Category Archives: Wurrumiyanga

Community recommendations

By the end of the project, a number of the people we had been working with for the last two years were very clear and insistent that they wanted to deliver a set of recommendations to government.

These recommendations come from elder and emerging leaders in the community, as they sought to have their voices heard beyond the life of the IGLDP project.

These recommendations are as follows:

  • That funding be provided for the re-establish and formalise the Skin Group Meetings, and develop a work unity to carry out this function.
  • Tiwi social concerns/ grievances to be dealt with through Skin Group structure.
  • Aboriginal business Tanyah Nasir Consulting Service to support and assist the Tiwi Skin Groups design and development of their resources, structures, procedures and processes and train Tiwi people and build their capacity in how to manage and work this type of cultural infrastructure.
  • That the Skin Group meetings develop a Working Group – 4 Skin Group x 2 women and 4 Skin Group x 2 men = 16 to continue the conversations about Tiwi Way and Skin Groups and in doing so to develop a shared understanding and ownership for this.
  • That service providers be supportive of these working group members allowing them to participate in Skin Group meetings when required.
  • That local Tiwi people be trained for real employment and for all Tiwi positions
  • That all people and/or service providers on Island are to a complete Tiwi Cultural Awareness Program. This is compulsory.
  • That government and service providers work with a cultural approach, observing Tiwi Way
  • That support is offered to develop and deliver training so Tiwi people can implement a Tiwi Cultural Awareness Program.
  • That support is offered to strengthen capacity and confidence of Tiwi people. For example, all RJCP trainees to complete the full training of Tanyah Nasir Consulting Services Rise UP Program, Be Your Best, Own your Future

Sketch 4: Developing new board practices with TITEB

The Tiwi Islands Employment and Training Board (TITEB) was created in 1994 as an initiative of the Tiwi Land Council. The Council had become concerned about the ad hoc nature of training the employment training being offered to Tiwi people and funded TITEB so that it could introduce a Tiwi focus to the provision of training, and deliver programs which might lead to real and lasting jobs for Tiwi people. These aims remain core to TITEB’s business and working vision, and TITEB now provides a range of services and programs for the Tiwi people, including

  • As a Registered Training Organisation
  • As a Group Training Organisation
  • Delivery of Literacy and Numeracy training through the SEE program
  • Money Management
  • Delivery of the RJCP program, now called the Community Development program
  • School attendance program

TITEB is more than ever a key enabling organisation for the Tiwi people, with the potential to have a strong Tiwi board showing strong Tiwi leadership.


Our work with the TITEB board began with a request from the CEO Norm Buchan, as he attempted to provoke a general revitalisation of TITEB’s board of directors. He was interested in carrying out a review of the board manual and policies, and taking advantage of any opportunities for mentoring of new board members as they were elected. Initial meetings and discussions would focus on this task of contacting board members and electing new members to positions of retiring members. Then after this, other governance work could begin.

In our first workshop with the board, we began with the question ‘what is governance?’ However, as the newly elected board members began to display their knowledge of Western governance language and practices, it became clear that they were all very well versed in the relevant terms and concepts. As members of other boards and organisations they had received training before and could recount to us issues and responsibilities around compliance, reporting and conflicts of interest. If it was training that we were there to offer, then it seemed that our students had little left to learn.

However, moving through these initial questions of ours, the TITEB Board members began to ask questions of their own. These were not to do with compliance or reporting, but were much more concerned with how TITEB’s different programs related, and the ways that the Board could work to strategically guide and shape programs in ways that would benefit Tiwi people.

It was in response to these questions and concerns that Mike Harrison – the key facilitator carrying out this work – has been able to work with the board and TITEB management, setting out a plan for the development of a number of new board policies and a shareholders agreement for the company. In addition, the board have been interested in exploring the ‘Tricker Model’ (1994) as a way of carefully working with the dual needs of compliance and performance has been requested by the board as they look towards ways of steering the organisation in ways which are in tune with the needs and visions of Tiwi people.


Sketch 3: Community Workshops at Wurrumiyanga

During the community workshops we were focussed on the major objectives of the project and there were specific expectations. However, the process was more organic and unfolded via the community driven expectations and priorities. We worked in a very holistic manner ensuring that the participants were provided with the opportunity to share their knowledge and understandings, raise any community concerns or issues that wished to share as well as learn about governance and leadership.

Some of the other learning shared and topics discussed included the following:

  • Identifying businesses at Wurrumiyanga (private and Tiwi)
  • Identifying service providers (government and NGO)
  • Identifying the boards, LA and Tiwi Island Shire Council
  • Shared the history of Tiwi Island Shire council
  • Discussion about issues Tiwi people experience and how to work with them to resolve them
  • Tiwi aspirations and hopes for community in the future

At the same time we found that focussing on ‘governance and leadership’ tended to obscure some of the therapeutic development work that was needed to get people to the stage of readiness, where they could begin to work on these issues.

Prior to being able to speak about governance and leadership in ways which did not isolate or alienate people, and which did not simply reinforce feelings of inferiority, we needed to engage with where people were at, beginning a learning and development journey which had the potential to open up new and safe possibilities for Tiwi people to articulate narratives which were different to those which they often offer to Western researchers and facilitators.
Sketch3It was important to prepare people for the learning and the discussion that was to follow. We invested time in encouraging and building the Tiwi people’s confidence and capacity to actively participate in a meaningful and positive way. The shared learning was very cooperative and collaborative in a caring, safe, fun, open and non-authoritarian learning environment which ensured real engagement and learning.

By being guided by Tiwi people, as well as working through empowerment and confidence building people began to see themselves our confident and capable human beings who are knowledgeable in their traditional governance system and who understand that there is a need for the Tiwi governance and western governance to work in partnership.

Sketch 2: Skin Group meetings becoming a new Tiwi organisation

Towards the end of the project we were asked to facilitate a workshop which focussed on leadership, governance, Tiwi Ways and Skin Group Meetings. By request of key Tiwi people that we had been working with, attendance at this workshop was by invitation only.
Sketch2-1There was very specific work that this group wanted to achieve at the meeting. We were to develop a working group to help reconstitute the Tiwi Skin Groups meetings, and an action plan for how the group work with services providers to address current issues arising in the community.

During our discussions, the old Tiwi word Ngarukuruwanajirri was remembered by one of the female elders in the room. This word means ‘four Tiwi skin groups coming together, helping together’. People were delighted with the re-emergence of this word which was not in common usage, and which some of the younger members of the group hadn’t heard. There was recognition that this was a deep concept which was crucial to the work we were doing now.

We were told that to work through Tiwi Way, people have to first go through their skin groups for governance and governance issues. The governing structure of Tiwi is the four skin groups Warnarrtinguwi (Sun), Miyartuwi (Pandanus), Lorrila (Rock) and Takarringuwi (Mullet), and for Tiwi Way to be properly practiced, people have to work from the social responsibilities and obligations defined by these groups.
Sketch2-2Re-establishing the Skin Group – or Ngarukuruwanajirri – meetings would allow people to speak from their proper cultural context when addressing issues about governance, leadership and mediation when working on community social issues. Recognising the Skin Groups as an organisation able to be engaged by other authorities and organisations, would also begin to update established but increasingly inadequate practices of seeking clan representation on councils and boards. While this approach to relating Western and Tiwi governance practices has supported clan representation within enterprise development, so far it has not enabled adequate Tiwi engagement with social issues in the community.

Convening the Ngarukuruwanajirri meetings provides a new way for the Skin Groups to participate within the variety of governance practices taking place in Wurrumiyanga, and also provides an opportunity for the teaching and modelling of Tiwi Way to Tiwi and non-Tiwi. As an organisation, the Ngarukuruwanajirri ‘s core function would be to articulate Tiwi Way and the Skin Group relationships, while nurturing and developing positive working partnerships between Tiwi people and traditions, and Western governance structures and service providers.

Reflections on the Rise Up approach – Michaela Spencer

Feedback from Michaela Spencer, project assistant.

I joined the IGLDP project in mid-2014, after the completion of Stage 1. I became involved in the work that was happening in Milingimbi with the Nyalka Women’s Corporation, and at Wurrumiyanga I began supporting Tanyah and Joanne Nasir with their Rise Up workshops. These workshops were conducted by Indigenous facilitators, and directed towards Indigenous people. For this reason, it was a very privileged position that I found myself in, being able to witness this work as a nonIndigenous facilitator myself only just beginning to learn about ways of working in Indigenous communities.

As I became involved in the Rise Up workshops, it was immediately possible to see that working with Indigenous facilitators was a very special thing for the participants. They immediately felt at home, and there was no need to put on a façade, or to feel ‘shy’ as they might when beginning to work with nonIndigenous trainers or experts. They arrived at the workshops interested to learn about what we would be doing that day, but also to hear Tanyah and Joanne’s stories, and to be able to trace out their family links and to relate to these facilitators not just as distanced teachers, but as members of their own community who were doing new – and very commendable – things.

As the workshops unfolded I was able to see Tiwi people beginning to relish the freedom that these settings offered. For some the workshops seemed to offer an opportunity to discuss governance in ways that did not just address questions of compliance and rules, but also allowed many other things that needed to be opened up as well. Issues of land ownership, fighting families, elders authority, football and skin groups could all be voiced and negotiated as part of an important and general conversation about new tangible solutions and possibilities for Tiwi people. And it was in having these things heard, that a sense of relief and hopefulness could arrive.

People also responded to being offered positive feedback and encouragement for their contributions. No matter how difficult it was for people to speak up, or how long it took them to contribute, their offerings were welcomed with praise and positive reinforcement. It was quite amazing to see the impact that this had on people, as they began to experience, feel, see and touch a lived sense of community at the same time as they participated in conversations around Western governance and its relation to Tiwi Ways.

This positive reinforcement was given regardless of where people were at, and as quite separate to any other struggles or traumas that participants might be facing. At times, being offered this opportunity to experience a sense of competency and being valued whilst also trying challenging and new things seemed to have quite a miraculous effect on the individuals participating and the group in general.

There was no ‘shame’ produced in any of these discussions, or any of the difficult questions and learning around things going on in the community and ways that things might change. Instead the approach seemed to allow people to be able to turn this dynamic around and to be able to speak knowledgeably and with great experience about this thing ‘shame’ which can cause so many problems for Indigenous people. And it was in doing this that possibilities for change seemed to open up, and people experienced a new sense of hope and vibrancy in their learning experience.

Watching and assisting, but trying not to get in the way, I felt as though I witnessed a remarkable and spontaneous joyousness on the part of Tiwi people who were involved in these events, and as they revelled in the experience of ‘being Tiwi’ but in relation to new contexts and sets of practices.

This may be an outcome which can also be achieved by skilled and sensitive nonIndigenous facilitators, working carefully with people in communities. However, here there was something of an immediate and quite amazing effect that occurred as Tiwi people, for the first time, experienced working with skilled Indigenous facilitators to whom they were related, and with whom they felt personally connected.

Reflections on the Rise Up approach – Deb Cooper

Feedback from Deb Cooper, Regional Coordinator RJCP Women’s Centre

Over the past two years, Tanyah Nasir has been delivering this program on Bathurst Island. It has been an overall success due to the nature of the culturally sensitive delivery process.

  • Participants were Tiwi only, to encourage and enable each person to develop confidence and trust
  • Facilitators listened to their stories, acknowledging the strong family ties and recognising that a facilitator, Tanyah was a relative to a particular Tiwi family
  • Acknowledges in differences in culture on Tiwi, as opposed to the mainland
  • Encouraged to speak up for what they see as best strategies that will work for all generations. E.g. have representation of all different groups. Elders, men only, women only, youth, skin groups etc
  • Most potently, the presenters of this governance course learnt how the traditional Skin Groups advise the community, re law, social problems and counselling regarding family and community. This ancient system is intricate and fundamental to Tiwi Culture
  • An increase of Capacity Building over the 2 years of progressive presentations of the workshops that were developed to assess how Indigenous people (Tiwi in this instance) see Governance and what it means to them regarding family and community. Also to address how does Governance relate to modern Tiwi society in amongst stakeholders, service providers, council, law, and mainstream.
  • Capacity building… Public speaking, speaking up, motivation, support within the group, ownership of ideas. Post course I found that the RJCP women’s group to be more motivated regarding the future. Attendance improved and we found more of the women entering the workplace.
  • Everyone enjoyed the workshops and always looked forward to the next sessions. They embraced their time together and the Governance course engaged all groups, ages, all genders. A testimony to the success of the process can be seen in the videos of the women sharing songs, dance and music.

I am not sure how it all works because I did not attend; however, I did get invite to experience a couple of Tiwi songs with the group after an intensive session. This was phenomenal as the women had literally transformed into confident, radiant, happy, uplifted souls. I guess that by that time of day. All the work was complete and it was a special time if expression and sharing. If I can put it into words it would be… “That which we seek we already have within ourselves. It’s simply there awaiting an awakening, a self-realisation, an epiphany.” So indeed they did Rise Up to find an essence deep within themselves that day and I feel that this is something so strong that it will help in the future. I just hope there will be more opportunities to bring this course back to Tiwi for others to experience, plus to act as a reminder that living by our core values, culture and beliefs, enhances our lives. The outstanding outcome is that the governance course was so different to tother structured service provider, stakeholder, government, or even educational processes.

Action Plans – TITEB board

Further development of the TITEB Board’s policies and processes

Following on from several workshops with TITEB, the Board expressed a strong desire to continue with further workshops on Governance that produce Board policies and other key documents that they will use in developing their Governance approach. They also requested that the acting CEO works with Northern Institute Researchers to identify funding for this work, apply for it, and implement the Governance development program.

Policies and resources to be developed in the course of this policy development program include:

  • An overall framework that brings together TITEB programs and the high level outcomes and indicators that demonstrate progress in achieving outcomes.
  • A TITEB shareholders agreement
  • TITEB policy on delegations for the board, and a clear process to present information to the Board with recommendations for action.
  • TITEB policy on Tiwi Workforce development addressing the Role of the Board in developing and sustaining key relationships with Tiwi Elders, and other Tiwi Boards around issues like activity development and participation, activity testing and dealing with potential family and other conflict, ways of building Tiwi Workforces
  • TITEB policy on Tiwi Employment and Tiwi Staff development
  • TITEB policy on Cultural awareness and development of Cultural Competence of Non Tiwi Staff
  • TITEB Policy on cultural competency of service delivery
  • The Board were interested in the ‘Tricker Model’ (1994), and would like to workshop it in the context of the governance responsibilities for TITEB in the Tiwi Community
  • Revision of processes of financial reporting, formats to allow the Board to better understand the financial position of TITEB, and the option of establishing a Finance Subcommittee of the Board

Funding is being sought from the NTG Department of Business to further this work.

Sketch 1: A focus on ‘Tiwi Way’

From the beginning of this project the Tiwi people at Wurrumiyanga raised the need for Tiwi Way/ Tiwi governance to be acknowledged and for the Ponki Mediation process and Skin Groups Meetings to be reinvigorated and re-established. When we talked to them about the project, they highlighted these concerns as their focus, which they continually reinforced as we worked together.
Sketch1-1Tiwi understand the need to develop their learning and understanding about Western governance. But they also are committed to strengthening Tiwi governance/Tiwi Way to ensure its sustainability in future generations to come. They want to know, learn and understand how to ensure Tiwi governance is valued and can complement and work with western governance to maximise social outcomes for Tiwi people.

As we began to conduct workshops in Wurrumiyanga, There were many informal discussions and references made, to the constant expectations for Tiwi people to attend and engage with western service providers, structures, businesses and government agencies all of which privileged western ways of doing and western governance. They talked to us about the many service providers in Wurrumiyanga who are each pursuing their own individual and unique outcomes, operations and ways of doing which at times may not know how to include the Tiwi Way. In amidst this constant stream of visitors, the Tiwi are not afforded the regular opportunity to reflect on or discuss their cultural traditions, language, ceremony, skin groups, Tiwi knowledge or Tiwi Way. Therefore, the Tiwi who attended the community workshops were very appreciative and grateful of having the time to reflect, rediscover and reconnect with some elements of the Tiwi language, Tiwi culture and Tiwi Ways.
Tiwi understand the world they are living in is forever changing and there are many new challenges which they face which involves technology, social media, instant communication, addictive behaviours. In the old days the elders and the skin groups would play a central role to working through issues and resolving any conflicts or misunderstandings or misinterpretations. However, these days it is difficult for Tiwi people to be given enough time to breathe, and to constitute the proper groups and authorities who could deal with these issues in meaningful ways through proper processes.

This ‘Tiwi Way’ influenced and shaped the several workshops delivered to community members at Wurrumiyanga. The successful outcomes of the workshops were achieved using the tool of engagement and facilitation, the ‘Rise UP Program’ which has been developed by a local Aboriginal business (Tanyah Nasir Consulting Service). There were several community workshops for the men, women, Elders and young people. The discussions and learning was of significant cultural relevance, high energy, thought provoking and future focussed. At times the workshops were confronting as we discussed the Tiwi reality, their social, cultural, economic and physical environment. The reality they live and work within on a daily basis. However, the workshops were also stimulating, collaborative, full of learning and connectedness and full of hope. Tiwi people were motivated and inspired to challenge assumptions and expectations and felt empowered to consider solutions and change for their people, community and their future.

It was precisely by working in this way, and by reconnecting with traditional practice within modern and safe contexts, that people began to activate the potential for means for traditional practices to carefully update and rejuvenate themselves through engagement with new issues and concerns confronting Tiwi people.


Tiwi Islands Skin Group Project

skingroupsSupplementary Resource

The NT Government through the Department of Business provided an NT Research and Innovation grant to conduct research for the purposes of developing a model that brings Tiwi Skin Group culture and Western youth diversion systems together. This connection would enable training and employment prospects for young people so they become strong leaders in the future.

This study has been guided and directed by a group of Tiwi Elders. This was an important part of the project methodology given that the project incorporates the rich cultural foundations that are integral to the model developed. Twenty six Elders predominantly from Wurrimiyanga as well as Pirlangimpi participated in this study. The principal researcher continuously sought Elder support and endorsement for the development of the project and worked collaboratively with the Tiwi Youth Diversion Unit throughout the project duration.

Download the story about this project

IGLDP in Wurrumiyanga


Welcome to Wurrumiyanga
Welcome to Wurrumiyanga

Work in Wurrumiyanga has been carried out differently across the two stages of this project. The first stage took the form of a consultation process where members of the local community sat down to discuss their concerns, interests and understandings of Western and Tiwi governance in Wurrumiyanga. The second stage is taking place as a series of workshops which couple community development and empowerment with an emphasis on the strengthening of governance and leadership capacities within the community.

Tanyah Nasir – Rise Up facilitator

I was invited to be the IGLDP worker on the ground at Wurrumiyanga due to my long experience working with Indigenous individuals and organisations in the past. I have worked with Indigenous people and Tiwi people across the Northern Territory over the past 30 years with an education, employment and training context. Recently I have worked with Tiwi people whilst delivering the TNCS Rise Up Program, Be Your Best, Own your Future, in Darwin and at Wurrumiyanga.

Even though I have family and cultural connections to some families at Tiwi, I undertake this project as an outsider however, I understand that my relationships will impact and influence how people respond to me.

I have been intentionally very broad in whom I talk to, as well as what I talk to them about, as this provides people with the opportunity to engage, connect, participate and feel valued and listened to. They are able to share their thoughts without judgment or repercussions. Beginning this project I took a “Tell Us the Story from your perspective … as a worker and as a community member” approach to opening up discussion and allowing people to discuss what they would like regarding governance and leadership.

Stage 1

Stage 1 of this project initially involved meeting with people (Tiwi and non-Tiwi) that I already had an existing personal and professional relationship with, seeking their advice, guidance and support on how to proceed, who I needed to talk to and how to move the project forward in an inclusive and respectful manner.

Local Tiwi people were happy to meet in their spare time to share their knowledge to help me understand the governance and leadership at work at Wurrumiyanga. At initial discussions the employment of local Tiwi people was highlighted as a way of developing and strengthening relationships and shared ownership of the project. Similarly, the people I spoke to were very committed to the development of their town and local Tiwi people and were very enthusiastic in advocating their own interests.

Everyone that participated did so willingly and has generously given their time to share their knowledge and perspectives. People are generally interested in the project and see it as a way of developing their understanding about governance and leadership and the current western structures and they also see the project as an opportunity to highlight Tiwi Ways/Tiwi Governance.

A major concern which kept being highlighted and referred to was the way in which Tiwi practices of decision making and ways of handling disputes and resolving conflict were not formally recognised or properly implemented in western governance structures. Responding to these concerns, Ponki Mediation and Skin Group processes offered a starting point for future discussions and workshops to be carried out as Stage 2 of the project.

Stage 2

The first set of workshops was held on the 11, 12 and 13th of November, 2014.

These workshops drew on a community development foundation, and worked to empower local Tiwi community members to share their knowledge and understanding about Tiwi governance and western governance and leadership, and to voice their concerns and aspirations in front of other community members. It was emphasised that the workshop was like a ‘community’ meeting – with everyone together, how it used to be. And this is what people feel is needed.

In preparing for the workshops a number of organisations in Wurrumiyanga were contacted and consulted with these included the TIRC, Local Authority, TITEB, Red Cross, PM and C and the NTG Department of Health as well as individual local Tiwi people.

Wurr-2The purpose of the workshops was to discuss and unpack the following:

  • Identify and discuss the existing organisations, businesses and service providers at Wurrumiyanga
  • Local Authority
  • Tiwi Island Regional Council
  • Tiwi Way/Tiwi governance
  • Skin Groups
  • Ponki Mediation

At the same time, these workshops offer the opportunity for Tiwi people to begin ‘driving’ the agenda as the day unfolds. For example, in one of the workshops it was obvious that a community leader wanted to take advantage of and maximize the opportunity where his people were ‘listening deeply’ and were engaged with the topic and respectfully and tactfully steered the discussion to where he believed needed to be consolidated.

We initiated a number of exercises in which people mapped out and told their stories of both Tiwi and other forms of governance and leadership in Wurrumiyanga, including the many different organisations, councils and boards, as well as how each of these works and the roles that people adopt within them.

We then worked to extend understandings of the roles and functions of these organisations, the connections between them, and how local Tiwi could use them effectively to benefit Tiwi. There were a number of local leaders who were able to assist and guide this learning, while also modelling learning relationships between older generations and the youth.

We would like to thank everyone who attended the workshops. Their knowledge and stories were very much appreciated and valued.
We would like to thank everyone who attended the workshops. Their knowledge and stories were very much appreciated and valued.



For further information please contact Tanyah Nasir