Designing in response to Indigenous sovereignty

An interactive Wiradjuri-RMIT project is among the winners in the social impact category at the 2018 Good Design Awards.

What does it mean to be non-Indigenous and design with, and in response to, Indigenous peoples and knowledge? What processes change and adapt? How can design be of substantial, long lasting benefit to Indigenous people?

These were questions that came into focus through an innovative project in which design supported Wiradjuri to gather and explore what it means to be Wiradjuri through Indigenous sovereignty.

Co-designed by Wiradjuri Nation citizens and researchers from RMIT University, the project centred on a number of community events held on Wiradjuri Country in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, and in Melbourne for those living and working “off Country”.

The project has now been recognised for its innovative design processes, being named among the winners in the highly competitive Social Impact category at the 2018 Good Design Awards.

Industry partners Paper Giant and Public Journal worked with the project team to create various records from the events including print, video and social media content, and a digital platform to connect, share and facilitate being Wiradjuri together.

Events included Dabaamalang Waybarra Miya Sovereign Weaving (“mob of people weaving together, acting in concert”), led by Wiradjuri Elder, Aunty Lorraine Tye.

“Weaving is about gathering, connecting and healing. It’s about reeds combining, to make something stronger,” she said.

Indigenous sovereignty is at the heart of the work, as is recognising the importance this plays in building stronger Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships.

Wiradjuri citizen and Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Education and Engagement at RMIT, Professor Mark McMillan, said the project’s innovative approach to collaboration enabled participants to be present as Wiradjuri people for themselves, rather than merely as a research output or object.

“It positioned us very differently and that was where we got so much more out of what can design do,” he said.

“For us it was - what are the relationships we form through design that allow us to be better Wiradjuri?”

Peter West from RMIT’s School of Design said collaborative projects like this pose many important challenges to the practice of design.

“These have been valuable lessons for how we, as non-Indigenous people, can reflect and come to know ourselves in our relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty.”

Associate Professor Yoko Akama, from the School of Design, said the conversations and events now archived on the digital platform provide a safe, interactive place for many who are beginning to explore their Wiradjuri identity, understanding and connection.

“The social impact of this work, spanning several years and projects, is timely and significant for Wiradjuri and Australia,” Akama said.

“For many Wiradjuri who are living ‘off Country’ in cities, the annual gathering to connect on another Nation’s land and be Wiradjuri together is a powerful enactment of their sovereignty.

The project team included Wiradjuri Nation citizens (Aunty Lorraine Tye, Mark McMillan, Tom Munro-Harrison, Emily Munro-Harrison, Bev Munro-Harrison, Faye McMillan, Todd Fernando, Dean Heta) and RMIT design, media and arts practitioners (Peter West, Yoko Akama, Linda Elliott, Seth Keen, Cormac Mills Ritchard and Kylie Wickham).

The team have dedicated their Good Design Award to the memory of Wiradjuri Elder, Uncle Jimmy Ingram, who generously offered guidance and support to many of the projects.

The award was announced at the 2018 Good Design Awards Gala night at Sydney Opera House on May 17.

Other RMIT projects recognised at the awards were modular hearing aid Facett which won Good Design Award of the Year, crowdsourced installation The Storytelling Machine and perpetrator service mapping created in collaboration with RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice.

Story: Wendy Little/Grace Taylor

Project team members Dean Heta, Peter West, Emily Monroe-Harrison, Professor Mark McMillan and Rebecca Nally.

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  • Indigenous
  • Arts and culture

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