Meeting” where BGLC staff tabled topics with the families the corporation represents. The purpose of the meeting was for the corporation to gain authorisation to make decisions on the families’ behalf. In other words, PBCs are required to adhere to this decision-making structure. Given these conditions and resource capacity, there is very little time for discussion on how exactly the peoples and families BGLC represent define how to make their own decisions or, more broadly, design their future. This is where nation-building is entering the discussion.
Nation-building is about establishing culturally-relevant government and decision-making processes built from within communities. Drawing on my anthropology and community development academic background, I recognised how predefined expectations lead to particular, reserved thinking. After discussion with staff and families, the first stages of BGLC nation-building requires decolonising thinking from these processes and unfolding how certain ideas become normal. Fortunately, the Aurora placement offered an incredible opportunity for me to further self-reflect on my own thinking and learn more, together, in dialogue, with BGLC staff.
For more information on the Aurora Internship Program, see here:
https://auroraproject.com.au/about-internship-program. Applications for the summer 2020/21 round will be open in August.