Oral Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Impacts of cultural governance on management systems (#39)

Aaron Dick , Wayne Barker , Melissa Marshall

‘Cultural governance’ is an inherent feature of traditional Aboriginal social and community structures, however these fundamental processes have struggled to find relevance in contemporary organisational settings. This is illustrated through local Aboriginal community organisation board and committee representation across the country, particularly in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia. The importance of ‘cultural governance’ is significant as Aboriginal people struggle to overcome issues related to representation, access to resources and program implementation. The term ‘cultural governance’ is understood here as reflective of the 2012 Social Justice Report which identifies ‘governance as a key factor in the realisation of human rights and sustainable development…’

The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC) implemented a ‘cultural governance’ project on the Dampier Peninsular region of Western Australia exploring the role of traditional lines of ‘authority’ relevant to current organisational practices. The project commenced in 2013 focusing on Bardi/Jawi communities of Djarindjin, Lombadina and Ardiyaloon. This was undertaken for three consecutive years. An evaluation was conducted throughout the lifespan of the project by Nulungu Research Institute, part of the University of Notre Dame Australia campus in Broome WA.

The project found the match between ‘cultural governance’ and ‘management’ is not absolute. Organisational requirements and government processes complicate matters, particularly given a focus on compliance and financial management responsibilities. Rather, ‘cultural governance’ contributes to ‘management’ in limited ways, such as being able to provide accepted avenues for local community representation and decision making. It was also found that ‘cultural governance’ fosters respect, enables cultural learnings and security, whilst contextualising ‘management’ processes and systems in local traditions. Aligning with the foundational knowledge ofAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, these processes ensure a feeling of safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in the workplace and their relevant community. It also provides confidence to local community members that ‘management’ understands the ways in which local community function is incorporated into individual everyday life.

This paper will explore the idea of culture governance and its relevance to contemporary management structures and processes in Aboriginal communities.