Speaking as Country: A Ngarrindjeri Methodology of Transformative Engagement

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Ngiya: Talk the Law, 2016, pp. 22-46
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
The systemic nature of colonisation results in a trenchant series of problems for Indigenous peoples striving to protect their lands and waters, to ensure the health of their communities, and to rightfully enjoy their cultural life. Indigenous leaders and communities who seek the transformation of colonial systems of knowledge, law and practice must engage effectively and authoritatively with the non-Indigenous processes and structures that have long been the source of Indigenous disempowerment. How can Indigenous people engage with a dominant system, without being co-opted into that system? Similar issues are raised for non-Indigenous actors implicated with Indigenous affairs: how can the agencies of a dominant system partner meaningfully and respectfully with Indigenous peoples, to refrain from appropriating Indigenous cultural knowledge and assimilating Indigenous aspirations within a framework that has been developed insensitively, in ignorance of Indigenous needs, perspectives and philosophies? In sum, how can we collectively ensure that our ‘response to wrongs are not reinscriptions of colonial processes’?3 In South Australia, the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority (NRA) has developed an innovative response to colonial governmentality, which subverts and seeks to correct the structural conditions underlying the continuing dominance of colonial social forms and their associated epistemologies. The NRA makes strategic use of an Indigenous-led methodology of engagement that is culturally relevant and secured legally through contractual agreement.4 At its centre is the Ngarrindjeri concept of Yannarumi—broadly translated as ‘Speaking as Country’. Resulting interaction then reinforces Ngarrindjeri nationhood and agency in protecting Ngarrindjeri lands and waters, by sharing in knowledge production that respects rights to cultural knowledge as a form of intellectual property. Through this method of relationship-building, including in the domain of scientific research conducted on Ngarrindjeri Ruwe (Country), the NRA has been able to take an active and progressive role in the development of environmental policy and in decision-making around water and natural resource management (NRM) in the Murray-Darling Basin region
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: