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Pragmatic approach to sensitive issues

As indigenous people around the globe will be aware, the challenge to maintain traditional culture alongside another dominant culture is incredibly difficult.

The trajectory of Western-style development typically leads to Western patterns of society; patterns that are sometimes at odds with the structures and value systems of the traditional culture.

But when social breakdown is overwhelming, as it appears so in some Australian Aboriginal communities, change is necessary. At a recent lecture at Auckland Museum, Indigenous Australian lawyer Noel Pearson, argued that economic development and private property rights are important for the future of Aboriginal Australia.

Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), an Australian think tank is also advocating for policy changes to open up opportunities for private ownership of land and housing, alongside community ownership in Aboriginal communities.

A Report titled. Private House on Indigenous Land said while Indigenous communities own 20% of Australian land, the nature of collective ownership and restrictions on the use of that land, means that it is not being well used or developed. They advocate a series of policy changes that would rapidly see home ownership transferred to individuals and families (sometimes at no cost) so that they can take responsibility for their homes and build assets and wealth through participation in the marketplace.

The CIS approach makes sense, as it would allow Indigenous communities to have the freedom to move towards private ownership if they choose to do so.

However, it would be idealistic to think that private ownership alone will solve the complex questions of housing and ownership, and traditional culture versus dominant culture.

The tensions of change and stability within culture will continue to be felt.

Different notions of land and ownership are significant and important.

They are not easily blended.

Perhaps most encouraging in the suggestions by Pearson and CIS is the combination of realism about the need for problems to be addressed and the desire to see Aboriginal Australians at the forefront of any decision-making about their future; that approach may not provide neat answers, but it offers an approach and a direction to begin the journey.

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