Aboriginal Regional Authorities

By April Webb

My directed study focuses on the establishment of Aboriginal Regional Authorities in South Australia, a system that aims to restore effective regional governance tailored to Aboriginal people. With the implications such a system could have for cultural heritage management, it is of course important for any hopeful archaeologist to get an idea of how it might work.

Unfortunately, this hopeful archaeologist did her BA at the University of Sydney and majored in Classical Archaeology. Specifics about Greek housing 700-400BP? You got it. Latin inscriptions? Sure. Australian heritage legislation…

….. what?

I had a lot of work to do.

Luckily, my research so far on Regional Authorities has proven as fascinating and informative as Allen and Greenough’s Latin Grammar (which is to say—very). The establishment of adequate systems for Aboriginal government, from what I have read, seems to rely on two things: self-determination and a regional approach.

Such a system has already been attempted with The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), which was established in 1990, and provided for the establishment of regional councils. Unfortunately, for a range of reasons (many of which had to do with Howard’s policy of ‘mainstreaming’ and scandals involving the ATSIC’s leadership, rather than the system itself) it was abolished in 2004.

More relevant to the current proposed system is perhaps the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority. Established in 2007 by the Ngarrindjeri Nation, this Regional Authority could be considered an exemplar for regional Aboriginal governance. One important point made by the Ngarrindjeri Authority in their submission to the South Australian Government on the topic of Regional Authorities could have important implications for heritage management—they wish for South Australian and Commonwealth agencies to transform the existing management regimes in the region towards recognition and support for healthy Ngarrindjeri Ruwe/Ruwar (country). Recognition that Indigenous people have their own views on what constitutes their own heritage is nothing new. But, with a regional system of governance, Indigenous heritage management could become much more nuanced.

This is my understanding, anyway. It’s a lot of information to digest, especially for someone who at the beginning of the semester had to google ‘What is an Act’ (sort of joking). Next blog?, I hope to have a much more in-depth idea of what these Regional Authorities will mean for cultural heritage management.

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