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Partnerships key to success in communities

By Jane Hampson

Dr Bronwyn Rossingh proposes an innovative approach to government funding and accountability Dr Bronwyn Rossingh proposes an innovative approach to government funding and accountability

A Charles Darwin University PhD graduate has proposed an innovative approach to government funding and accountability requirements in Indigenous communities based on an appreciation of how Indigenous and Western thinking differs.

Dr Bronwyn Rossingh spent seven years researching and writing her thesis entitled “Culture Legitimate Accountability: Finding the Balance for Indigenous Communities”. She argued that improving outcomes for Indigenous communities would only occur with a greater appreciation of Indigenous philosophy by governments, their funding bodies and their departments.

“Western thinking is completely different to Indigenous thinking, which sees everything in nature as being connected and related, and places culture at the centre of everything. It is at odds with the abstract concepts and compartmentalisation of Western thinking,” Dr Rossingh said.

“There’s a mismatch in what accountability means and whose accountability is important.”

Dr Rossingh started her research after working in financial management in Indigenous communities for many years.

“The list of government funding support for Aboriginal communities is extensive, but this does not mean that funding is accessible or manageable by the Aboriginal people for whom it is intended, or that its intent is even properly understood,” she said.

“We have moved into an intercultural era of respect, marked by the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations. But many colonial attitudes still remain. Government funding documentation and accountability expectations often reflect this.

“Finding a balance between Aboriginal and Western ways of thinking will bring the positive outcomes desired by both governments and Indigenous communities.” 

Dr Rossingh wrote her thesis through the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education at CDU and in collaboration with Aboriginal people in the communities she was researching. She received her PhD at the October graduation ceremony at the Darwin Convention Centre.

“As a non-Indigenous person, I wanted to invite Aboriginal people to help shape the study and feel involved in it, given that it was about their lives.

“My intent is that this study will be used to advance the wellbeing of Indigenous people according to their way and produce more effective outcomes for everybody.”

Around 30 per cent of the Northern Territory’s population is Indigenous. Many live in remote or very remote communities where essential services and infrastructure are provided by the Federal and the Northern Territory Governments, with a system of grants and programs supporting other areas such as the arts, culture, heritage, youth support and sport.