Michelle's cover image

Michelle Deshong

Year of Award: 2017 Award State: Queensland Policy > Governance
The James Love Churchill Fellowship to research and apply best practice on Indigenous governance and leadership models - USA, Canada, New Zealand


As Indigenous peoples across the world, we often try to find the balance between our cultural, traditional ways and the new emergence of opportunities and growth. The first mistake we make is thinking that by changing things we are in some way dishonouring our past or losing our foundations. These things are not lost to us, we carry them with us always, but culture, identity, people and environments can evolve and there is inevitable change. It is this question of change our nations and communities face all the time.
We get frustrated at the lack of resources, we struggle against a backdrop of little or no political/ legal leverage and cultural and community factions and it is often hard to enact change. We are worried about the unknown or we fear we may fail. So if we want something different taking steps towards change requires a little bit of courage. So as nations we can do four things to begin a change process:
Change the conversation – Changing our language from the deficit, of what is wrong, to what is possible is critical. To dream out loud and to give anything a go. Simple things like being positive with  our messages, deciding who we are as a people and what we want to be. As the saying goes, if you change the conversation you change the world you live in. Embracing the language of rights, equality and capabilities puts a new fire in our belly. I believe in putting things out into the universe, say what it is you want, believe in, desire. When we put it out there we are empowering ourselves in the process.
Change the behaviour – As a community/nation we should set out who we want to be and how we will treat each other. When we call out behaviour as unacceptable, we start to raise the bar about our own expectations and identity. By embracing our ways of knowing, doing and being, we recapture those societal norms and responsibilities that have guided us through generations. Treating eachother with respect, even when our views differ is the first step.
Change the institutions – our communities can only prosper when we have shared visions and a sense of trust, honesty and transparency. This is paramount to our nations, community organisations and institutions, regardless of where they are and who runs them. We want our communities to be able to enact good governance, have strong leadership, implement good decisions, have independent dispute resolution and work in a transparent way. But more importantly we want our institutions to be run by us and for us; and finally,
Change relationships – as communities and as nations we need to change our relationships both internally and externally. When we re-affirm our rights as nations and as Indigenous people(s) we take control of our lives. As Indigenous peoples we decide what is best for us, who we work with and on what terms.
When we start to reframe our thinking and ideas of change, we can reposition ourselves with power and authority. More importantly, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat setting a direction for our people, by our people. Change can bring about infinite possibilities.

Keywords: Indigenous Governance, First Nations Governance, Sovereignty, Treaty, Self-governance, Nation Building, Self-determination