, Volume 77, Issue 6, pp 817–828 | Cite as

Sustainable indigenous futures in remote Indigenous areas: relationships, processes and failed state approaches

  • Richard HowittEmail author


In many Indigenous territories, continuing processes of primitive accumulation driven by governments’ claims to resources and territory simultaneously deny Indigenous rights and insist on market forces as the foundation for economic and social futures in Indigenous domains. Drawing on research in North Australia, this paper identifies the erasure of Indigenous governance, the development of wickedly complex administrative systems, continuing structural and procedural racism and state hostility to Indigenous rights as constructing Indigenous vulnerability to poverty, addiction and underdevelopment. Shaping sustainable Indigenous futures in remote areas that are characterised by long-term development failure requires rethinking of remote local and regional economic relationships. Recognising remote regional economies as hybrid economies that rely on environmental, social and cultural wealth is an important first step in reorienting policy settings. It is also crucial that we acknowledge sustainable Indigenous futures cannot arise from policy interventions that rely on creating wealth for state and corporate appropriation and assume enough of this wealth can be redistributed to local Indigenous communities to constitute ‘development’. Politically constructed crisis interventions, such as Australia’s recent actions in remote Northern Territory communities, represent a failure of state relationships rather than an appropriate and sustainable response to the challenge of Indigenous vulnerability. This paper argues that attention to Indigenous rights and development of good relationships and good processes of governance, autonomy and responsibility within communities as well as between them and governments is fundamental to sustainable Indigenous futures. Without this, neither government programs nor large-scale natural resource-based development projects can deliver sustainable futures for remote Indigenous groups.


Indigenous rights Sustainability Australia Self-determination State intervention Policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environment and GeographyMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia

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