The etymology of the term ‘governance’ can be traced to the classical Latin and ancient Greek words for the ‘helmsman’ and the ‘steering of boats’. Over time this meaning has been applied to societies and political systems where it has been defined as the ‘art of steering societies and organisations’. The search for a clearly articulated concept of ‘governance’ has only recently begun in Aboriginal Australia. While the term has rapidly transferred into bureaucratic thinking, government policy making, service delivery, and Indigenous political agenda, there is a lack of critical analyses and hard evidence about it, and confusion over its actual meaning.
Unrealistic expectations are being generated that ‘governance’ will be the ‘quick fix’ for all problems at the community level. Some stakeholders expect improved service delivery and local accountability, while ignoring the issues of jurisdictional power and self-determination.
As a result, there is something of a fashionable backlash, with the term being described as a ‘buzzword’ or little more than ‘pouring old wine into a new bottle’. It is a cause for concern that these varied views are becoming entrenched without sufficient Australian content having been applied to the concept.1
In a presentation to the first national Indigenous Governance Conference, convened by Reconciliation Australia in Canberra, Neil Sterritt (2001, 2002), a Gitxsan leader from Canada, characterised strong Indigenous governance as having four main attributes or dimensions:
(a) Legitimacy—the way structures of governance are created and leaders chosen, and the extent of constituents’ confidence in and support of them;
(b) Power—the extent of acknowledged legal, jurisdictional and cultural authority and capacity to make and exercise laws, resolve disputes and carry on public administration;
(c) Resources—the economic, cultural, human, technological and natural resources needed for the establishment and implementation of governance structures; and
(d) Accountability—the extent to which those in power must justify, substantiate and make known their actions and decisions.
Evidence to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) in Canada suggests that these four attributes are expressed through First Nations institutions and processes such as the centrality of land, individual autonomy and shared responsibility, the role of women, the role of elders, the role of family and clan, leadership and traditional accountability, and consensus in decision-making (RCAP 1996).
Aboriginal Male’s Healing Centre (AMHC), Governance Structure is based on above mentioned attributes as evidenced through the RCAP in Canada. Many small Aboriginal groups have informal processes of governance which are not exercised through externalised organisations.
But if a group of people is too large to make all the necessary decisions, they may create organisational structures, hierarchical systems or other arrangements to facilitate decision making. This might include delegating some areas of decision- making and responsibilities to an entity, whilst retaining other aspects of governance under their immediate social control.
From this definitional perspective, AMHC can see that Aboriginal community councils and organisations have governance; extended Aboriginal families and clans have governance systems; Aboriginal law and ceremony is about governance; local community health clinics and stores have governance; homeland associations, women’s councils and land councils have governance; native title claimant groups and traditional owners have governance; and Aboriginal businesses and regional service delivery organisations have governance.
Aboriginal Male’s Healing Centre Strong Spirit Strong Families Strong Culture Inc. have developed a governance framework that shall deliver the desired outcomes registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).