Trust First Peoples, share power and build long-term relationships say speakers at ANZSOG’s Proud Partnerships conference

'Journey' by Aaron McTaggart and Emma Bamblett
  • Published Date: 23 February 2021

ANZSOG’s Proud Partnerships First Peoples virtual conference has begun with calls for governments to put more trust in First Peoples communities and build stronger long-term relationships to help identify and address challenges.

The Conference featured speakers from Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand who discussed the need to build partnerships with governments willing to share power, genuinely listen to First Peoples communities and to change their culture to create long-term partnerships.

Day one of the virtual conference as attended by hundreds of participants. The conference will run for the next three Wednesdays (24 February/ 3 March/ 10 March). Registrations are still open for the final three sessions. Full video and resources from the first day are made available to all registered attendees.

Australian Indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt delivered one of the opening addresses to the conference and saying that “we must strengthen existing partnerships and establish new ones”.

He said that there were opportunities for governments to work in new and different ways at a local level, and to have more inclusion in social and economic partnerships.

Aotearoa-New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta delivered the other opening address and said that, in New Zealand, partnerships needed to embrace the “bi-cultural values that characterise who we are”.

“When it comes to social and environmental challenges, to get different results we need to have different conversations, and we need to involve the Indigenous voice in this.

“What the world needs is a commitment to empathetic, sustainable and inter-generational solutions.”

The Proud Partnerships Conference aims to bring together Indigenous community leaders, public servants and academics to unpack and celebrate the successes we are already seeing across Australia, Aotearoa-New Zealand and internationally. Almost 500 people attended the first session, using the virtual platform to listen to speakers, ask questions, and to network.

The conference aims to challenge participants to think beyond the way things have always operated, and to consider how First Peoples knowledge, local community decision-making and new relationships with government and the public purpose sector can be mobilised to meet the needs of communities.

Setting the scene – defining Proud Partnerships?

The first session of the conference consisted of two panels discussing ‘defining partnerships’ and ‘delivering on promises and remaining accountable’, both hosted by Australian ABC Journalist, and Ngemba-Muruwari man, Dan Conifer.

The panels outlined the need for governments to listen to Indigenous communities and develop new ways of working, that were based on trust and thinking about long-term relationships.

June Oscar, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said that partnerships were urgently needed to address immediate needs and innovate.

“Governments in Australia have had a poor record of building partnerships. They have taken the role of authority, judgment and a restrictive approach, with the result being that they failed. Thankfully we are seeing the start of change and putting trust in communities,” she said.

“We are now seeing more positive outcomes, we are included in decision-making and our lived experience is valued, people are putting trust in us to drive change…and we can see real outcomes for both parties.

“Proud partnerships are enduring and committed to working with First Nations people. They understand that change takes time. They need to be courageous and based on trust with confidence that we can wear any mistakes that arise.

Ms Oscar outlined her role in the development of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani/Voices of Women and Girls project, which was the first Australia-wide consultation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in more than three decades years, and aims to elevate Indigenous female voices in policy-making.

She said this work was about addressing past neglect and “making sure no one was left out of the conversation”.

New Zealand Judge Caren Fox said that the Treaty of Waitangi provides a foundation to recognise pre-existing Māori sovereignty, and to build partnerships on.

“The importance of the Treaty of Waitangi was that it granted a guaranteed right to exercise autonomy, sovereign government, or self-determination, and recognised pre-existing sovereignty. This is fundamental to how partnerships are formed.”

She said that New Zealand’s courts had defined the principle of partnerships: “mutual respect and entering into dialogue where respective authorities overlap, the Treaty signifies a partnership between races with reciprocal obligations and advantages”.

She said these partnerships were being used to deliver social services and to recognise Māori sovereignty.

“It is important that we ensure our democratic systems and governments understand and value what entering into partnerships with Indigenous communities means.”

Professor Tom Calma AO said that the state of partnerships across Australia is a “mixed bag” and that governments needed to think about the long-term and consider multi-generational impact of colonisation on Indigenous communities

He said that Indigenous communities “have got to be bold”.

“If we believe in something, we have to argue our case and accept that sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.”

Recognising culture and sovereignty, and the importance of trust

Dame Naida Glavish DNZM, a strong advocate for Māori language and former Māori Party MP, spoke of the importance of maintaining culture and the importance of recognising the impact of its loss on Māori people.

She said that non-Māori could help Māori achieve sovereignty (rangatiratanga) by getting themselves versed with the Treaty of Waitangi, to understand its full history, so they could understand the context in which contemporary Māori work.

She said that governments needed to trust Māori more, and to move towards co-deciding, rather than having Māori report to non-Māori.

“Māori used to report to non- Māori, but over time this has changed. Māori began to report to Māori in hospitals in the community to ensure those services served communities better,” she said.

“Yes we need to co-design but we also need to co-decide"

Opportunities to improve trust between Crown and Iwi

Those in crown agencies and those who run them need to show an expression of confidence so that Iwi can look after their own and to resource them for it too. We’re on the start-line of that journey, it might need a bit of a shove,” Dame Glavish said.

She said that First Peoples needed to continue to be active, and to work for change.

“We’ve never achieved anything except by taking a stand,” she said.

After the session participants were able to attend smaller Yarning Circles with the speakers, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and get a deeper understanding of the issues raised in the sessions.

The second session of the conference, to be held on February 24, will have the theme of Solving Global Challenges and explore how First Peoples knowledge and culture can be used by governments to address problems that range beyond Indigenous communities, with an emphasis on taking action on climate change and other environmental challenges.

Register for ANZSOG’s Proud Partnerships First Peoples virtual conference to hear from speakers from Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand. The conference will run for the next three Wednesdays (24 February/ 3 March/ 10 March). Registrations are still open for the final three sessions. Full video and resources from the first day are made available to all registered attendees.

Register for the conference