4.3 Nation-building reform by the Ngarrindjeri people
In contemporary Indigenous societies, nation
building is a means of securing a self-determined
development agenda. It involves reforming and
realigning institutions, governance and decision-
making to reflect an Indigenous nation’s agreed
objectives—rather than those of individual
organisations or external decision-makers.
Increasingly, the power of this approach is backed
by research. Through the Indigenous Nation
Building collaboration, a team of researchers from
seven Australian universities found that Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander nations are better able
to achieve their goals when they are in control
of decision-making concerning the pathway and
progress toward those goals. 37
The Ngarrindjeri Nation is comprised of people from
a single language group whose traditional areas span
the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula,
and the Coorong of South Australia.
Organising as a nation reflected the Ngarrindjeri
desire to build a future centred on self-determination
and caring for country. Previously, there had
been little incentive for collaboration and many
organisations had begun competing with each other
for the resources available to serve community.
The Ngarrindjeri’s resolve to organise as a nation
was prompted by the 1990s Kumarangk (Hindmarsh
Island) Bridge crisis, a bitterly fought legal battle in
which accusations (later revoked) of fraudulent claims
about sacred women’s sites caused deep divisions.
They united to develop a community-owned strategy
for the sustainable future of the people, culture and
country of the Ngarrindjeri Nation.
The Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority was set up in
2007 as the peak body for the Ngarrindjeri Nation. It
would oversee the development and implementation
of the nation’s strategic vision: the Ngarrindjeri
Nation Yarluwar-Ruwe (‘Sea and Country’) Plan. 38
Since Jawun began operating in Lower River Murray,
Lakes and Coorong in 2015, 50 skilled professionals
have helped the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority
turn its strategic vision into practice. Coming from a
range of backgrounds, including national and state
government, banking, consulting, IT, insurance and
infrastructure, they worked on briefs explicitly aligned
to the Ngarrindjeri Nation’s nine-part strategic vision.
Secondees supported the Ngarrindjeri Nation’s
‘secure future’ priority by strengthening Indigenous-
owned businesses as the foundation of a sustainable
Ngarrindjeri regional economy. This will bring social
and economic benefits in the short term, and in the
long term will reduce reliance on government funding
to support a sovereign nation.
Yarluwar-Ruwe—Ngarrindjeri sea and country
2017 LEARNINGS AND INSIGHTS