Traditional decision making in native title - finding a pathway through the cultural, legal and administrative maze

Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Mr Graham Castledine
Mr Royce Evans
Elaine James

Since the commencement of the Native Title Act, traditional owners have been asked to negotiate and make important decisions concerning their native title. While the Act allows for and even encourages the use of traditional decision making, this is required to be blended with modern Western notions of corporate governance and meeting procedures. The recent decision of the Federal Court in McGlade has underlined some of the difficulties associated with the requirements of the Act for reaching decisions on important matters, and has raised questions about the proper roles of the registered native title claimants and the broader native title community. After native title has been determined, traditional owners must develop complex processes which accommodate longstanding cultural norms as well as the onerous requirements of the NTA and CATSI Act. If not handled maturely and sensitively, these processes can result in feelings of disempowerment and disengagement as well as causing or exacerbating intra-indigenous conflict. The paper will examine Court decisions which have highlighted problems with the cultural clashes which have resulted from the current system and also look at some innovative approaches which one PBC is developing in order to truly honour the cultural knowledge of the traditional owners