A new direction for water management? Indigenous nation building as a strategy for river health

Steven Hemming, Daryle Rigney, Samantha Muller, Grant Rigney, Isobelle Campbell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Indigenous involvement in Australian water management is conventionally driven by a top-down approach by nonIndigenous government agencies, that asks “how do we engage Indigenous people?” and has culminated in the ineffective “consult” and “service delivery” processes evident in mainstream water management planning. This is a hopeful paper that identifies the critical importance of a “nation-based” approach for effective Indigenous engagement in water planning and policy through the work undertaken by the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority (NRA) in the Murray Futures program. The NRA is an Indigenous government in the “settled-south” of Australia. Over past decades, the NRA has developed a range of political technologies that act as tools for redeveloping Ngarrindjeri Nationhood after colonial disempowerment and dispossession. These tools enable better collaboration with nonIndigenous governments, especially in natural resource management policy and practice. In turn, this has better enabled the NRA to exercise a decision-making and planning authority over the lands and waters in its jurisdiction, therefore, more effectively exercising its ongoing duty of care as Country. This paper presents a case study of the Sugar Shack Complex Management Plan, codeveloped by the NRA and the South Australian Government in 2015, to demonstrate the benefits that accrue when Indigenous nations are resourced as authorities responsible for reframing water management and planning approaches to facilitate the equitable collaboration of Indigenous and nonIndigenous worldviews. As a marker of the success of this strategy, the Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe Program, in partnership with the South Australian government, recently won the Australian Riverprize 2015 for delivering excellence in Australian river management.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number13
    Pages (from-to)Art: 13
    Number of pages11
    JournalEcology and Society
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Decolonizing
    • Indigenous knowledge
    • Indigenous nation building
    • Nation-based engagement
    • Natural resource management
    • Self-determination
    • Water management
    • Wetland planning


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