Issues of concern

The research conducted by Tangentyere for the Indigenous Governance and Leadership Development Project (IGLDP) gave people an opportunity for them to reflect on governance and leadership, and its role in producing change in the community. Community level governance was seen to have grown in recent years, with many government and non-government agencies seeking to work in cooperative ways with people, and wishing for local people to play advising roles in their work. This revealed itself as having impacts on local people, particularly a small group of people who were seen to be important leaders who are thus approached to provide their advice and input on a broad range of issues.

The main areas of concern for people in Ntaria appeared to revolve around what structures are in place that actually give power to local people to make decisions for the community. Some of the observations included:

  • There are a number of community level structures in place that take up peoples time
  • Community level structures without resources are impotent
  • There is a strong belief that each individual is self determining, so people are loathe to directly try to make others change even though they disapprove of their behaviour
  • Some people believe that Traditional Owners are the main decision makers for the community, while others think that better decisions are made when people work together
  • The LA is for making small decisions about community infrastructure; it is not seen as a forum for addressing social issues. Yet as individuals they are concerned about social issues and the flow-on effects social problems have for the community

Throughout these discussions there was a desire to ensure that Aboriginal interests play a decisive role in the ongoing development of Ntaria (in social and economic terms). There remains a belief that some kind of ‘encompassing’ community level structure is one of the best ways to do this, with the accompanying knowledge that resources are critical. From the preliminary discussions, and the interest within Wurla Nyinta about ongoing discussions around community level governance and community led change, it is clear that people feel alienated from decision making processes.

The other area of concern regularly expressed was that governance and leadership is about making change- people don’t want to govern for the sake of governing, they want to see things change. In terms of the research most of the people were concerned about social issues, and the difficulty they face in trying to change them in the current framework that sees leadership mostly in terms of existing organisations and institutions. The inability of these groups and their leadership to address social issues is seen to feed into the production of social problems that people experience (lack of jobs, people drinking and fighting, kids teasing each other).

Of concern to people is that the absence of organisations at the local level who are seen to be accountable and responsive in Aboriginal terms. This regularly results in ‘action’to address issues of concern being driven by organisations that are seen to be accountable elsewhere (e.g. the school, the clinic, the Police). This feeds a perception that outside agencies are taking on the role of trying to effect change in the community, reducing the agency of locals to act on issues of concern. The difficulty is that the lack of organisations also reflects a lack of resources to implement action, the result being that that the collective capacity of Ntaria residents to identify and take action on those things they care about is reduced under the current arrangements.