Principles of self-determination

Which principles support Aboriginal self-determination? You'll be surprised what's beyond the obvious.

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Principles of self-determination

To be successful in self-determination Aboriginal people need

  • Freedom. They can exercise of the same rights as all citizens. They can choose where they want to live and how their time will be occupied. They can be ambitious and creative, and express themselves. They do not have to trade their inalienable human rights for supports or services. Freedom includes the freedom to make mistakes.
  • Support. They can autonomously determine how to organise their resources. This means that people do not receive “supervision” and prescriptions. Rather, they may seek partners for support and contract for any number of tasks for which they need assistance.
  • Knowledge. Knowledge of what has and hasn't worked elsewhere helps avoid mistakes or going the wrong way. This means also allowing Aboriginal people build their own knowledge base rather than prescribing what is 'best' for them.
  • Financial responsibility. They control their budget, including re-prioritising monies when necessary. Monies are used as an investment and not to purchase services other people get for free.
  • Stable policies. Government policies should encourage and support Aboriginal solutions and be reliable.

In 1995 the Australian government put to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, that they object to the use of the term ‘the right of self-determination’. The government wanted Aboriginal people to be limited to asking ‘how they should be governed’.

Principles beyond the obvious

Waltja Tjutangku is a successful Aboriginal community-based family service assisting communities to develop self-management and self-determination. They defined the following principles for Aboriginal self-determination which extend those mentioned above.

  • Family. The family is the foundation of the Aboriginal community and identity. Service delivery is most effective when it occurs in the context of the broad family as understood by Aboriginal people.
  • Community. Partnerships with Aboriginal communities are the most effective way of providing services to respond to identified needs.
  • Proximity. The most effective services are provided by local community people who have access to training and support.

Activities that support self-determination

Some of the work that successfully supports self-determination includes

  • Succession planning. Leaders prepare a younger generation to take over at some time, but also sponsor younger people to attend conferences.
  • Investment strategies. Groups design investment strategies to look after future generations as well as the current needs of Aboriginal people.
  • Business agreements. Clans and nations negotiate agreements with the private sector or governments.
  • Aboriginal programs. Programs that build on the practical capacity of Aboriginal people in communities to run education, policing and health systems themselves will be more successful than if prescribed by external parties.

Self-determination and land rights is not just the power to say no, it's the power to say yes as well. Otherwise what we own is only half of what we're entitled to.

— Noel Pearson, Aboriginal lawyer and Elder


View article sources (4)

[1] 'Sovereign Union and Our Political Future',, retrieved 27/1/2014
[2] 'Celebrating Indigenous success stories', ANTaR flyer 10/2010
[3] 'The Indigenous governance and development challenge: an international conversation', Reconciliation News 23, May 2012 p.10
[4] 'Cape crusader', Koori Mail 487 p.11

Cite this page

Korff, J 2021, Principles of self-determination, <>, retrieved 25 July 2024

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