Making decisions for our communities

Making decisions for our communities

A crucial factor in the success of any program to improve outcomes for people is to support and encourage our communities to manage our own services. Doctors, nurses and teachers have recommended for decades that the health and education services, particularly in remote communities, should be managed under the authority of those local communities. Allowing our elders and communities to manage solutions, with access to sufficient staff and funds, is crucial for these programs to run successfully and efficiently.

Where our communities have been able to take an active and equal role in negotiating participation in mining, tourism, and heritage enterprises, the results have usually been advantageous for us.

Reconciliation Australia (RA) is an organisation that recognises that the main ingredient in overturning disadvantage in our communities is to make good decisions for and within those communities. RA emphasises that good decision-making ‘only comes about when Indigenous peoples have real power to make decisions about policies affecting their own communities’.

Making Legal Decisions for our communities

The recognition of our customary law within the criminal justice system is a complex and difficult issue, which has been criticised and, in a few cases, sensationalised in the popular media, and there are misconceptions about it in the wider Australian community.

The non-Indigenous criminal justice system sometimes emphasises punishment over rehabilitation in the way it deals with criminal behaviour. Our community-based approaches try to bridge the gap between the expectations of both sides; the victims and the accused.

Every state as well as the Northern Territory now has an Aboriginal Legal Service, protecting the rights of Aboriginal people and providing free legal advice and representation.


artwork of a rainbox serpent

The Northern Land Council uses the rainbow serpent as part of its identity because of its importance in creation stories across Australia. The rainbow serpent story is closely linked to land, water, life, social relationships and fertility. Photo © Northern Land Council.

The Northern Land Council, one of several Aboriginal Land Councils around the country, began work in 1973. Its role is to represent traditional Aboriginal landowners and Aboriginal people in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Consulting with traditional landowners and other Aboriginal people with an interest in land is one of the Council’s most important responsibilities. This process allows landowners to express their views and provide informed consent as a group before the Land Council or a Land Trust makes arrangements that affect the land. This principle is fundamental to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The Northern Land Council also acts as a representative body for native title claimants under the Native Title Act 1993.

In 1995 the Northern Land Council created the ‘A Caring for Country’ unit and it is now one of the Council’s largest units. Setting up groups of Aboriginal rangers is an important part of the unit’s work. The unit’s role in managing both land and sea includes controlling fire, feral weeds and animals, and monitoring endangered species, like turtle and dugong. It also takes an active role in preserving traditional knowledge for future generations. Similar land and sea management units are being established all around the country.

Source: The Little Red YellowBlack Book: An introduction to Indigenous Australia (second edition), AIATSIS.


a man in a kitchen with a plate of food

Indigenous apprentice chef John Seden working at Ayers Rock Resort. Indigenous trainees gain valuable, paid on-the-job, industry-based skills development at the Aboriginal-owned resort. Photo © Indigenous Land Corporation.

The Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) is an Indigenous-controlled statutory authority established to assist Indigenous Australians to acquire and manage land to achieve economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits.

In 2011, the ILC, collaborated with a collective of Aboriginal companies called Wana Ungkunytja Pty Ltd to purchase the famous Voyages Ayers Rock resort. An Indigenous training and employment program will be established at the resort with the vision of becoming Australia’s largest indigenous training facility and employer.

ILC Chairperson Shirley McPherson said the purchase is a turning point for Indigenous economic development in Central Australia and nationally and that ‘….WU (Wana Ungkunytja), which operates the Anangu Tours business, will acquire an interest in the resort and will be an integral partner in its running and development’.


two men sitting in front of rockart

Rangers Greg Peckham and Richard Baker, Nitmiluk Rock Art Protection. Photo © Nitmiluk Tours.

Nitmiluk National Park is owned by the Jawoyn people and managed under a 99-year lease by the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, in association with Jawoyn people, and their culture and traditions. Nitmiluk is the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge. Pronounced Nit-me-look, it literally means cicada place. The name was given by Nabilil, an important Dreaming ancestor. As he travelled the country he came to the gorge where he heard the song of the Cicada, ‘nit, nit, nit!’.


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Gapu Man (Water Man) video clip. Photo © Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation.

Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation was established in 1992. It is an independent, Aboriginal-controlled health service administered by a Board of Directors representing communities across the Miwatj region in East Arnhem Land.

Miwatj has developed a series of advertisements by, and for, Yolngu communities aimed at improving the health of people across east Arnhem Land. Gapu Man clip is a short film about a superhero who stops people from drinking unhealthy sugar drinks and encourages them to drink water instead. The film was presented at the 2010 Galiwin’ku Healthy Lifestyle Festival, a festival strengthening traditional understandings of health and healing through story telling, bush trips, healing ceremonies, dance, sport, education and music.

a man on a motorbike in bush

Ranger Garrett Pamkal spraying Mission Grass on the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). Photo © Warddeken Land Mangement

Environmental weeds threaten nearly all biological communities in Australia. To protect the fragile Arnhem plateau ecosystem, rangers from Warddeken Land Management are taking it upon themselves to control the threat of weed infestations on their country. In early 2011 Warddeken Land Management undertook a major collaborative weed control project with Alligator Energy, the mining company holding the exploration leases in Mikginj Valley. The joint project tackled mission grass infestations in the region. Rangers worked alongside mining company employees to map and treat weeds.

Another cross-organisational partnership was formed between Warddeken and Kakadu National Park with the groups receiving funding to undertake joint mimosa control activities in the Mikginj Valley area. Mimosa represents the only infestation of a Weed of National Significance (WoNS) within the Warddken IPA. The size and density of the infestation and the spread pathway puts both KNP and Warddeken at risk. Both groups hope to secure further funding to continue the important work.


two men standing on a river bank

Indigenous locals Ron Harrigan (R), elder and cultural advisor to Cooktown region language groups and Gerhardt Pearson, Hopevale resident and Cape York Land Council representative, discuss the impact of the Queensland Government's 'Wild Rivers' policy, as they pose next to a waterway at Cape York, 2009. Photo Patrick Hamilton, © Newspix / News Ltd / 3rd Party Managed Reproduction & Supply Rights.