In the heart of New South Wales (NSW), the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Elections stand as a testament to the integration of Western democratic principles into Indigenous governance.

On the surface, this system allows Aboriginal people to vote for Councillors who will represent their interests, mirroring the democratic processes familiar to many Western nations… but if you take a deeper dive reveals that while the structure may be democratic, it might not fully align with the cultural and communal values of the Indigenous peoples it serves.

And the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) emphasises the importance of Indigenous communities having the autonomy to make decisions in ways that are culturally and contextually appropriate for them.

So one of the core tenets of this declaration is that Indigenous Peoples should have the right to make their own decisions and execute them in ways that resonate with their traditions, values, and cultural practices.

And while the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Elections might seem like a step in the right direction, there are concerns about how closely they adhere to the principles laid out in the UNDRIP.

Which from a sheer numerical standpoint, doesn’t seem promising… and I’m not referencing the vast differences in figures from health to wealth; I’m speaking about the numbers from the 2019 NSW Aboriginal Land Council Election.

Here’s a quick summary of the election which was conducted by the NSW Electoral Commission…. but feel free to skip this block and let’s get to the main point again.

2019 NSW Aboriginal Land Council Elections

“NSWALC’s principal clients are the network of 120 LALCs, and the 25,000 Aboriginal people who are their members.” – NSWALC Annual Report 2018-2019 Part 1 (page 5)

  • 25,000 Members (2019).
  • The total enrolment number is 15,426 or 61.7% of all Members.
  • 38.3% of NSWALC Members were unable to vote.
  • Total votes for the election were 4,124 (or 26.74% of 15,426).
  • Only 4,124 or 16.5% out of the total 25,000 Members in 2019 actually voted…
  • The election cost “approximately $984,000 (excluding GST)”.
  • Approximately $238.63 per vote.
NSWALC election - 2019 NSW Aboriginal Land Council Elections
NSWALC election - 2019 NSW Aboriginal Land Council election

Anyways, this is why it’s crucial to distinguish between leadership that identifies as Indigenous and leadership that embodies Indigenous values and traditions… and why it’s also crucial to identify government and (large) corporation public relations campaigns which I’ve touched on —> here.

But the point is the current system, though it may be “led” by Indigenous individuals and controlled by the NSW Government, still primarily operates largely from a Western perspective.

This raises the question: Is the NSW Government genuinely enabling Indigenous people to manage affairs in a manner that aligns with their cultural values, or are they nudging them towards a more Westernised approach?

And it also raises another question: Are these elected leaders truly representing the collective interests of the Aboriginal community in NSW or are they consciously or unconsciously prioritising personal or familial interests?

While the former may still function within a Western paradigm, emphasising individualistic priorities, the latter emphasises the broader community’s welfare, addressing social, environmental, and long-term concerns of the Aboriginal community.

This is why it’s crucial to reflect on this…

Especially when many Australians and Western citizens are frustrated with their leaders and politicians who prioritise personal or corporate agendas over community welfare.

And as Indigenous people, many of us don’t seek to be moulded into the Western political mould, where leaders often prioritise personal gains or those of their corporate backers.

So the challenge lies in ensuring that the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and its Councillors, and other “Indigenous” government bodies, evolve to become platforms where the essence of Indigenous empowerment is not just about having colonial government entities that are Indigenous “led”, but about integrating ways that are genuinely reflective of Indigenous values and promote self-determination

So while the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Elections are undoubtedly a significant stride towards integrating Indigenous peoples into the (Western) democratic process, there’s still work to be done to make it more culturally appropriate…

And to truly honour the spirit of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it’s crucial to ensure that these democratic processes are not just superficially inclusive or public relations campaigns but deeply resonant with the values and aspirations of the Indigenous communities they aim to serve.

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