When it comes to empowering Indigenous peoples, Professor Daryle Rigney is working from the ground up.
A Ngarrindjeri man and Director of the new Indigenous Nations and Collaborative Futures research group at UTS, Rigney is a recognised authority on Indigenous nation building. This process explores how Indigenous nations can recover their sovereign capacity for self-determination after colonisation.
“What we’re aiming to do is rebuild Indigenous nations such that the colonising relationship between Indigenous peoples and nation states is changed by focusing on the agency of Indigenous populations,” he says.
“As First Peoples, we are connected to the living bodies of land, water and sky and reclaiming Aboriginal sovereignty involves rebuilding an effective capacity to act as Country. That is important to acknowledge.”
In a research context, Rigney and his team are focused on critical Indigenous cultural heritage issues such as repatriation, as well as land and water management. Key pieces of work include Restoring Dignity: Networked Knowledge for Repatriation Communities Project, an ARC-funded project led by the Australian National University, in which researchers and Indigenous communities are building a digital facility to support the repatriation of Indigenous human remains.
This project builds on an earlier collaborative project, Return, Reconcile, Renew, which seeks to educate the public, researchers and community about repatriation, and a 2014 ARC collaboration that explored Indigenous governance processes and innovations to identify, organise and act as Indigenous Nations.
“What we’ve tried to do is think about how repatriation is a nation-building activity,” Rigney says.
“To do the necessary work to repatriate, to heal, to make decisions on ‘new’ funerary practices and ceremonies, to secure safe reburial spaces, to research and consult with citizens – that’s nation-building work.”
Other projects include an ARC Discovery grant to explore the prerequisite conditions for the self-governance of Indigenous nations, and a project to integrate Aboriginal philosophies, knowledge and cultural values into water resource allocation risk assessments.
“Broadly, our work is all about trying to restore tradition, knowledge, law, expertise, dignity in our own community context, such that we bring energy into Indigenous people’s lives, programs and plans,” Rigney says.
“How do we restore agency, engage in different ways than we have in the past to build new relationships for the future?”