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Indigenous and Aboriginal people
What are the key characteristics of this group that are relevant to consultation?

Indigenous people are those who have a special connection to the land in the area in which they live (traditional owners).

Past government policies of dispossession and removal mean that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often not living on the land that they are indigenous to.

Elders have an important role in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:

"In many communities people recognise two types of elders; traditional elders and community elders. A traditional elder is an original descendent of the area who is actively involved in community issues. A community elder could be someone who has lived in the area for some time and who is recognised and respected for their community involvement. Any reconciliation group [organisations, local councils] should encourage the representation and involvement of both traditional and community elders." (Local Reconciliation Groups Toolkit, page 10, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 2000).

What are the implications of these characteristics for consultation?
Traditional owners of the land in the municipality have a specific and particular role to do with the land. This must be a starting premise for any consultation within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
What methods or approaches have you found to be successful in accessing this group?

Respect and Acknowledgement:
The unique role of Indigenous people needs to be recognised and acknowledged as a first step. These groups and individuals can be hard to identify, but the effort needs to be made and one needs to talk with as many people as necessary.

Adequate and appropriate consultation relies on relationships built on trust. This is essential to create an environment in which engagement can occur.

"As with most communities, relationships come before anything else. Outsiders who are unable to form relationships with communities will find their efforts frustrated. The person who introduces you or your group to a community is important to your acceptance. Genuine efforts at building good relations may overcome barriers. Demonstrating your respect and sensitivity towards the political structures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and their protocols and ways of communicating will help you." (Local Reconciliation Groups Toolkit, page 10, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 2000).

Lack of participation by Indigenous people can be due to racism, discrimination and isolation (which may be a result of discrimination).

Development of Protocols:

"Protocol means observing customs and communicating in a way that is appropriate and relevant." (page 9, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 2000).

Indigenous people need to have the opportunity to develop protocols for engagement as these provide a framework for any work undertaken and the basis for the relationship.

In developing consultative processes issues such as the structure and location of meetings, language in letters of invitation and documents and meeting processes must be appropriate and welcoming.

Principles for developing protocols between parties include:

  • Relationships built on respect and trust
  • Information
  • Education
  • Native Title legislation
  • The need to negotiate decisions/agreements
  • Acknowledging different cultural values

    "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are diverse. Check each step of the way that your approach is consistent with the protocols for each group you are dealing with and the group whose country you are working in. Sometimes people will not tell you your approach is inappropriate unless you ask."(page 11, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 2000)

Serious mistakes have been made in the past and a level of distrust exists. A fresh approach is needed, characterised by goodwill, good faith and a commitment to Aboriginal access to services. Local governments are in a good position to play a very positive role.

Have you needed to vary the 'standard' methods to make them suitable for this group?

The standard principles for good consultation apply. A particular issue is to ensure that consultation is done early enough to allow participants to develop relationships, help shape the direction, content and outcome/s of the consultation.

"Results come from established relationships and trust. The most important outcomes from consultations are often strengthened relationships and greater trust."(page 11, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 2000)

Outline any particular issues which need to be addressed when consulting this group?
Apart from the above, it needs to be noted that lots of consultation is taking place using Aboriginal organisations that are small and under-resourced. Inundation can lead to a lack of response. While Aboriginal organisations should be consulted, they are not the only source of access to communities.
Are there any further matters which are relevant to consulting with this group?

Developing understanding through cross-cultural training provides an important starting point for organisations working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

In areas where there are significant Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities the employment of Indigenous staff provides an important contact with the community.

For further information see:

  • http://www.reconciliation.org.au/
  • Toomnangi, Indigenous Communities and Local Government - A Victorian Study, Indigenous Interagency Coordination Committee for Local Government, Municipal Association of Victoria, May 2002.
  • Working with Native Title: Linking Native Title and Council Processes, Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) and National Native Title Tribunal (NNIT) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and Legal Assistance Branch, Attorney-General's Department, 2nd Edition, 2002
  • http://www.alga.com.au/nativeTitle.htm

Information put together with the assistance of Reconciliation Victoria.

For case studies, click here.

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