Celebrating Wiradjuri Sovereignty

Our collaboration celebrates Wiradjuri sovereignty. Wiradjuri Nation has one of the largest territories on the Australian eastern seaboard in central New South Wales that stretches from Nyngan in the north, the Blue Mountains in the east, Albury to the south and Hay in the west. Their Country is described as the "land of the three rivers." Wambool (Macquarie), Kalare (Lachlan) and Murrumbidgee or Murrumbidjeri rivers provided trails for western expansion of the colony of New South Wales in search for grazing country, resulting in the Nation being subjected to some of the most profound impacts of colonisation (Read, 1988). Wiradjuri have experienced extensive dispersal of its citizens through forced relocation and the establishment of numerous missions. Re-settlement urban centres on Wiradjuri Country are generally heterogeneous with a number of regional towns containing Wiradjuri, non-Wiradjuri Aboriginal and non-Indigenous populations. In spite of this geographic dispersal, many Wiradjuri individuals and groups possess a strong cultural identity and are actively exercising responsibility for their Country. Country is much more than the land, having greater significance that connects to ancestry, culture, identity and spirituality, and therefore sovereignty (Moreton-Robinson, 2000).

The team—Aunty Lorraine Tye, Mark McMillan, Dr Faye McMillan, Peter West, Linda Elliott, Seth Keen, and Yoko Akama—have collaborated over many years to mobilize events that took place on Wiradjuri Country, and "off Country" on East Kulin land. The "off Country" gatherings, called Wiradjuri in Melbourne, are not discussed here, but nevertheless bring a significant layer of our work to celebrate Wiradjuri sovereignty on another Indigenous nation's land by a collective knowing and acknowledgement of being Wiradjuri, and practicing cultural protocols through diplomacy between Elders of Kulin and Wiradjuri Nations to respect mutual recognition of sovereignties (Akama et al., 2017). All these events were co-designed as mechanisms for gathering Wiradjuri people together to celebrate Wiradjuri sovereignty and catalyze conversations on Indigenous Nation Building. Our collaborations can be seen in various published works including "Designing Digital and Creative Scaffolds to Strengthen Indigenous Nations" (Akama et al., 2017), "Being Wiradjuri Together—Co-designing Self-Determination" (Tye et al., 2018), and Designing with Indigenous Nations Studio (2018). These initiatives were a component of a larger research on emergent theory and practice of Indigenous Nation Building in Australia in the absence of formal nation recognition by Australian governments (Vivian, 2014). This has been funded by several research grants and multi-institutional partnerships to promote governance and capacity building for Indigenous nations to exercise jurisdictional power and self-determine economic development in accordance with Indigenous nation's identified goals (Gooda, 2014; Hemming, Rigney & Berg, 2010). Indigenous Nation Building in Australia has been founded on the work undertaken by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona.[1] In particular, Stephen Cornell's (2015) scholarship on ways for Indigenous nations to "Identify, Organize and Act as Nation" informs an emerging Wiradjuri consciousness.

Dabaamalang Waybarra Miya: "Mob of people weaving together, acting in concert" (referred to here as Sovereign Weaving) took place over three days in March 2016 at Wagga Wagga, a major regional centre on Wiradjuri Country. It was led by Aunty Lorraine Tye, a Wiradjuri Elder and master weaver, and Linda Elliott, an artist and curator at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, through input and support of various research institutions and Wiradjuri Elders, artists, and community leaders. This event layers learning, experiences, and relationships built from past collaborations amongst the team.

We hear from Aunty Lorraine and Linda how sovereign relationships relate to maintaining rich connections and to continue them in an on-going way. Aunty Lorraine invited other weavers across the vast Wiradjuri Country, as well as several non-Wiradjuri, non-Indigenous people with close relations with Wiradjuri and Wiradjuri diaspora who do not live "on Country." The non-Indigenous design and media team from RMIT University—Peter, Seth, and Yoko—were also welcomed into this gathering by Aunty Lorraine and Wiradjuri leaders. While Peter, Seth, and Yoko were there to document the event and perform their research roles, they were also invited to weave, eat, walk and talk together, to have sovereign relationships. Being together and sharing these moments was an acknowledgement of their sovereignty through their respect and recognition of Wiradjuri sovereignty. As an example, Yoko shares her story in the fragment.

[1] Founded by Professors Stephen Cornell and Joseph P. Kalt at Harvard University in 1987, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (Harvard Project) is housed within the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Through applied research and service, the Harvard Project aims to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among American Indian nations. The Harvard Project's core activities include research, education, and the administration of a tribal governance awards program. In all of its activities, the Harvard Project collaborates with the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. The Harvard Project is also formally affiliated with the Harvard University Native American Program, an interfaculty initiative at Harvard University.