Leading Native Nations

Karen Diver: Native leadership and Indigenous governance

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Karen Diver is a former Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and former Vice President of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe, while also served as an adviser to President Obama as his Special Assistant for Native American affairs. Her incredible career as  renowned Native leader for her tribe, in her community in the surrounding Minnesota area, and advocate for indigenous communities at the highest level of Federal government has offered her a truly unique perspective on what is required for strong indigenous governance. Karen’s strength as a Native leader led her to her recent position at the College of St. Scholastica Faculty Fellow for Inclusive Excellence where she brings her intimate knowledge on Native inclusivity to a broad community of high education. In this interview with Native Nations Institute, Karen Diver relays the many facets of putting leadership into action and making change for tribes at any level of indigenous governance.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Karen Diver: Native leadership and indigenous governance.” Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, January 29, 2019

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Greg Cajete: Indigenous governance and sustainability

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Greg Cajete, Tewa of the Santa Clara Pueblo and a renowned scholar and author on indigenous education serves as the Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico. His works have merged native history, cultural practices, and knowledge into the cross section of education fields such as Science, Ecology, and the Arts.  Dr. Cajete has built a wealth of curriculum for indigenous educators and advocates for bringing sustainability into focus when creating indigenous governance. His thoughts on the matter of indigenous education and governance as well as the importance to address climate change are explored in relation to Native Nation building. 

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Greg Cajete: Indigenous governance and sustainability." Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, February 22, 2018

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Jerry Isaac: Native Leader Experiences in Alaska

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Jerry Isaac has been on the forefront of shaping indigenous governance in Alaska as former President of Tanana Chiefs Conference, former Chief for the Native Village of Tanacross, and a Board Member of Doyon Limited.  He offers his perspectives about being a good leader and the various ways to bring forth traditional governance into modern governance structures. As well as, the context of Native Alaskan villages being impacted by colonization and Christianity. His experiences offer insight about being brought up with traditional ways of making Native leaders mixed with working in current Native Nation building methods.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Jerry Isaac: Native Leader Experiences in Alaska."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, November 15, 2016.

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Mike Williams: Alaska Native governance and a healthy culture

Year

Mike Williams is a well known indigenous leaders from being a Chairman and Vice-Chair of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council as well as Chief of the Yupiit Nation.  Mike offers his impressions about a variety of topics related indigenous governance including leadership, traditional governance, education, sovereignty, and culture.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Mike Williams: Alaska Native governance and a healthy culture."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, November 15, 2016

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Theresa Arevgaq John: Alaska indigenous governance through traditions and cultural values

Year

Theresa Arevgaq John is a well known Y’upik cultural advocate and Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies and the Department of Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has intimate knowledge about cultural practices within Indigenous governance.  She advocates for balance between the various forms of governing structures, maintaining strong ties to Native languages, and linking traditional Native practices to community well-being and governance roles.

 

 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Theresa Arevgaq John: Alaska indigenous governance through traditions and cultural values."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, November 15, 2016

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Wilson Justin: Leadership with Cultural Knowledge and Perseverance

Year

Wilson Justin is a cultural ambassador for Cheesh’na Tribal council and serves as a Vice Chair Board of Directors for Mt. Sanford Tribal Consortium.  He relays his expertise and perspective on the intricacies of Indigenous governance in Alaska through adapting cultural traditions, creating a constitution, navigating citizenship, and asserting rights of Indigenous people. 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Wilson Justin: Leadership with cultural knowledge and perseverance."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, November 15, 2016

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Avery Denny: Origins of Navajo Leadership

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Avery Denny is a member of Diné Medicine Man’s Association and is faculty at the Center for Diné Studies at Diné college Diné hatáli. As an instructor for over 29 years, he has taught courses on herbology, holistic healing, and Diné culture, oral history and philosophy.  Avery is a Diné hatáli, singer of the blessing way, beauty way, night way and enemy way, and has dedicated his life to retaining and teaching Diné Bizaad.  He offers stories about the origins of leadership for Diné and the power of learning language.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Avery Denny: Origins of Navajo Leadership."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, September 15, 2015

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell: Stories and Reflections on Indigenous Governance

Year

Former Grand Chief Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne recently stepped down from his role as Grand Chief after decades of building a strong independent jurisdiction.  Chief Mitchell offers some of his stories and reflections in indigenous governance that pertains to situations that occur when asserting Native rights along a territory that straddles the provinces of Canada and the international border.

 

Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell: Stories and Reflections on Indigenous Governance."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, April 06, 2017

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Michelle Deshong: Australian Aboriginal Methods of Self-Governance

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Michelle Deshong draws her connections to Kuku Yalanji and Butchulla nations. She is a 2015 recipient of the Australian-American Fulbright Indigenous Professional Scholarship that funded her residency at the Native Nations Institute housed within the Udall Center for Studies and Public Policy, and a PhD candidate at James Cook University. She details the importance of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander women and people asserting their traditions and culture throughout methods of self-governance.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Deshong, Michelle "Michelle Deshong: Australian Aboriginal Ways of Self-Governance," Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, April 19, 2016

Verónica Hirsch:

Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Verónica Hirsch. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us Michelle Deshong, who draws her connections to Kuku Yalanji and Butchulla nations and is a 2015 recipient of the Australian-American Fulbright Indigenous Professional Scholarship that has funded her residency at the Native Nations Institute housed within the Udall Center for Studies and Public Policy. Michelle is a PhD candidate at James Cook University and is researching the participation of Aboriginal women in public and political life to develop strategies for Indigenous nation building, leadership, and gender equality. Michelle completed a Bachelor’s of Arts with first class honors in political science and Indigenous studies, was awarded the ACT Aboriginal Person of the Year in 2001, and served as the director of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Center from 2001 to 2010. In 2013, Michelle was named in the Australian Financial Review/ Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards and in 2015 was the National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee Scholar of the Year. Michelle continues to serve on the Commission on the Status of Women and the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women United Nations permanent forums. Michelle, welcome.

Michelle Deshong:

Thank you.

Verónica Hirsch:

I shared a little bit about who you are, but would you please begin by telling us more about yourself.

Michelle Deshong:

Thanks, Verónica. As you mentioned, my name is Michelle Deshong and I draw my connections to Kuku Yalanji and Butchulla nations in North Queensland, Australia. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be spending time here in Tucson, Arizona, over the last few months and particularly do some work with the Native Nations Institute in Indigenous law and policy areas within the University of Arizona.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you, Michelle. I’d like to begin by asking just a general question and my first question is this: How do you define nation building? What does nation building entail for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women?

Michelle Deshong:

I think nation building is one of those complex kind of questions, and I don’t know that there’s one-size-fits-all model to what nation building is. I was particularly drawn to some of the work of the Native Nations Institute because of the way that it has developed knowledges and policies around how to implement different decision making processes and government structures within communities. I guess what I wanted to do was a get a bit of a sense what’s happening in other nations and make some comparisons to how that applies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. When I think about nation building, to me it probably encompasses a range of different things, but mostly it’s about empowering and organizing our people in a way that allows us to define our own destinies, to be in positions of decision-making and to set up our own government structures that support our own cultural foundations as a nation or as a community or tribal group but also how we actually put ourselves in a position to invest in our futures; You know, void of government intervention or void of the kind of parameters that we’re so used to that have applied in Indigenous affairs in a lot of ways throughout history. I think about what my contribution to nation building is and I guess there’s three things that I think are really important and that is empowerment, empowerment of individuals. When we as individuals start to recognize our own wants and needs and aspirations, we can then channel that energy for the greater good and that in a lot of ways leads to our communities and our tribal affiliations being stronger. From a national point of view, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people it means that we can assert a bit of a collective position, use a bit of our fundamental rights but also our rights as First Nation people about our living conditions, the way our societies develop, the things our people can aspire to be and particularly set an agenda for ourselves.

Verónica Hirsch:

As a part of that, what spaces and roles do Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women occupy in this overall effort of nation building?

Michelle Deshong:

Well, I think over these different decades obviously the involvement of different Indigenous peoples either from matrilineal or patrilineal culture foundations has changed depending on what are some of the policies of the day? What are some of the environmental and other issues that are impacting Indigenous peoples? I guess we always go back to foundation that women are always the backbone of our communities. Of course, they’re the nurturers and givers of life but they also the people to get things organized. They’re the ones who keep stuff in order. I guess in some ways, this westernized approach to government and governance has meant that we’ve lost a lot of our roles and the roles of women in particular in some of our communities. We’re in this process right now of redefining what happens in our communities but more importantly how do we actually develop a space and ensure that the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are a part of that kind of political scene but also more about community leadership and governance. To me, we’ve got very strong women; we’ve got real trailblazers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women across the country. We need to build upon those opportunities that have presented themselves as a way of changing the critical mass and ensuring that aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are at the forefront of change and in particular, are leading our nations forward.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. Michelle, is there a basic unit of traditional Aboriginal governance and could you describe it?

Michelle Deshong:

I guess one of the things to appreciate in Australia is that we have over 200 different tribal or cultural groups within our nations so of course that presents very diverse circumstances; from patrilineal to matrilineal societies to also societies that much more coastal regions versus those that are really remote. Depending on the location and structure of those nations, the roles have been different in various communities. One of the things that’s fundamentally important when you make some comparisons to other Indigenous nations is that we don’t have this hierarchal structure of chiefs or kings or things like that. We’ve kind of set this model around elders and our elders become those leaders and the keepers of knowledge. We have a huge respect and appreciation of our elders and afford them the rights to lead, to be able to explain to the next generation our cultural obligations but also some of the things around family and kinship. You know, what’s the best decision for the collective good? I guess another thing with that is people in the community have responsibility for different elements of culture. They’re might be the keeper of songs or the people who practice traditional ceremony or those kinds of things. That was the kind of people who naturally took on a leadership responsibility. In a more contemporary society, and I guess what I’m talking about is the last 50-100 years, is that we’ve built in a lot of these leadership structures that have been introduced and while they’ve been effective, sometimes the match between this leadership structure and the one that we’ve known culturally doesn’t quite correlate as strongly as it should.

Verónica Hirsch:

From your perspective, what aspects define Aboriginal traditional forms of governance?

Michelle Deshong:

Well, I guess I’d draw on what I just talked about in terms of elders and the knowledge and ceremonies that actually pass on information but we’re good story tellers. Indigenous people across the world are good story tellers and we keep a lot of that knowledge in those stories. What’s happened in Australia over time is that we’ve been tasked with a few different challenges around discriminatory policies, marginalization, even the removal of traditional lands, so that’s led us to have to form different kinds of community constructs. In that space, we’ve tried to develop an opportunity to lead and to govern in new ways as well as still honoring a place for our elders and other leaders who emerge with different perspectives. I guess we’re kind of hybrid of different models and different opportunities.  One of the things that’s remarkable about that is even in the face of all of these challenges we’ve certainly have had the survival of us as a people and we continue to forge ahead from a community perspective. Also, importantly that we’ve started to think about new ways of approaching governance and better that solid foundation of nation building and who we are and our identities as aboriginal people, as Kuku Yalanji or Gunditjmara or other nations that can demonstrate the ways in which we bring the old practices into a new space.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. How were Aboriginal governance roles and responsibilities traditionally allocated in communities? I know you mentioned previously that elders are highly regarded as are people who might have traditional responsibilities, who are in charge of particular protocols around song or ceremony. Are there other examples of a type of governance role and responsibility being allocated to a certain or particular group of people within a given community?

Michelle Deshong:

Well again, I’d draw on the diversity and I can’t speak for all nations in Australia but one of the things that I think is really important if you think about it, in a Westernized model we work in a traditionally what we would call silos, particular areas of interest or knowledge or social justice. Just as that’s kind of the way we do business now, that’s also the way business was done in the past where you had specific knowledge, where you were responsible for particular elements of community; where you might be the negotiator where you might be the person who has responsibilities for children. People were assigned roles and under those roles you then had to honor the knowledge that was passed on through the generations. This is really interesting when you think about the kind of performance and ceremonies we often see for aboriginal people that not everybody is a singer, not everybody is a dancer; that each of those things honor a particular element of culture and learning and pass on stories in different ways. Of course, we also used to have men’s and women’s business and we continue to practice that today but some of those things become that really secret, innate knowing of the why in which we practice our roles and responsibilities in community that are often not shared outside the community construct. Equally, they’re just as important in knowing who we are and what are things we want to achieve through our governance today.

Verónica Hirsch:

You mentioned women’s business and how outside a specific community context that would not likely be discussed, but I do want to ask perhaps a related question, what roles did women have in traditional Aboriginal governance?

Michelle Deshong:

Well again, I think women have been a very dominant force in the leadership and the cohesion of our traditional societies. Along the way we’ve lost sight of how important those roles can be. One of the things that struck me as we talked about the way our communities move forward is this idea that culture is stagnant and we talk about the old way or the traditional way. We have to recognize that culture evolves and changes but in doing so, it doesn’t mean that we dismiss the roles or responsibilities of individuals in communities. To me, we still see women who are playing really prominent roles in the leadership of their communities, in particular are strong decision makers, often are the silent authority in a lot of ways that even though the structure might look like the men are making the decisions, at the end of the day it takes the really strong words of the elders and particularly the female elders about keeping things in check that kind of determine the direction that individual communities can go. To me, that role of women is a developing one. It’s still founded in the idea of who we were as women in our communities right back in the early years but you know women still become a really prominent force in driving an agenda and moving people forward but also thinking about the leadership. In a broader sense in society, we can see that when women are included in these kinds of processes and decision-making, the outcome are much better from a whole community perspective. Women are often thinking more broadly about the consequences of some of those actions and decisions that people would put in place. I think women have an innate ability to be very strong leaders but to also think consciously about how that affects people, how that affects communities and how it needs to sustain a knowledge and a transition through the different periods of time.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. I’d like to ask some questions that have to do with some more contemporary issues. My first question is what are the successes and challenges of current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance systems?

Michelle Deshong:

In Australia, one of the things that’s an interesting kind of construct is what opportunities exist from a community or tribal base. For a long time, we’ve been kept out of a space that’s been afforded any legal or political position. I think we’re now in a transition of change that needs to take us forward in a way that starts to look beyond what we’ve always known to be the way that our communities work and think about getting back to those strong foundations of culture but also asking critical questions about who we are as nations and who we are as a peoples. In thinking about that, I look back on the last 50 years – you know, I’m not 50 – but certainly in my lifetime around, ‘what have we actually achieved in an era post-1967 referendum or post the inclusion of aboriginal people to vote and be a participant in society?’ Those 50 years are a really interesting window to look through about what we’ve been able to achieve as aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. When you take those experiences you particularly see some really strong trail blazers and people who have led the way in many different sectors of our society that come from that strength drawn as aboriginal women, you know the resilience, the kind of impacts of having to constantly face these barriers and challenges but still staying resilient and passionate about the issues that you pursue. The other thing I think is that it takes a lot of courage and aboriginal women have displayed this around their capacity to say, ‘Well I won’t accept the things I know are not okay, I will push the boundaries. I will think differently. I will be in the streets protesting if I need to be but I will also be in the university getting an education. I will be in all these places that aboriginal women need to be to be able to influence not only from the external point of view but the internal point of view as well.

Verónica Hirsch:

You mentioned the ’67 referendum and so I want to ask if you could explain a little bit about what that is and its impact, if any, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance systems whether at community level or any other level where you believe impact is apparent?

Michelle Deshong:

Prior to 1967, you can imagine throughout history some of the discriminatory policies that existed with things like segregation or assimilation. We certainly had an era where there was the removal of children; trying to assimilate aboriginal people into the broader society on the basis that aboriginal people would be a dying race. These are some of the backdrops to this political action in the 1960’s which we have to recognize coincides with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. In 1962, finally the Electoral Act changed to include all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is their capacity to be able to vote. This was significant because prior to this time, obviously all of these policies specifically excluded indigenous peoples and so hence that race exclusion becomes important when we think about the ’67 referendum was about. Lots of people will make the assumption that the ’67 referendum was the right to vote but as I’ve mentioned it happened a little bit earlier. What the ’67 referendum did was actually change the constitution to take out two discriminatory clauses in our constitution, ones that actually prevented federal intervention on issues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but importantly meant that it allowed Aboriginal people to be counted as citizens. 1971 was the first time in our census that we actually got Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation to be included as part of the society and the social fabric of Australia. It had a huge impact on Indigenous rights and the Indigenous movement at that particular time. Importantly, it was also and remains in our history one of the most successful referendums which is interesting given what the actual issue was about but Australia has only passed 8 out of 48 attempts to change the constitution. In the 1967 one we got like a 90 percent vote yes. Part of our reflection on that period of time means that this kind of international pressure that was mounting from the Civil Rights Movement and from the desegregation in the United States meant that there had to be some impact across the rest of the world and fortunately the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were able to maneuver their own rights in the shadows of the Black Civil Rights Movement. From then on in the 1970’s, for the next couple decades we saw some really strong progress being made for Aboriginal people. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs established, the opportunities for Aboriginal organizations, a focus on Aboriginal employment opportunities, land rights acts and other social justice and political areas that for a long time had been ignored prior to that period of time.

Verónica Hirsch:

You mentioned land rights act as arising out of the 1967 referendum; could you explain a little bit more about that aspect.

Michelle Deshong:

Well, I’m not very well-versed in all of the details of the land rights act but I guess what I mean by that is it started different discussions about, ‘Who are Aboriginal people and where do they fit into the Australian context?’ Some people would suggest that we were counted as flora and fauna before this time. Historians, depending on which story you read, will either say we were or we weren’t but that’s important when you think about that’s how people were treated prior to this time, you then create a different space for aboriginal people to occupy, to start actually having discussions. What that meant for a lot of communities and particular indigenous nations is to be able to have some conversations about the illegal occupation of their lands and what were the rights afforded to them post this particular time? Again not being fully versed in the land rights act, but I know that the northern territory introduced the land rights act very early on which was of course followed in the late 90’s by the Native Title Act. All of those things then start to build this momentum around if you start to work on this area, it leads into other areas of affirmation and capacity building as indigenous people but more particularly as nations as well reconnecting with their identities and being able to say, ‘This is who we are, these are our traditional lands, this is our practices. We decide what’s best for our communities and what we want.’

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. You’ve mentioned how Aboriginal nations were able to relate and to reassert their own political agency, but I’d now like to ask, how do Aboriginal nations among themselves relate to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Michelle Deshong:

I think that’s a really interesting question and I’ve often talked throughout this interview about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I am an Aboriginal woman, I draw my connection to Kuku Yalanji nation and that’s who I am and that’s my identity. But as part of our collective experiences, we’ve also learned to appreciate each other’s cultural diversity but also our collaboration as Indigenous people. I am not a Torres Strait Islander, and I cannot speak on their behalf about some of the intricate cultural spaces but I can talk about the things shared between us; how we’ve had to challenge the institutions, how we’ve had to assert our rights from a collective point of view rather than individual nations because that’s the only way we’ve able to get political traction. Some of these policies and this new era of Indigenous affairs has led us to work more collaboratively as Indigenous peoples but at the same time, some of these issues have also been quite divisive. I guess I would use the example of Native title. Now, it was a really positive step when the Mabo case was handed down that said terra nullius no longer applies and we do have continuing connections to land. This consequently leads to the Native title legislation but what Native title then does is pit Aboriginal territories against each other; then having to try and develop cases that say, ‘point to the specific place in the land where your territory begins and ours ends’. These are kind of the things that fitting the cultural knowledge into a really different western democracy kind of box doesn’t really fit. We’ve had situations where unfortunately Native title has created a lot of concern between different territories but on the other side we’ve also had nations where that process has brought a great deal of cohesion and collaboration. I guess it just goes back to that diversity and the opportunities and how they present themselves. One of the things we do in Australia, which is really important and is often not something I’ve seen across the world, is we acknowledge, in our own traditional practices, whenever we travel to other people’s countries we would ask permission to be there and we would often be welcomed by the aina’s of that land. That forms the fundamental foundation of what we consider now ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies. At the beginning of any kind of formal activities, you’ll find in Aboriginal communities, we’ll always have a welcome.   We invite a local elder or traditional aina to come along and to welcome us onto their country, honoring that age-old practice but also recognizing some of their culture protocols and what we must honor on their land and sharing our knowledge of why we are there. Often, many of our elders will say things like, ‘We want you to leave with the footprints of our country in your heart.’ That’s the kind of stuff we’re saying as Indigenous peoples when we come together we recognize each other. In the absence of those elders we also do acknowledgements so as an Aboriginal woman, even as I travel the world, I am always very conscious of the fact that I am usually on the traditional lands of Native peoples and I honor that and respect that as a part of my cultural being. It’s sad sometimes when I recognize that’s not a practice in other countries. That’s the one thing I think we’ve really established as a strong foundation not just between Aboriginal people but all of those people who want to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities acknowledge that this is a practice, this is a foundation of our culture that must be recognized and respected.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. I’d like to now ask a question related to how Aboriginal nations relate politically to other governmental entities and specifically to Australian provincial territorial and federal governments?

Michaelle Deshong:

I think the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia is a very unique one even when we look at the shared histories of places like Canada and New Zealand etcetera. We can see that there are similar processes in terms of colonization and the removal of people and poor policy. What’s happened in Australia is that some of the legacy of those fundamental foundations of that colony have really affected our participation in a political space. I guess I draw the clearest example of that being a constitution that doesn’t recognize Aboriginal people nor any treaties negotiated during that period so with the absence of those things, the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the provincial and federal governments has always been a very difficult and tenuous one. For a long period of time, Aboriginal people were forcibly removed off their traditional lands and placed in areas of missions and reserves, afforded very little rights and Queensland in fact is one of the states that is well known for its really poor policies around Aboriginal people. We’ve had issues about a number of different cultural groups being placed on isolated island communities being forced to live under those conditions. We’ve had issues of Aboriginal people working for different sectors and having their money stolen so we call that the stolen wages case in Australia. It’s much more complex than I even have justice for. The fact that Aboriginal people should’ve been given regular wages and that was kept by the institutions so now 50-40 years later going through a cycle of trying to right those wrongs in history and afford people their compensation for that period of time. What the means is that Aboriginal people have either been under a period of control or lacked a lot of legal or political rights. A lot of the situations have led to state governments, or provincial governments as you may refer to them, being the controllers of Indigenous peoples lives. We’ve worked over the many years to try and change the way in which the relationships between Aboriginal people and the governments work but that’s very difficult to do when we are only a small percent of the population. Aboriginal people only make up 3% of the population and they’re dispersed all over the country so we don’t have a great deal of effect in those little pockets which is why we have to kind of approach it from a more collective position in terms of trying to influence the decision makers and government. I would say that over the last couple of decades, we’re now seeing a much more collaborative approach between governments, working with partnership with Aboriginal communities or at least trying to afford a space where aboriginal people are consulted, they are establishing work groups or are working with governments in order to shape community-partnership agreements. Aside from that, we’re also seeing an increase in the numbers of Aboriginal people participating in governments; that might not seem significant for some people but it’s very important in terms of having a seat at the table. Remembering with the backdrop of no treaty, we haven’t been at the table in any real capacity so we’ve got to get there. You know why that’s said it’s our voices that’s being heard and not others speaking on our behalf, we’re assuming that what they’re saying is correct. One of the things that’s changing in Australia at this moment is we’re seeing more Aboriginal people participating in a political space, running as candidates but also thinking about where are our positions of strength? Where in the political system can we gain some traction? Where can we have the most effect around advocacy and lobbying and those types of areas? The other thing is we’ve established our own representative body, the National Congress, as a way of also saying, ‘This is our political body and we want to form really strong relationships but we also want foreign governments to be accountable to us as the indigenous people, not just people that have to be the recipients of policy but actually people that can help shape what that looks like.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. I’d like to transition now into a discussion on how some of the aspects that you’ve mentioned, of the reality that there are not treaties signed with particular aboriginal nations, how the Australian government has a long and sordid history of trying to exert control in various facets and aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life. I’d like to now ask, how have – from a more contemporary standpoint – how has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s political representation and participation led to a type of nation building, whether at that more localized level that you mentioned, having a seat at the table, or at that larger national level?

Michelle Deshong:

One of the areas that I often focus a great deal on is actually how we get Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to identify their own worth and capacity in a political space. When I say a political space I don’t necessarily mean those formal political roles; I’m not saying that every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander has to run for political office. When you think about politics and the broad sense of what is politics? It is essentially every part of our lives. Even identity politics in itself, you know who we are as peoples in this contemporary world, is the fundamental question of a political foundation. We use the word politics quite kind of fluidly in that conversation but one of the things I’ll go back to is what I said at the beginning around to me nation building is only as powerful as the empowerment that the individuals can bring to it so one of the things we have to do is strengthen our individuals and their capacity, particularly if we use the example of women. When women feel like they have a right to be heard or when women feel like there is equality in a board room or a community, we’re getting back to some of those traditional responsibilities of gender roles in our communities, we start to then feel a different sense of empowerment and opportunity. I would say one of the things that’s been evident, and again as I’ve mentioned over the past 50 years we’ve seen a real heightened level of action of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in a political space. Now, that political space includes things like becoming barristers; it includes things like becoming teachers, teaching bilingually in Indigenous curriculums in our education system is a political action about trying to insert Indigenous opportunities and Indigenous cultural foundations and knowledges into this kind of much bigger, institutional framework. Sadly, for most of us in Australia and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we have to realize that we’re not running our communities, we’re not running our own governments. We’re limited only by the capacity of our ability to work within the current context and then when we start doing that and start to get some of that momentum going, you can see the logical flaws and effects to what that means to us as indigenous peoples. How we start to then define what is important to us, how we start to challenge the status quo of what people expect from us as indigenous peoples and where we need to stay within a particular box in society to say, ‘Well no, we can be all of this and so much more but we’ll decide for ourselves what impacts us, what our people want’ and I think that’s a really important transitioning period. I’m not sure if I’ve articulated it well enough but for me there’s that real sense of – for generations we’ve had other people talking for us on our behalf and what we’ll get to in the next 50 years is a position where we don’t need anybody to talk for us; even if you think about research, most of the books are always written by non-Indigenous people and their observations of us. With the growing capacity of Aboriginal academics, and researches and people in this space, within 50 years that will change and you will have all these big books written by us about our people, decolonizing the methodologies that exist in academia but also putting indigenous knowledges at the forefront of that kind of research and that work. That in itself becomes empowering because when we have the capacity to research our own people, make those kind of contributions, then ourselves as people and nations benefit.

Verónica Hirsch:

What governance changes still need to be among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations broadly?

Michelle Deshong:

By having the opportunity to be here at NNI and particularly to undertake the Indigenous governance program, we had to look a number of case studies that existed around the world of particular nations and one of the things that I think it asserted for me is this perception that Australia is a little bit further behind than other nations in terms of a rights-based agenda, which isn’t surprising when you look at our history. What we’ve built our capacity around in Australia at the moment, and particularly in our Aboriginal communities, is we’re essentially in a self-management phase. I mean, we look at funding that comes from government and we deliver services on behalf of government to our communities. We have community organization that do all of this and within those community organizations they have governance structures and henceforth these limitations about, ‘You are this organization you will run under this governance model and this is the service you will provide.’ At the moment, that’s the way our communities survive; community-controlled sector organizations and the capacity for us to look at government funding. When you have a look then at how other nations have been able to bring themselves along a much longer spectrum of change in terms of that Indigenous self-determination and self-governance idea, that’s where I see our progression moving to. We’re going through a phase at the moment where organizations are losing their funding under a really conserving government and that’s becoming really crippling for our communities. We need to start to change those conversations about what are our long-term economic sustainability approaches look like? How do we sustain our people and our communities beyond these government funding cycles? In order to do that, we actually have to coordinate and govern as a community, not determined on an organizational structure but actually saying as a community, ‘how do we want to make decisions? How do we want to set priorities and what do we want to look like 20 and 50 years into the future?’ Because at the moment, we’re drawn into this government funding cycle that means we limit our perspectives and our ideas. To me, we need to start thinking the long term. Unless we make this investment now, in 20 years we’re going to be in a position where there is no Indigenous funding and no Indigenous organizations. What we have to do as individuals but also community groups and nations is to invest in that thinking and take us forward. I would say that’s happening and there are small pockets of communities that are working really strongly in this space but to be honest that takes a real maturity of Indigenous peoples and all their leaders; a capacity to look beyond personal benefits and think about a nation more broadly. Sometimes that’s hard for people to think about because that’s not the way that we’ve been thinking for the last 20 or 30 years so you’re actually looking for a psychological shift in saying, ‘It’s actually okay for us as Indigenous people to set the agenda,’ we’re just not used to being the ones to set it. I’ll make a comparison to a nation that I worked with recently as an indigenous counselor that talked about all of these government officials coming into their communities whenever the government officials wanted to without any regard to the cultural foundations of the communities, some of the ceremonies, some of the things that really upset people in the community. Through some of our conversations, we reasserted actually the council, the Aboriginal people of that community, have the power; we just forgot how to exercise that power. By setting an agenda based on what the community wants, a protocol that says ‘This is when you can come and visit and these are the people you need to meet with as the leaders of this community or the representatives of traditional groups.’ When we change that conversation, we start to change a whole range of different issues within our societies and communities so if we take back some of that power, if we start to think about our opportunities and really flipping it back to the way it should be, we’ll start to see a great deal of empowerment and people looking differently to be a nation. What it means for Kuku Yalanji or what it means for other groups that want to assert their own authority and make their own decisions for their own people. It’s a very interesting question because I guess I would put myself in this position and say one of the challenges we have in nation building is first and foremost identifying who our people are. Who are our nations? The Native Americans talk about citizens of their nations, registered, card-carrying individuals…all these sorts of things that don’t actually exist in an Australian context. If I think about myself, I draw my connection to Kukun Yalanji and Butchulla nations, but I don’t live on either of those nations. I live in a regional town that doesn’t mean it minimizes my identity as Kuku Yalanji but it does mean that there are certain things that I will participate in and certain things I won’t. For those people living out in the country, of course their invested interest is much greater than mine when it comes to land and resources and the kind of social fabric of that community. In saying that, I think there’s also an element of opportunity that exists for people of all nations and how they make a contribution. In particular, there was a story of one of the nations in America that thought about how you actually develop a government structure that says importantly the people who live here are fundamental to our decision making and to our implementation as our nation grows and develops but we can’t forget about all of those other people, the rest of our citizens across the country or across the world that also still belong with us and share our identities. One of the fundamental questions for me is – we actually need to address that question before we get any further along – now that’s not saying that everyone is like me; many people live on country, have lived on country their whole lives, are very intricately involved in those spaces but for each of us our experiences are different. Taking Kuku Yalanji forward, for example, the agenda is being driven by people on that nation but I think that there’s things that I can contribute certainly from my education or my political experience and things like that that I can contribute to the nation to help move things forward or bring different skill sets to the conversation. We have to kind of develop and reconnect for people back to country and back to what’s important to us. I think it’s an experience all across the world; we may talk about cultures being a fundamental issue for us as Indigenous people. The reality is we’re losing connection through generations and we have to keep going back through this cycle of what do we do to invest and ensure that cultural connection is sustained. I guess the other thing I would say around governance in our communities is that we have to think about the approaches to governance. Often, again people are born into this idea that governance is a model set down through a constitution and through a particular act that says this is the way you must govern. One of the areas of potential development and exploration for us as Indigenous peoples and Indigenous nations is how can we do this differently? It is not always a match between those imposed kinds of constitutions and models to what we know to be right and the way we work as a nation. We’ve referred to it in the governance program as the cultural match. Do these things fit with who we are as a people and once we work that out I think the people responsible for that implementation just emerge; it’s the way we do those practices, it’s the people who hold that knowledge that ultimately will then be the leaders responsible for the nation. We’ll be the people who will have to inspire others to come a long the journey. We have to accept that there’s a lot of negativity, there’s a lot of kind of ‘I don’t even think that’s possible’ given what we know of our history or governments that can be difficult to work with. A lot of people go into it already feeling defeat so we know that might also take a couple of go’s at it. We might not get it right but we’ve got to keep making those small increments of change to foster investment by our people for the future.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. I’d like to now ask what governance changes need to be made at the federal level to acknowledge and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation-building efforts?

Michelle Deshong:

Well, it’s interesting you should ask me about the federal level because I think I was reflecting earlier on today that very early on in my career of Indigenous affairs, I listened to a visiting Indigenous academic who said, ‘Often we can be our own worst enemies, we can pull each other down and pull each other back’ I think lots of use the analogy of the crab in the bucket kind of approach to things. This Indigenous leader said what we have to do is find out where it is we do our best work and when we do that we need to honor that space and do the best that we can but recognize that that doesn’t mean that anybody is better than the other. For some people that might mean working at the local level in a community organization or a community perspective is absolutely the right place that they need to be while others might like to work on a national or international level to make similar changes but in a different kind of political context. To me, if we recognize that all of us have a role to play not just that it has to be one or the other but that all of those link together then the effectiveness of governance and it’s change from a national approach can be seen on all levels of our communities and our tribal nations. Particularly in Australia one of the things that I think we do very well is we have a lot of national peak organizations, which are organizations that are set up to try and establish a national agenda. It might be things like health standards or education capacity, building an Indigenous curriculum, those kinds of things. When we start set the agenda at a national level and have some of that political advocacy space, we can then see that that has to transition through the different levels of government but also it means it gives our community the power to implement that kind of accountability. When we are talking about the kind of education curriculum, for example, when the national standard is set by a consulted group Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives and they have been agreed to, it is the responsibility of the communities to ensure that the education system is meeting our needs. If that means bilingual teaching, that’s what it means. If it means strategies for school attendance driven by our communities – not by government, but by our communities – then that’s a really important approach. That’s one of the things I think our peak organizations do very well. A couple that are more broadly across indigenous affairs would be the National Congress of Indigenous Peoples, the Australian Indigenous Leadership Center – which is building that capacity of leadership in our indigenous communities so it’s individual based but you can see that it has impact in all levels – and then the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute is also looking at building our capacity as researchers but also our knowledge around indigenous nations and their capacity to govern. Similarly, as NNI draws on all these resources and builds its knowledge base, I think that’s one of the things the [Australian] Indigenous Governance Institute will do over the next few years is mirror those kind of opportunities but in an Australian context.

Verónica Hirsch:

You mentioned the existence of national peak organizations and their role in creating national agendas; to what extent have some of the peak organizations that you’ve mentioned created an agenda or agendas pertaining to governance and enacting governance changes that ultimately will strengthen the ability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to decide for themselves what is best?

Michelle Deshong:

So I guess one of the things – I mentioned before how we work in the sectors so each of those peak organizations is a sector-based peak organization. Say for example, the national Aboriginal community-controlled health organization; at the national body, it sets specific standards around the provision of health and medical services aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In doing so it also establishes a strong governance protocol within its organization but also in which the way that governance and decision making is implemented throughout all of the aboriginal medical services whether they are urban, rural, or remote so you can set standards that regardless of where people are they should be afforded the same access to health, to wellbeing, to provisions of medical services and all of that kind of stuff. At a community-based level, what you’ll see is a governance model that is administering the requirements in a health sector so that’s sort of the way those peak organizations are working. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services is probably one that over the last few years has worked really hard to lobby governments about the way in which it was approaching funding and resources to legal services and taking away some of our own people’s way to advocate for law reform. Through that kind of peak organization, you then have all these other state-based organizations that are developing similar models of advocacy and governance and having an opportunity to try and change the perspectives of government ministers and also funding bodies so they recognize the value in what’s being dealt with. Organizations like National Congress are also set up on a basis that it’s building the governments of organizations by linking them in as members of congress and being able to create a network of organizations with similar interests and building those alliances that help to change the way it’s implemented at a community level or a state-based level.

Verónica Hirsch:

I’d like to ask now what mechanisms or instruments do Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities use to ensure that the priorities that have been established by national peak organizations, that those specific items are met, that whatever services are expected to be delivered are done so at the state level?

Michelle Deshong:

One of the things that’s really important in the Australian context is this question of accountability. As Indigenous people organizations, we want to develop an accountability mechanism for governments and for other service providers for the way in which they interact and work with our people. The trouble is we really have no legal or political position to ensure our accountability so the National Congress is an example of that because as it is a national peak organization, it is a representative body, we can advocate and we knock on the doors and we can set our own agendas but at the end of the day it’s really up to the goodwill of government and stake holders to work in collaboration with us rather than imposing some of those kinds of revisions. One of the things in Australia – obviously since 2007 when the [United Nations] Declaration of Rights [of Indigenous Peoples] was introduced and adopted by Australia, we’re thinking of ways we could use some of those instruments and foundations legally and politically to reassert some of the things that our nation signed up for. Using the language within instruments like the [United Nations] Declaration of Rights [of Indigenous Peoples] helps to inform our position and the accountability measures we’re trying to make people adhere to. When a nation like Australia has said that yes we will adopt the Declaration and we’ll acknowledge Indigenous people’s rights to establish their own decision-making institutions and have decision-makers elected by them for their own purposes then that’s actually giving us the foundations that says we can actually establish our own governance organizations; we can assert our people as Indigenous peoples through these kind of mechanisms. The Australian government – you’ve kind of gotta come to the party because you adopted this Declaration and you said these things were important for the nation. The trouble with a lot of this kind of high-level political and legal frameworks is that there’s a disconnect between what’s happening at that level and often what communities are trying to assert of work within. There’s an approach through human rights commission but also through Indigenous leaders and peak organizations to constantly educate and build our knowledge base around some of these political instruments so our people can be informed because knowledge is power, right? Once we know what we have, we learn about different strategies of how to exercise those rights so as much as it’s not necessarily – the question is whether it’s a legally binding document, well we can’t take you to court over it but we can certainly continually remind you of the things that we asserted as nation that we would do for and with Aboriginal people and we’ll keep reminding you of that in the language and in the processes that we use as Indigenous peoples. It’s also really interesting to think about, well why would we use that when we’re trying to assert our own position as Indigenous nations? To me, the answer is we can either sit on the periphery and be annoyed at all of these kinds of political processes and hate the result or we can try to utilize them to the best of our ability. I guess the Declaration we know was formed by Indigenous peoples, a collective of Indigenous peoples across the world but that brings its authenticity. This is not something that was written by other people for us, this is actually Indigenous people writing this and I’m sure that most of us could pick up the Declaration and really have a connection to many of the articles just in our life experiences and go, ‘Yes this applies to me, I understand that, it makes sense to me.’ Those are some of the things that I think are really important for us to try and use as nations to assert our position but also then think about how that strengthens our governance and what it is we are trying to achieve out of our governance model.

Verónica Hirsch:

You mentioned using the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a means to enforce or encourage accountability. Do you have a specific example or a certain instance in mind where a community or a consortium of communities, perhaps through a peak organization that you previously mentioned, that was able to successfully argue for change, for a governance change perhaps by referring to the Declaration?

Michelle Deshong:

One of the things – and obviously I’m not fully versed in everything that every nation is doing in our country but there are a couple of things that stand out to me in terms of the Declaration and post the Declaration what that’s meant for us in Australia. In particular, one of my colleagues at James Cook University works within her tribal nation and is actually doing a bit of an analysis of how does the declaration relate to the work they do as a tribal nation at the local level and making some really strong alignment between what the article says and what that actually means in terms of the aspirations of her particular tribal nation, in that sense, has actually been able to get all of the leadership within that tribal nation to understand these fundamental principles as well. In some ways, we can really leverage off our human’s rights. Our human rights don’t just exist as Indigenous peoples but as human beings we have human rights, innate rights. The advantage for us as Indigenous people is that we then have individual and collective rights and so that’s the way we can exercise an opportunity to implement the declaration as various levels and if that’s at a local level, we can make those kind of connections between the instrument and what’s happening for our nations. The other example I would say is our government made some statements in relation to lifestyle choices of people living in remote communities, which was in complete violation of article 10 of the Declaration of Rights. A government that signs up to this international instruments says ‘We want to honor all of these articles that are written under the declaration’ but in the next breath does something that completely contradicts it. By again using that language and reaffirming our position as indigenous people, we get some of that traction in terms of political space but also public opinion because the media has a lot to answer for in terms of the way it informs our communities. People have very limited views of what indigenous rights are. I remember going through a process where we were talking about the apology to the stolen generation, we had one prime minister who flatly refused to do it and then in 2007, Kevin Rudd issued the apology. For lots of the Australian community it was, ‘Oh if you get through the apology how much compensation does that mean?’ When people are not understanding the fundamental principles of why the apology was important, compensation is a different conversation, but if you believe all of the rhetoric that exists in the mainstream media then apparently Indigenous people were only after money. If you provide a more informed position based on things like indigenous history and Indigenous rights, it changes the conversation and it changed the perspective that people can bring to the table. For myself, if I was thinking about how has the Declaration changed for me, you mentioned when you introduced me that I do a lot of work at the United Nation as an NGO representative to different forums on gender equality for women. That’s a direct correlation between the Declaration of Rights and other international instruments that says as an Aboriginal woman I have the right to participate, I have the right to advocate, I also have the right to stand to vote but that the declaration actually says that Indigenous people can be in this space, they can bring their views and opinions, their views and opinions should be honored and acknowledged, that we shouldn’t be excluded from any of these places. To me, that is a direct correlation between I exercise through my participation in UN, the Declaration and other instruments that say as Indigenous people we have the right to be here, the right to be heard.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. I’d like to now ask a question related to political participation and it is this: How does Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander political participation and elected representation at federal and state levels aid in compelling governance accountability?

Michelle Deshong:

Okay, you need to ask me that question again. I need to think about it, it was a long question.

Verónica Hirsch:

How does Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander political participation and elected representation at federal and state levels aid in compelling governance accountability?

Michelle Deshong:

One of the things that has been interesting in our history is to have a look at the participation of Aboriginal people at a federal level. Before 2013, we’d only ever had three representatives at the federal level, all of them men and over four different decades. There’s a long period in our history where we’ve not been included in our political participation. One of the things that political participation does is it provides us a seat at the table but it also means that we find ourselves in positions of decision making rather than just recipients of decisions made on our behalf and I think that’s a really important thing for us to recognize. Indigenous people are often excluded from the places where the discussions about our lives, about our opportunities, about our rights are taking place and therefore we find out later on and have no chance of redress or response. If you effectively infiltrate, as I call it, the political system, if Indigenous people become political actors not just in indigenous affairs but actually become politicians in their own right, we have a place within our democracy regardless of the fact we have no treaty, it actually says we’re here and we have the same responsibilities as other politicians. The added bonus is we bring a new perspective to the table as Indigenous peoples and we actually now have the forum to be able to interject those kind of perspectives in ways that are often exclusive of our participation. In 2010, we had a member voted in the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt, and then in 2013 we got our first Indigenous woman in the Federal Parliament, Nova Peris in the Senate.  That’s really significant because from 2013 onwards that’s the first time in our history we’ve had more than one Aboriginal person in our political system. Now, that’s not fantastic numbers but what that means is that isolated voice actually starts to grow when you’ve got two, three, or four different Indigenous politicians, there’s much more opportunity to address Indigenous issues not only within an indigenous affairs portfolio but to actually as a responsibility of the Australian community. That’s the first thing. The second thing is again this political action isn’t just in that political space and that’s where the government stuff relates. We can learn lessons out of political advocacy, which actually help us develop better government strategies. If people understand what or ways to negotiate or what people are about – for example, I guess we often think that everyone will understand our view as Indigenous people. Sometimes what we don’t do is appreciate what other people’s view might be. If we understand that, we get to tailor our arguments, we’ll tailor our case a little more differently to get the kind of dialogue happening that’s required for change. Those political kind of maneuvers, political strategies, political processes teach us things that we need to have in our toolkit when we are governing, when we are in places of governance and decision making, when we want to uphold our level of integrity. What are the things we expect from others and therefore are we portraying those things ourselves? Are people in it for personal investment or for the long term and the greater good of our nation rather than just myself? Those are the questions I think we ask ourselves particularly when it comes to a political arena and that should also be the question we ask ourselves in governance.

Verónica Hirsch:

You mentioned Nova Peris becoming the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the [Australian] Senate; I’d now like to ask you in what ways have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women contested longstanding political patriarchy?

Michelle Deshong:

As I mentioned earlier on, over the past 50 years we’ve been phenomenal, phenomenal. Aboriginal women have made extensive change in political participation that have really set an agenda and have enabled others to follow. This is the thing, we all need trailblazers, right? We need that first one and so already Australia is looking towards another election. The dialogue that happens between Aboriginal women now about running for political office is much different prior to Nova being elected or other Aboriginal women being elected. There’s often this skepticism about, ‘I’m not going to be successful, I won’t achieve this, I can’t’ all of these kinds of things, the conversation has changed. When one person is able to show you can navigate the system and reach those levels of success then so too can others. Even in some of the community work that I do, you know those can be small incremental things but women running for elected committees, people running on council, even joining political parties; you don’t have to be the person who actually runs but you can be the person to support others to be there. That’s a really important part of us as a collective, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. If we support each other who knows what’s possible. I think some of those examples of people like Nova, Linda Burney…you know, New South Wales Legislative Assembly Northern Territory has the highest representation of Indigenous women. All of those women have had to overcome a great deal of tragedy and despair and really bad lifestyle experiences but have also come out of that with really positive opportunities and motivations for change. Certainly some of the work I’ve done in interviewing some of these politicians can go, ‘I remember this specific time when something happened to me or on my behalf or a condition that I was living in made me feel unsettled and at that point I realized that I needed to be doing things differently, I needed to be part of the change.’ That was what sent them on this political projector so it can be just some of those simple things that actually motivate people to be in that political space or to be in any space in government or leadership that seeks change. If you know something’s not right, do something about it. That saying that says if you’re not a part of the solution, you must be part of the problem. It’s no good talking about how bad it is if we’re not prepared to change our own endeavors in terms of leading change but also having a different dialogue, having a positive conversation with each other about what’s possible about us as indigenous people.

Verónica Hirsch:

How does Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s political participation in these various venues that you’ve mentioned at whatever level, at the federal level, at the state level, how do their efforts ultimately impact and support Indigenous nation building?

Michelle Deshong:

If I go back to my early career, one of the hardest things I found working for the public service was always feeling like I had to go back to Aboriginal Affairs 101 every time I had to work with a non-Indigenous colleague or manager, someone who had to make a decision. I always felt like there was this element of firstly I have to educate them, then I’ve got to get them to understand our situation and then maybe we can get to a point of conversation and decision. I think with having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in some of these political spaces we don’t have to go back to Aboriginal Affairs 101, that they come from a point of knowing and understanding and therefore that advocacy and that opportunity presents in different ways because you’re not having to spend so much time on this initial education component. I think that’s true how that filters through to other women. One of the particular things when I think about society’s perception of where Aboriginal women should be or what Aboriginal women are capable of. I’m often saying to them we need to contest that and be in spaces they don’t expect us to be so they can see that as women we bring different points of view to the table but as Aboriginal women we bring even more and that’s a bonus, that’s not a hindrance; that’s something we bring in innate understanding knowledge and perception that no one else has. You can learn a thing or two from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women that we might give you an idea that just kind of seems like, ‘well why did we never think about that before?’ It’s one of those things that I guess if unless we’re afforded the opportunity to be seen as equals and to be able to work collaboratively, the situation might not ever occur that we get to understand what each of us brings to the space. Similarly, I think that’s just as important in our nations; that a lot of people, and particularly a lot of men have assumed a position of authority and power, and are therefore ill-equipped to listen to other perspectives and points of view. When we can get to a space where we’re looking at an equality based governance model we can then say we truly are being collaborative in the way we’re taking our nation forward and that’s really important for governance so that nobody feels like they’re being left out. One of the most important things about decision making and being in governance roles is that you’ve considered all different aspects, that you haven’t just run with one particular agenda without being informed about what people are feeling, how our members are viewing this particular issue or have we actually consulted with people to get a sense of what is really going on in the community. If we take that approach of equality and consultation and building in the capacity for other perspectives and I think that makes for a very strong governance model.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you, Michelle for sharing your insight and expertise. That’s all the time we have on today’s episode of Leading Native Nations.

Chairman Dave Archambault II: Laying the Foundation for Tribal Leadership and Self-governance

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Chairman Archambault’s wealth and breadth of knowledge and experience in the tribal labor and workforce development arena is unparalleled. He currently serves as the chief executive officer of one of the largest tribes in the Dakotas, leading 500 tribal government employees and overseeing an array of tribal departments and programs, including Higher Education, TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office), the Tribal Work Experience Program (TWEP), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program.

He also oversees the Tribe’s economic activities, including its effort to create more local job opportunities for the Standing Rock Sioux people. Prior to becoming Chairman, Archambault successfully directed the Department of Labor’s signature workforce development program, TCC DeMaND, a regional consortium of tribal colleges led by United Tribes Technical College that pools expertise and resources towards meeting critical needs in Indian Country while addressing the challenges of unemployment and workers impacted by changing economic conditions.  

In this interview for Leading Native Nations, Chairman Archambault offers his insights regarding effective, elected leadership and shares examples of tribal governance changes implemented during his administration to ensure the vitality of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Chairman Dave Archambault II, "Laying the Foundation for Tribal Leadership and Self-governance," Interview, Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, February 22, 2016.

Biography

Chairman Archambault's wealth and breadth of knowledge and experience in the tribal labor and workforce development arena is unparalleled. He currently serves as the chief executive officer of one of the largest tribes in the Dakotas, leading 500 tribal government employees and overseeing an array of tribal departments and programs, including Higher Education, TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office), the Tribal Work Experience Program (TWEP), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program. He also oversees the Tribe's economic activities, including its effort to create more local job opportunities for the Standing Rock Sioux people. Prior to becoming Chairman, Archambault successfully directed the Department of Labor's signature workforce development program, TCC DeMaND, a regional consortium of tribal colleges led by United Tribes Technical College that pools expertise and resources towards meeting critical needs in Indian Country while addressing the challenges of unemployment and workers impacted by changing economic conditions.

Transcript available upon request. Please email: nni@email.arizona.edu