- Deanne Hanchant-Nichols (University Of South Australia) email
- Keryn Walshe (Flinders University) email
Definition, application and capacity for expression of self-determination within institutional policy. Case studies focusing on gaps, success and failure.
The definition and application of self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, as it is for Indigenous people universally, is primarily drawn from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Accordingly, the Australian Government states that Aboriginal people "…should be closely involved in the development and implementation of policies and programs that impact on them" and that they "…have the opportunity to participate in the making of such decisions through the processes of democratic government, and are able to exercise meaningful control over their affairs". This session asks how evident are these embedded principles in the development of; application of and outcomes of current institutional policy in Australia and elsewhere? Key areas for discussion are anticipated to cover (but not limited to): collection and repatriation policies in museums; university educational entry and eligibility to access scholarships / additional assistance; medical health and research institutional policy (engagement of Indigenous clients and practitioners); if the enactment of policy is in dispute whose 'voice' takes precedence? The panel invites speakers from Australia and elsewhere to present a case study that elucidates the lived reality for self-determination to be built into and/or experienced within institutional policy and the concomitant impacts on Indigenous people. Whilst we are happy to consider theoretical overviews, we are keen to hear about case studies.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Agency and self-determination in repatriating the Indigenous dead
This paper offers an assessment of whether the rights of Indigenous Australians to fulfil their obligations to the dead have been served by the framework of relevant federal and state repatriation policies and programs implemented since the late 1970s.
Since the mid-1970s, Indigenous Australians have actively sought the return of the remains of their ancestors from Western museums and other medico-scientific institutions. As Colin Pardoe observed in the wake of the conflicts between Indigenous people and scientists critical of repatriation that occurred through the 1980s, 'Indigenous people were demanding control, accountability and recognition of their ownership of their past. It was not something conceptualised by scholars for the good of Indigenous people.' (Pardoe 1991).
Yet achieving the repatriation of ancestral remains has not been easy, and it is questionable whether claimants have authority in and control of the processes involved to the extent of fulfilling their cultural obligations to the dead.
In this paper, I sketch some of the more salient aspects of what is now a near fifty year history of repatriation of Indigenous Australian ancestral remains from scientific collections. In doing so, I reflect on whether this has been a history in which the rights of Indigenous Australians to fulfil their obligations to the dead have been adequately served by relevant federal and state repatriation policies and programs implemented since the late 1970s.
The long journey home: repatriation and the creation of new cultural practices
The Australian Government's Indigenous Repatriation Policy supports the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains from overseas institutions and private holders. This paper addresses the challenges and solutions of the recent repatriation of the mummified body of King Ng:tja.
The Australian Government's Indigenous Repatriation Policy supports the repatriation of Australian Indigenous ancestral remains from overseas. Where the communities of origin are known, they are involved in guiding the repatriation process; however, the repatriation of Australian Indigenous ancestral remains can pose challenges for the communities who receive them. How might the ancestors be appropriately handled and received when there is no precedent in a community's experience for such a significant event? What happens when a community no longer lives at the location from whence the ancestors were taken? How should the remains of the ancestors be interred if burial practices have changed since the ancestor has passed away?
This paper addresses the recent repatriation of the mummified body of Aboriginal man King Ng:tja (or Barry Clarke) from Berlin to North Queensland, supported under the Australian Government's Indigenous Repatriation Program. It presents the thoughts and actions of the primary family representative of the deceased, from receiving her ancestor in Berlin, to the ongoing arrangements for the journey to his final resting place, and discusses the creation of new cultural practices that connect the past with the present to determine future actions.
Success stories abound! Self-determination and Aboriginality in the context of neo-liberalism
NGOs are taking over from government in delivering services to Indigenous Australians, telling enthusiastic success stories. This shift elides government accountability, and takes authority and decision making away from locals. It is dramatically reshaping 'Aboriginality' and 'self-determination'.
In recent years there has been a shift in Indigenous policy in Australia from the largely failed approach of direct government intervention to using a variety of non-government organisations, a trend observed throughout the world. NGOs tend to operate at the intersections where material, social and cultural histories have converged to produce unliveable lives. They address material, legal and cultural needs and aspirations, working at local, regional or national levels. They include long-standing mainstream NGOS, such as World Vision and Save the Children; philanthropists developing pet projects in education or health; and Indigenous-controlled organisations. I include public and private sector organisations, those with Indigenous-identified positions or an Indigenous branch, universities in particular. Almost all have glossy websites and good stories to tell. What is the real picture? I focus on two effects: the way this NGO movement elides government responsibility and accountability, while taking over authority and decision making power at the local level; and how they are reshaping what constitutes 'Aboriginality' and an 'Aboriginal person' as well as 'self-determination'. Are they empowering or denying of the legitimacy of difference?
A case study in failure: when repatriation is not self-determination
We present a case of failure in enacting Indigenous self-determination. Failure resulted from interpretation and application of institutional policy, rather than from flawed policy. Consistency and objectivity are critical in enacting self-determination but cross-policy awareness is more critical.
We present a recent case study whereby an Indigenous elder in South Australia proceeded to enact Indigenous self-determination but was thwarted in doing so by the South Australia Museum (SAM). In this case self-determination was to be expressed in two steps; taking control and ownership of his ancestral remains and in initiating external scientific analysis of those remains. His ancestral remains had been repatriated to his community many years previously, under the Australian Government repatriation policy. The authority of the elder in taking these steps was not questioned by the SA Museum. Instead the Museum resisted acknowledging his right to take control and ownership of the remains without written consent from the SAM Board. The requirement presented by SAM is argued here to be in disregard of the principles of repatriation but also non-compliant with other key institutional policies. In all, this has led to a failure to enact Indigenous self-determination. Our paper presents an alternative pathway, whereby achieving success in enacting self-determination is more likely. Our discussion will focus on the benefit of cross-policy awareness, consistency and objectivity. Additionally it is imperative that institutions undertake consistent consultation rather than on a ' as needs' basis.
The Aboriginal Heritage Project
The Aboriginal Heritage Project aims to reconstruct the genetic history of Aboriginal Australia via archival records and ancient hair samples. This project is premised on informed re-consent through direct engagement with the hair donors and their families, a model that has been highly successful.
We outline the Aboriginal Heritage Project: a collaboration between the Australian Centre of Ancient DNA (ACAD), the South Australian Museum (SAM), and Aboriginal Australian families and communities, which aims to reconstruct the genetic history of Aboriginal Australia.
The project leverages the unparalleled collection of 5000+ hair samples that will result in a reference map that current and future generations of Aboriginal people can use to retrace their ancestry - including the displaced Stolen Generations and their descendants.
We present our outreach activities which has as its pivot, re-consenting the hair samples through in-depth consultation with Aboriginal Australian families and communities.
This complex process enables self-determination whilst also ensuring that existing policy is adhered to. This case study is very much a success story.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.