United past ignites global meeting of Indigenous minds

In 2010, when Carbon Media won the coveted Indigenous Governance Award, I knew we had broken the mould in demonstrating that Indigenous governance exists across all sectors, not just in communities and not-for profit organisations.

It was this success that had led Awards Chair Professor Mick Dodson to invite me to the United States to participate in a unique multi-national conversation about Indigenous governance at the University of Arizona in Tucson in early March.

I was part of just a small delegation of 30 from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US to attend “Common Roots, Common Futures:  Different Paths to Self-Determination – An International Conversation”, co-hosted by Professor Dodson, Australia’s Diane Smith and Harvard Project for American Indian Economic Development’s Steven Cornell.

The international event explored three topics of self-determination, governance and economic development and promoted new, innovative, promising or productive progress in each area. It was interesting to share and learn how each of our countries understand Indigenous governance and economic development best supporting Indigenous self-determination.

It was a powerful situation coming together as world Indigenous peoples to start this cross-country dialogue, and envisioning what can be accomplished in practical terms for our Indigenous nations and communities.

For Indigenous Australians, my main concern is ensuring we are not left out of the digital economy. For example, it’s vitally important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to create positive perspectives on what we are able to achieve and share with others. This is what we are hopefully promoting through my company Carbon Media.

Seeing things on a local level in the US also gave me new insight and exciting possibilities for what could be the future of Australian Indigenous affairs. A day trip to the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation near the US-Mexican border showed how the local Indigenous peoples had established substantial jurisdiction within the boundaries of their own reservation, including designing their own system of government and having a police force that enforces both tribal and federal law.

We could learn a lot from the Tohono O’odham Nation’s innovative approaches to regulating land use, environmental matters and business development. This type of insight is what will drive future discussions between our four nations forward over the coming years. Just imagine what we could achieve knowing what can and does work in other countries, and the potential of what we could build upon and achieve here in Australia.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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