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Foreign Policy Analysis

Morgan Brigg: Recognise Indigenous sovereignty by leveraging public administration


I wanted to acknowledge there Wurundjeri people give my thanks to Aunty Di for a welcome this morning and my
thanks to the organisers for the invitation to present. so I’m an academic
now but I was a public servant at one point and I want to begin with a story
from my time in that work. at one point I was running a process among Aboriginal
people when an elderly woman stopped me by saying ‘no you’re on my country’ now in
the kind of role I was working I was very used to dealing with verbal
challenges to my authority passing those moving on with the process and so on
but in that instant the authority that I had been asserting actually fell away
and I involuntarily acceded to her jurisdiction. in that moment her
jurisdiction was actually unassailable I feel and it couldn’t be otherwise
because she brought a kind of piercing and groundedaAuthority that all people
sometimes bring to bear in those kinds of situations so building on this
experience I want to talk briefly with you today about jurisdiction authority
and the paradoxes of indigenous affairs governance and I have three points that
I want to share with you. first I think we need an international and historical
reference point to gain some macro level perspective for the work of reimagining
across the Pacific Rim settler colonies Public Administration emerged as an
assertion of colonial jurisdiction it excluded indigenous peoples from the
families of Nations and the levers of powers power so we can’t escape this
history as Craig reminded us this morning
public administration has been and remains a central means of colonization
meanwhile it’s patently true that indigenous people were and in some cases
are practitioners of durable and workable socio-political jurisdictions
Australian Aboriginal people were practitioners of wearing our
practitioners of sophisticated socio-political ordering
across the entire Australian continent for tens of thousands of years
public administration that seeks to deny and exclude these forms of human
governance in the exercise of power and control is illegitimate there’s no other
way of putting it the only way to reimagine public administration in these
circumstances is to pursue equivalents and balance in indigenous and settler
jurisdictional authority it’s necessary to recognize indigenous jurisdiction and
authority to redress the colonial heritage of public administration second
if we turn to public administration at a more operational level of course we see
that contemporary public administration promised on progressive liberal values
doesn’t exclude and discriminate wholesale in some respects it openly
embraces difference but Jared Sider points out that settler regimes
simultaneously and paradoxically create destroy and incorporate indigenous
people to see how this works takes the example routine in indigenous affairs of
the use of corporations as the governing structure for indigenous groups and is a
key way in which indigenous people interact with the state on one hand the
corporation can be a vehicle for their pursuit of indigenous aspirations by a
group or community and it can be a very strong expression of Aboriginality
so it can create surely it can create equally by having the corporation to
serve service the primary and de facto requirement for socio-political
organizing the state is effectively saying to indigenous people you can be
indigenous but organize yourselves on our terms in
our way of doing business and report to us on those terms as well in this way it
disavows and contributes to the elimination of Aboriginal
all indigenous forms of ordering and jurisdiction so site is second point it
destroys at the same time the corporation and includes and envelops
Aboriginal people within settler jurisdictions it incorporates another
way to say this is that public administration serves as an inclusionary
assimilationist machine that is also lashed with dashes of self-determination
and this has diverse and paradoxical effects that some of our speakers this
morning have already referred to my third point is that the paradoxes in
this space also are an opportunity and that more can be done in public
administration to leverage paradox to recognize indigenous jurisdiction and
authority because public administration operates in cross-cutting and complex
ways there is scope for officials at all levels in public administration to
recognize in principle indigenous jurisdictional authority and to adopt
this as an underpinning strategic orientation and commitment as I’ve said
this is actually necessary to reimagine public administration by regressing its
colonial heritage of course for some in the room this might sound fanciful but I
want to make the case that this proposal is actually simultaneously ambitious and
very everyday in terms of public service practice even pedestrian in terms of
public service practice and I want to do that by taking on what I think are two
possible objections to this idea the first objection takes the form of
something along the lines of saying we can’t do that where we’re government and
that objection takes the form of ranging from lower level officers self policing
their attitudes or behavior with the script that Avila says that all such and
such a person up the line would not stand for that through two departmental
leadership noting that state sovereignty is indivisible and absolute and that the
minister won’t accept indigenous sovereignty or any talk of indigenous
sovereignty so I have a two-fold response first
recognizing indigenous jurisdiction and authority is a strategic attitude that
needs to be mobilized judiciously of course it doesn’t need to be verbalized
when things would go badly when it wouldn’t work and progress things well
to use that kind of attitude but holding this idea as a guiding operate guiding
orientation makes a difference in how public servants engage in meetings
contribute to program development and so on and both Craig and Michelle this
morning actually talked about how we think affecting what we do and in
Michelle’s terms simply expressed as mindset matters I think that’s that’s
really true secondly to the objection that about sovereignty from departmental
leadership I would say that sovereignty is rhetorically absolute but it’s
actually practically distributed in its operation is practically distributed if
a minister and a department are of their own volition involved in processes that
see high levels of indigenous control of decision-making is desirable in any
given situation and is a good way of doing business then that actually
becomes part it becomes included as part of the exercise of state sovereignty
particularly when it goes well so again the strategic use of the recognition of
indigenous jurisdiction and authority is possible a second type of objection
might say that well indigenous peoples or groups aren’t ready for the
recognition of jurisdiction may not have the capacity to exercise it or may not
even be asking or wanting jurisdictional control my response to this objection is
to say yes of course we all know that the indigenous organizational governance
and an organizational landscape is highly variegated so those kinds of
points are correct in some settings but the term jurisdiction is also one that’s
highly malleable which means that recognizing indigenous or
jurisdictional Authority can mean meat mean meeting people where they are at
and supporting them to extend their aspirations in whatever ways they want
to and I also want to say in closing in fact that the responses I suggest here
are I think everyday practices in public administration that are made possible by
leveraging the compact complex and paradoxical nature of public service in
relation to indigenous affairs I’m sure that many of you already recognize or
engage in some of the kinds of practices I’m referring to here my argument my
point is simply that leveraging paradox in public service administration in now
ever in everyday activity is a way and provides opportunities to recognize
indigenous jurisdiction and authority and that is a critical foundation to
engage seriously as some people this morning of also called us to do to
engage seriously in the work of reimagining public administration thank
you you

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