Indigenous Nation Building: Theory; practice and its emergence in Australia's public policy discourse

Duration: November 2013 to October 2016

Research Team

  • Dr Mark McMillan, Faculty of Law, UoM
  • Dr Raymond Orr, Faculty of Arts, UoM
  • Professor Stephen Cornell University of Arizona
  • Professor Larissa Behrendt, UTS
  • Professor Daryle Rigney Flinders University
  • Associate Professor Steve Hemming, Flinders University
  • Dr Miriam Jorgensen, University of Arizona, Harvard University and Washington University in St Louis
  • Dr Yoko Akama, RMIT University
  • Ms Alison Vivian, UTS
  • Mr Peter West, RMIT University
  • Ms Debbie Evans, Charles Sturt University
  • Ms Faye McMillan, Charles Sturt University

Project summary

Today a growing number of Indigenous peoples are engaged in the process of 'nation building': they are expressing greater desires for self-governance and creating legitimate and effective governing institutions. Depending upon community and location, nation building is at different stages; some Indigenous nations already possess decision-making institutions, whereas others are just starting conversations about self- governing. These differences provide the opportunity for university-led scholarship concerning this critical legal, social, economic and political development.

The 'Indigenous Nation Building Project' uses case analysis among other methods to examine Indigenous nation building by attending its logic, organisation, limits and opportunities. The cluster is designed to engage emerging theory about Indigenous nation building, provide the 'raw material' for hypothesis testing, and inform communities and policy-makers.

Within these broad objectives, our project has three specific aims:

  • To examine the Indigenous 'movement' for self-governance in Australia
  • Compare the Australian movement to those in other English settler states and embed Australian Indigenous nation building in a broader international context
  • Contribute to international dialogues about Indigenous nationhood within a nation-state, especially by observing choices made in a context (Australia) notable for the absence of formal recognition by colonial governments.

The emergence of Indigenous nationhood and institutions provides an opportunity to add to a nascent theory of Indigenous nation building.

Latest News

Australian Fulbright Association Event

Australian Fulbright Association Event: A Re-Imagined Future: Indigenous Nations within the Nation State, Wednesday 26 November 2014.

Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne School of Government Miriam Jorgensen took part in an expert panel discussion on 26 November 2014, hosted by the Australian Fulbright Alumni Association and supported by the Office of the Vice Chancellor. The sold out panel event, at University House was introduced by Fulbright alumnus Dr Iain Butterworth and followed by a cocktail reception. The panel comprised members of the Indigenous Nation Building Project research team: Professorial Fellow Miriam Jorgensen, Professor Daryle Rigney, Mr Tim Hartman, Mr Damein Bell and Fulbright alumni Drs Alison Vivian and Mark McMillan.

The salon-style discussion illuminated how certain Indigenous communities are building thriving, self-sufficient, and economically sound Indigenous Nations, capable of ensuring the wellbeing of their lands and peoples. The panel members discussed the international and Australian research that highlights the importance of community-level Indigenous self-determination in a climate of unsuccessful indigenous policies. The audience heard the stories of success through self-reflective and evolving governing systems of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, Gunditjmara People and Wiradjuri Nations, who are strategically engaging their citizens to determine their futures.

Attendees were diverse, from the university, government and community organisation sectors. They were asked to engage through a concluding question and answer session around how thriving, strong Indigenous nations that self-govern and determine their own priorities can benefit all of Australia.

Research program

Governance and Performance