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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

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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