Helen Gerrard, MG Corporation Board Director (2012), explains how MG Corporation is governed She talks about how it’s changed over time and how it represents different groups through the Dawang Council “Wi...
- 01 Understanding governance
- 02 Culture and governance
- 03 Getting Started
- 04 Leadership
05 Governing the organisation
- 5.0 Governing the organisation
- 5.1 Roles, responsibilities and rights of a governing body
- 5.2 Accountability: what is it, to whom and how?
- 5.3 Decision making by the governing body
- 5.4 Governing finances and resources
- 5.5 Communicating
- 5.6 Future planning
- 5.7 Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies
- 5.8 Case Studies
- 06 Rules and policies
- 07 Management and staff
08 Disputes and complaints
- 8.0 Disputes and complaints
- 8.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous approaches
- 8.2 Core principles and skills for dispute and complaint resolution
- 8.3 Disputes and complaints about governance
- 8.4 Your members: Dealing with disputes and complaints
- 8.5 Organisations: dealing with internal disputes and complaints
- 8.6 Practical guidelines and approaches
- 8.7 Case Studies
- 09 Governance for nation rebuilding
- Governance Stories
- Useful links
- Preview new Toolkit
02 Culture and governance
Senior Pintupi Artist and dialysis patient Patrick Tjungurrayi in front of his artwork on the ‘Purple Truck’ mobile dialysis unit, Alice Springs. Image, Wayne Qulliam.
In this part of the toolkit you’ll find answers to questions, such as:
- What is culture?
- What is the cultural basis for Indigenous governance?
- What is cultural legitimacy and why is it important for the effectiveness of Indigenous governance?
- What is ‘two-way’ legitimacy and why is it important?
This topic will help to give you an understanding of where your culture ‘fits’ in the governance of your nation, community, group or organisation, and the wider environment.
2.0.1 At the heart of every society’s way of governing is its culture
Different cultures have different rules for how they govern.
Culture lies at the heart of governance. It informs a group’s rules and values about what is the ‘right way’ of exercising power and governing—and what is the ‘wrong way’.
Definition: Culture is a whole system of knowledge, beliefs, ideas, values, powers, laws, rules and meanings that are shared by the members of a society, and together form the foundation for the way they live.
A particular culture is acquired and transmitted by people over the generations, through written means and oral traditions, participation in group activities and the socialisation of young children.
A shared culture enables people to communicate with each other, behave in an accepted way and do things together towards common ends.
2.0.2 How do governance and culture interact?
Ideas about governance are different from one culture to the next.
Culture can change over time—sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly—through people’s own choice or design, or because change is imposed from the outside.
As a group’s culture changes, so too may its governance arrangements. And occasionally, making big changes to governance can cause changes in people’s culture.
Problems can quickly arise when very different systems of governance interact, with their competing values and contradictory expectations about what is ‘the right’ way of governing.
Sometimes changes to governance are welcomed and supported by the members of a group or nation; for example, when the changes come from within the group itself and are viewed as being culturally legitimate.
Sometimes the changes are seen to lack cultural legitimacy—particularly if they are imposed from the outside—in which case they are unlikely to be accepted or followed by group members.
Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corp Inc. (WDNWPT) CEO Sarah Brown and Board Director Marlene Spencer talk about how culture and Aboriginal values are woven into the organisation’s governance and about the importance of Aboriginal people setting priorities rather than governments.
2.1.1 Culture is what makes governance strong
“Law and culture is what makes governance strong. It comes first.
We come together to keep us strong and then we can look after the organisation.”
(James Marriwal, Member of the West Arnhem Land Shire Transitional Committee)
“Indigenous cultures are diverse, and Indigenous ways of meeting governance challenges
may be equally diverse. This is not a problem. It’s a solution.”
(Stephen Cornell, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University)
Steve Jampijinpa, Warlpiri educator and scholar, explains the five pillars of Warlpiri culture—the land, law, ceremony/performance/dance, language, and families in skin groups—all of which connect together to govern Yapa people’s lives.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people put their culture at the heart of their governance. They have had their own systems of governance for tens of thousands of years. These systems of laws, traditions, rules and codes of conduct have changed over time, and especially as a result of the impacts of colonial settlement.
There have always been many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies spread across the vast continent of Australia, so naturally there have always been many different culture-based ways of ‘doing’ governance.
Currently, there are also different types of communities and organisations, each with their own governance histories and arrangements.
Despite the impacts of colonial settlement and diversity of communities across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to share many common cultural values and traditions to organise themselves, connect with each other, and collectively achieve the things that are important to them—that is, to govern themselves.
For example, there continues to be a high value placed on family connections and support; kin relationships, mutual responsibility and sharing of resources; respecting law and the authority of elders; and attachment to ‘country’ and the role of traditional owners in making decisions about their lands.
This means that while nations, communities and groups may have governance models that initially look different on the surface, their solutions are often based around the same deep cultural values and ways of behaving.
If you want your community-based organisation to be culturally legitimate and accountable to its diverse members, you need to:
- clarify exactly what kind of governance you want to have and what role you want cultural values to have in your organisation
- know the different cultural groups of your members and the wider community, as well as their interconnections and their different rights and interests
- consult with the leaders and members of these groups so that you understand their concerns and priorities
- be open, fair and honest in dealings and decisions with leaders and their groups
- respect different land ownership rights and interests
- understand the governance history of the community and how that has shaped its current relationships, governance arrangements and problems
- discuss with community members and leaders which cultural values, rules, relationships and processes might specifically strengthen the way your organisation operates
- be clear about which cultural values, rules, relationships and processes will be part of your organisation’s governance, and which ones are not appropriate or might undermine it
- be clear about how cultural rules and values will be implemented within your organisation—for example, you may want to focus on the way leaders are chosen, how decisions are made, what behaviour is expected of board and staff members, the conditions of work and how you feed information back to members
- tell community members and leaders where the organisation is heading, what the strategic plan is for getting there, and what resources will be used along the way
- report back to members on your progress and problems
- manage your resources wisely and effectively
- deliver the services and outcomes that you’ve promised to your members and the wider community.
The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Muriel Bamblett discusses how culture informs the governance and operations of VACCA.
2.1.2 Indigenous principles of governance in Australia
“In the old days Yolngu people lived within the pattern of laws
which were passed down through the generations and are still with us today.
The patterns that go through songs, dances, art, (ceremonial) and sculpture all relate to each other. Pattern is the beginning, middle and end of Yolngu life. Patterns can be Yolngu or Balanda [white person], e.g. stripes, dots, lines, curves, rectangles, diamonds, squares, circles. But our Yolngu law patterns tell us a story.”
(Dundiwuy 2 Mununggurr/Wunungmurra, Yolngu Artist, Northern Territory)
As Wanta Janpijinpa and Dundiwuy 2 Mununggurr/Wunungmurra tell us from very different places, there is a cultural pattern or logic—a set of deep underlying principles in Indigenous law and culture—that provide the foundation for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance in Australia.
This pattern of principles tells the story of each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander group and their links to the land and to each other. They are evident in everyday life and how people get things done, and are often set out in the strategic plans and constitutions of incorporated organisations.
In its work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, communities and organisations across the country, the Indigenous Community Governance Research Project documented this pattern of ‘design principles’ that lies deep at the heart of Indigenous thinking and informs these communities’ diverse solutions for rebuilding governance.
Indigenous people across Australia often use similar culturally-based principles to design their governing arrangements.
Indigenous people across Australia often use similar culture-based principles to design their governing arrangements.
These cultural principles are summarised below. Thinking about how these principles work in your own group, community or organisation can help your community develop its own governance choices and solutions.
Definition: A network is like the interwoven threads in a string basket. It is a group of people, things or organisations that are independent but are connected to each other and help one another by sharing knowledge, resources, ideas and so on.
Networks enable people and organisations to cooperate for agreed purposes.
We can see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander networks in extended families, linked groups, communities, ceremonial traditions, kinship relationships and groups of leaders, and often depicted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.
Indigenous governance is a networked form of governance. It is based on thick pathways and layers of relationships and connections between people, places and things, past, present and future.
These relationships create an elaborate web—a kind of bottom-up federalism where rights and interests, decision-making powers, leadership roles, responsibilities and accountabilities are spread across different cross-cutting social layers and cultural geographies.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and their governing bodies working in communities are linked into these wider governance networks.
For networked governance models to be effective they need to have clearly identified and agreed layers of shared:
- power and authority
- decision-making processes
- roles and responsibilities
- mutual accountability.
Focusing on clearly identifying your own networks and how well these layers are working can often strengthen your governance. Networked governance arrangements that are built from the bottom up are a much more effective and sustainable solution than ones that are imposed from the top down.
See Topic 9 for more detailed information and tips about networked governance.
2. Relationships and shared cultural connections
Relationships based on shared cultural connections to other people and country (‘cultural geographies’) are central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance networks.
Strong internal relationships and a clear idea of group membership are important for effective, legitimate governance. Often when Indigenous groups start to rebuild their governance, they focus first on sorting out these internal issues in order to determine who has authority to make decisions, resolve representation issues, and so reaffirm their collective identities—the ‘self’ in their self-governance.
This is especially important when groups try to balance their need for local leadership and decision-making control with their need to maintain wider connections, or participate in larger-scale representative structures (such as regional, state or national organisations and assemblies).
Agreed understandings about internal relationships and connections are often used as the basis for creating representative governing structures that more properly reflect cultural ways of doing things.
3. Governance histories
The different histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, communities or organisations shape their governance arrangements and the challenges they face today.
Often, going through your own governance history can:
- shed light on the governance issues you’re facing today
- clarify the things about your past ways of governing that you value and want to protect and strengthen
- give you a clearer understanding of the type of governance you want for the future.
4. Cultural geographies
Definition: The concept of cultural geography is about the way peoples’ collective identities are based on their deep ties and attachments to particular areas of land (country) and their rights and responsibilities to look after that country.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often regard the ‘cultural boundaries’ associated with these geographies (e.g. land-owning groups, ceremonial and gender networks, leadership hierarchies, extended family networks) as the more reasonable basis for their governance arrangements.
These ‘boundaries’ are often different from non-Indigenous administrative, town and state boundaries.
Using cultural geographies as a basis for rebuilding governance structures helps give greater legitimacy to new governance arrangements, especially those involving land issues. It means that some groups of people will ‘fit together’, make decisions together and work together better than others.
The role of influential individuals (‘leaders’, ‘bosses’, ‘elders’) who form networks of leaders, is another deep underlying feature of how Indigenous governance works.
Such leaders influence and help people to cooperate, use resources, resolve problems, care for country and get things done.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have powerful networks and knowledge, forming connections within and between communities and regions. Because they are part of close social networks, leaders may be subjected to enormous pressures.
To continue being effective, leaders need to have and maintain:
- respect from their group for their knowledge and experience
- valued personal qualities and skills
- strong networks of social support
- responsibility for looking after their group members
- downward accountability to all their group members
Having these things will contribute to their ongoing cultural legitimacy. At their least effective, leaders can become catalysts for internal factionalism, ongoing disputes and exclusiveness.
6. Decision-making authority
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander approach to decision making is one of consensus and occurs across the layers of networks.
Consensus is created through slow agreement and can change over time. It is a matter of moulding opinion (often done by influential people) and when achieved can create chains of cooperation within and across networks.
This means that the authority to make decisions should be located closest to the local group of people within a network who are most directly associated with the issue at hand (e.g. the owners of the land, the resources, the knowledge or the dispute) and so most affected by the outcome.
However, other decisions involving ‘bigger issues’ that have implications for larger groups or multiple communities will need to be made at bigger, more centralised scales within a network.
Problems can arise for a group’s governance when the ‘wrong’ people or layer of a network is involved in making decisions or when factional interests undermine group consensus.
Problems can similarly arise for the governance of organisations when there is little clarity about who is making decisions about what, and when statutory requirements for decision making contradict the consensus approach within the wider community or nation.
Definition: Accountability simply means being answerable or responsible to a person, family, or wider groups and networks.
Accountability is based on rules, checks and balances to make sure people do the things they should and don’t do the things they shouldn’t.
The dispersed and overlapping nature of Indigenous leadership and decision making means that accountability is also dispersed across the layers of networks.
While government departments and private sector companies tend to emphasis upward accountability to themselves for their funding and support, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people emphasise the importance of downward accountability to the members of their own nation, community or local group.
Governance solutions will be more effective and legitimate if it is clear and agreed who should be making decisions, and who should then tell other parts of the nation, community or organisation about those decisions.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander models of nation, community and regional governance are often based on sophisticated networks. These can be made up of interconnected layers of extended families, clans and leaders, and their land-ownership rights and interests.
These cultural networks form the foundations for a wide variety of different governing structures, depending on what suits the particular nation, community or group. Sometimes these structures are legally incorporated; sometimes they remain informal and flexible.
2.1.3 Building and maintaining cultural legitimacy
There are no quick fixes for developing effective, legitimate governance, but there are ways of reducing the burden on those attempting to undertake the journey.
“… having legitimacy with the people you are trying to govern turns out to be a critical point …
You have to have legitimacy with the people whose lives are at stake … In some cases, this may mean Indigenous communities have to rethink their ideas of how to govern and invent new ways that better meet their needs … What matters is not that things be done in the old ways. It is that things be done in ways—old or new—that win the support, participation and trust of the people, and can get things done.
Some will be old. Some will be new.”
(Stephen Cornell and Manley Begay, paper presented to ‘Building Effective Indigenous Governance Conference’, 5–7 November 2003, Jabiru)
Girringun Aboriginal Corporation was awarded Highly Commended Category A in the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Phil Rist describes how Girringun’s ‘culturally-assured’ process gives the organisation’s decisions legitimacy.
Having cultural legitimacy in your governance arrangements means having rules, structures and processes that:
- are informed by an understanding of your own cultural traditions
- embody the values and norms that are important to you
- reflect your contemporary ideas about how power and authority should be shared and put into practice
- are generated through your people’s own efforts, and therefore have the support of the people being governed.
Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations and their leaders need to find some degree of cultural legitimacy or common ground between their new governing arrangements and their cultural values, traditions and ways of exercising authority.
To achieve this, many Indigenous groups are experimenting with how to bring their cultural ways of doing things into their governance, such as integrating them into their rules, representation, organisational structures, decision-making processes, policies and constitutions.
Practical capacity and legitimacy go hand in hand. For example, there is little use in designing culturally credible rules if they are not enforced, or developing a culturally-informed governing structure if you cannot deliver the services and functions your members need.
When organisations and leaders lose cultural legitimacy with their members and groups this often affects their credibility with their external stakeholders.
When designing new governance arrangements it is important to be very clear about exactly how you want to integrate culture into your governance and to be flexible, inclusive and incremental in your approach to doing this.
Remember, cultural diversity means legitimacy can come in a variety of ways.
It is not an easy thing to do, but there are some lessons from the work that many Indigenous groups have already been doing. The following tips outline some of the things you can do to build and keep cultural legitimacy.
Today, Indigenous organisations and leaders need to be aware of both new governing demands and traditional cultural values, and systems of authority.
Some of the things you can do to build and keep cultural legitimacy are:
|Be clear about your organisation or community’s identity – who are your members and who aren’t?|
|Make sure that all your group/members are recognised, have a voice in your discussions and decision-making and are fairly represented and responded to.|
|Try to clearly identify the areas where your legitimacy is weak|
|Understand what it is about your current arrangements that has allowed those weaknesses|
|Consider what legitimacy means to your group/members – who can speak for whom, to whom and regarding what?|
|Find out how community members would feel about governance changes – don’t impose change without talking first.|
|Understand how current arrangements came to be and changes your ideas about how to govern if necessary|
|Consider ways of engaging stakeholders in your broader governance environment to ensure wide credibility and support for your solutions|
|Be open to using new technologies, or changing your ideas about how to govern if necessary|
|Don’t change what already works – just work on those areas where governance has lost its cultural legitimacy|
|Be realistic about what you can tackle and what is going to be workable and effective in your wider environment|
2.2.1 What is two-way governance?
This is ‘two-way’ governance—for example, where the governance of an Indigenous organisation has to work both internally and externally. Sometimes it can be hard to balance Indigenous cultural expectations, with the requirements set out by government or funding bodies. Finding that balance and meeting Indigenous and non-Indigenous requirements means building governance that works well ‘two-ways’.
“It’s really all about two laws—Yolngu and Balanda—and the struggle we have had for Yolngu law to be recognised … Two hundred and ten years ago my ancestors were living here on this land. We had our own system of government, law and land tenure … although Yolngu law has stability, stays the same, the Balanda law changes all the time and can wipe away our rights with the stroke of a pen. When the two meet, unless there are special measures made to help each law speak to each other and understand each other, we can get it very very wrong.”
(Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Third Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, 20 August 1998, Darwin)
In Australia today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are trying to live under two laws: their own and those of non-Indigenous Australia.
This means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to maintain the internal effectiveness and legitimacy of their governance— the support of the people who share the same values—and be able to get things done for them. But they also need to be effective and credible with external stakeholders (like funding bodies or governments) that play an important role in their nation, community or organisation.
Definition: This balancing act is called two-way governance. It refers to the efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in negotiating a pathway forward by developing governance arrangements that seek to achieve a workable balance between maintaining cultural integrity and maximising their self-determination. It also involves ensuring that their models of governance accord with the requirements (such as financial and legal accountability) of the wider society in which they live.
Building effective Indigenous governance involves securing greater two-way accountability and legitimacy.
2.2.2 Bringing two ways together
There are major challenges in managing the daily tensions caused by operating under dual systems of governance.
Nevertheless, many organisations, community groups and nations are creating innovative governance arrangements that are robust and realistic enough to encompass and engage with often divergent Indigenous and non-Indigenous governance values and practices.
Edna O’Malley, MG Corporation Chair explains how MG Corporation practices two-way governance.
This painting titled ‘Two Ways: Yapa and Kardiya Ways’ is reproduced with the kind permission of the artists, Gwen Brown and Marjorie Hayes, members of the Kurduju Committee from Ali Curung in the Northern Territory.
This painting depicts the Aboriginal dispute-resolution process at Ali Curung. The left side is Yapa (Aboriginal) way and it shows community organisations arching over a large central circle, which represents an open community meeting. The two groups below this circle represent elders and traditional owners. These two groups act as adjudicators and provide legitimacy to the decision-making process. The right side is the Kardiya (non-Aboriginal) criminal justice process where there is a judge, secretary, jury, prosecutor, defence lawyer, the troublemaker in the witness stand and members of the public.
The goal is that Aboriginal dispute resolution as practiced in this community becomes a process that:
- is worked out by the community
- is controlled by the community
- is responsible to the community
- can incorporate the acceptable laws, traditional and contemporary structures of the community
- has a capacity to work across both cultures.
One way of giving your two-way solutions a strong basis is to set them out in writing—in your constitution or preamble; in your nation, committee or organisation’s vision statement (your ‘language picture of the future’); and in your governance policies and other documents.
It is important for a nation, community group, committee or organisation to prepare a vision that encapsulates its members’ values and where they see themselves in the future. This vision can be supported by a ‘preamble’ that explains the vision in the context of the organisation or community.
2.2.3 The governance environment
June Oscar, in her keynote speech to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Native Title Conference in June 2012, said:,
“It is important that we acknowledge the challenging and complex operating environment
which we are all continuing to live in, seeking justice and trying to raise families,
and holding onto the lived practices of our beliefs. We as Indigenous people live out our lives in two worlds according to our custom and tradition and the modern reality.”
Your governance environment is more than just your extended family group, clan, community, nation or organisation.
You are also part of a wider governance environment made up of other organisations, groups, communities, businesses, companies, governments, economic forces and laws. They all interact with you and influence how well your governance works.
This diagram shows the layers of your governance environment.
Sometimes other groups may support your governance approach and goals; sometimes they may want you to do things differently.
There will always be changes in your wider environment and many will be beyond your control. It is important to be take charge of your own agenda and control what you can locally—to be in the driver’s seat making the decisions and setting your own course.
That means making strategic use of what you do have—your culture, resources, networks, people, skills and knowledge—and working out how to deal with those things that are stopping you from achieving your goals.
In doing this, it is useful to think about your culture at the heart of your self-determination and self-governance. Around that core are the surrounding layers of the wider environment.
Use the diagram to talk together about:
- who are the influential people and things in your environment
- which parts are having an impact (positive and negative)
- which parts you can actually do something about.
Then you can work out strategies to manage any risks, and take advantage of the opportunities that might arise from them. Some will be issues and things you can address in the short term; others will be things you have to keep monitoring over the long term. Some will be beyond your direct control.
You will find more information and tools for getting started with this kind of strategic planning in Topic 3.
Culture and governance
Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC) is the Kimberley Region’s Peak Indigenous Law and Culture Centre. KALACC’s mission is the maintenance and promotion of the traditional cultures of the 30 language groups of the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
KALACC has a Board of Directors consisting of 12 Directors who are elected to hold office for a term of two years. In addition to the 12 elected Directors, there are six people who hold the title of Special Adviser. These people are honorary life members of the organisation and are not elected to the board but are senior cultural leaders of the Kimberley.
KALACC has found that having Special Advisors allows the Board to maintain a sense of stability and continuity despite having biannual elections. Having Special Advisers as life members means they are able to pass on their corporate and governance knowledge in the event of an entirely new Board of Directors being elected as well as ensuring that the accepted standards of cultural governance are observed and maintained within the organisation.
“KALACC is not confused about its identity, purpose or function. We are somewhat unique in the cultural and organisational landscape of Australia. Since 1985 KALACC has existed for the express purpose of maintaining and promoting the cultures of the 30 language groups of the Kimberley region of Western Australia.”
Given its function and purpose, the membership of KALACC has naturally been the people who speak the languages and practice the cultures that KALACC aims to promote.
KALACC represents themselves through a simple diagram of concentric circles.
“At the very core are the senior cultural bosses, the law men and women of the Kimberley. These people may not be KALACC Directors but they are KALACC members and they are our clientele. The next circle out is the middle aged to elder group who are themselves cultural leaders and who liaise closely with the inner circle of cultural bosses. The next circle out are the staff and others associated with the organisation who are tasked with the responsibility of enacting the wishes of the Directors. Next circle out is the broader membership of the Kimberley. And the final circle is the outside world”.
There are many reasons why KALACC believes its governance model works so well, but at its core is the fact that they have a very clear sense of who they are and what they do.
“KALACC is the vehicle for the elders and cultural bosses of the Kimberley region to express their views on a range of topics and to advocate for the importance of culture”.
NPY Women’s Council (NPYWC) was set up in 1980 and incorporated in 1994. The organisation was founded in response to the concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women throughout the APY lands. The women were concerned about the rise of petrol sniffing in their communities as well as the ineffectual service delivery to their elders and those with disabilities.
“…the women were all thinking the same way. We wanted our own meetings. We all had something to say about caring for our children, our families, about our aspirations to have good lives. We wanted to talk about our issues to the government. We wanted to talk together to give a strong message. That’s why we formed the Women’s Council”
Since it started 32 years ago, NPYWC has never lost sight of its aspirations. It remains an active and hands-on advocacy and service delivery organisation committed to culture. One of the aspirations of NPYWC is to protect, maintain and revitalise culture. It does this by encouraging the practice of culture, observing NPY women’s law as well as promoting the interests and rights of NPY women. It is clear that Anangu culture flows through the organisation from the boardroom to service delivery on the ground.
Here are some of the ways NPYWC have incorporated their local culture into the way the organisation is run.
Each year NPYWC holds a bush meeting where the directors and staff go out on country and meet with the organisation’s members. Everyone is invited to come along to these meetings not just the local community where the bush meeting is being held.
These meetings are an opportunity for NPYWC staff to spend time with the organisation’s members out on country and in a bush camp. Having bush meetings allows for knowledge sharing between communities and the NPYWC as well as ensuring that staff and directors are getting out from behind their desks and into the communities to meet people. Bush meetings are not only a culturally appropriate way to get information out to members, but they have proven to be a great forum for building relationships between community and staff.
NPYWC has an approach known locally as the ‘malparara way’. Malparara means a person who is together with a friend or companion. In the context of service delivery this usually means two staff who are working together on a program, one of whom is an Anangu woman or man and the other who is the partner staff member, employed for his/her specific professional skills.
The primary aim of the malparara way of working is to ensure the concerns and problems of the local people are listened to and properly addressed in a culturally appropriate way. Malparara way recognises and values the knowledge, skills and resources of the local people while assisting them in gaining access to services which are delivered in a culturally appropriate and effective way.
“Women’s Council project work is hard, really complicated. It can be difficult to understand, but working with a malpa (friend) makes it much easier, and the staff are much happier when they are working together. It makes difficult things much easier to understand when you are working together.”
(Tjikalyi Colin, Former Anangu staff member)
These relationships are pivotal in ensuring NPYWC are effective in their response to sensitive community issues such as domestic violence. It is these relationships which form the basis of our service delivery and it is the thing that separates us from other service delivery bodies in the NPY region.
Malaparara way is very effective in ensuring quality service delivery in cross-border regions, especially given the type of work in which NPYWC is engaged. The idea of malaparara way came from Anangu women as a service delivery model that would effectively and efficiently meet the needs of the local people as well as breaking down language barriers. Malaparara way works well because it means that service delivery can be adapted to suit the local communities’ culture, norms and values. The growth of the organisation in recent years has meant that there will be staff members who won’t have a direct opportunity to experience this model of working malparara, however senior women including directors are available to provide advice and direction to staff working with members and their families.
Decision making and service development
Many years ago the members of NPYWC developed their own approach to developing services for their communities. The process is an example of how Indigenous culture can go hand in hand with good corporate governance. NPYWC’s service development approach includes:
Kulikatinyi (considering something over a long period of time)
Nyakuakatinyi (looking for something as one goes along)
Palyaalkatinyi(making something as one goes along)
This process ensures services that are developed and delivered by the Women’s Council are continually reviewed and improved. This approach to service development means that NPYWC is effectively delivering services in a manner that best meets the needs of the individual and also the different communities.
Kungka – NPY Women’s Council Annual Career Conference
Kungka is annual career conference held by the NPYWC for young women in the community between the ages of 12-15. The career conference aims to provide young Aboriginal women with information and advice on education and employment pathways. However another feature of the conference is the involvement of older successful Indigenous women, who come along to share their stories. Local women who have been successful in their education and employment life are invited to come along and speak to participants in their own language. The conference provides young women positive examples of Aboriginal women who are strong in their culture and successful in their employment and education.
All new staff members are provided with an orientation of the organisation and the region in which they are based. This includes detailed cultural advice on cultural differences and Anangu culture; such as saying no, avoidance relationships, sorry business, men’s business, women’s business and parenting ways.
Aligning practice with cultural perspectives and values
Yappera is a multi-functional Aboriginal Children’s Service catering to children and families. It’s vision is for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to have the right and opportunity to reach their potential through access and participation in the highest quality care and education programs within a cultural setting which strengthens their identity, cultural resilience, health and wellbeing.
Yappera’s programs, practices and protocols align with local cultural perspectives and values. Cultural values are reflected within Yappera’s philosophy, vision, purpose, values and philosophy of community control.
The current members elected on the Yappera Children’s Service Board of Management are all Aboriginal including the Chief Executive Officer who is appointed by the board of management. Yappera employs a high percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to work within the programs, ensuring the cultural content remains consistent. This ensures that all the operations, protocols, practices and decision making links back to culture, child first perspectives and family values.
Culture is embedded within the Service through its design, Aboriginal governance structure, membership base and links with the communities around Victoria. Aboriginal culture is also reflected through the delivery of education programs, practices and resources used within the Service. An information board has also been developed in the foyer area that highlights the history of Yappera and reflects the theoretical beliefs and perspectives of the founding members, management and staff. This also demonstrates how these beliefs link to Aboriginal culture and the importance of educating through culture for children and families.