Introduction: This review was initiated by requests from both mainstream and Aboriginal organisations expressing interest in the apparently successful partnership between mainstream and Aboriginal organisations involved in the Victorian Indigenous Blood Borne Virus/Injecting Drug Use Training Project (BBV/IDU Training Project).
The history of working relationships between mainstream and Indigenous organisations has not always been a good one. Projects have often failed to achieve their goals because relationships have broken down. Despite good will on both sides, there is a history of mistrust and misunderstanding that often gets in the way of what might otherwise be a productive partnership. Since European invasion of Australia, Aboriginal people have been and continue to be subjected to unwelcome and discriminatory practices of surveillance, coercion and containment by government bodies, welfare agencies, churches and other mainstream organisations. The government reports on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) and the Bringing Them Home Report on the Stolen Generation leave little doubt that some of these practices continue to the present day. State authorities and representatives of mainstream organisations may therefore still be feared by Aboriginal organisations for their potential to perpetuate policies and practices of assimilation, oppression or overt racism.
For their part, mainstream organisations are often confused by the very different political context and cultural values they encounter when they attempt to work with Aboriginal organisations. Different time-frames, different priorities and different work practices can obstruct and frustrate even those with the best intentions of working together. This review set out to discover what made for an effective model of a working partnership between mainstream and Indigenous organisations – what makes for a healthy relationship, what processes work, and what steps you may need to take in your organisation, whether it is an Aboriginal or a mainstream organisation.
The Office of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH) provided funding for the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), in collaboration with the VicHealth Koori Health Research and Community Development Unit (VKHRCDU), to identify and document the successful elements of the partnership model employed. The review process was carried out by VACCHO ‘s Policy Officer, Peter Waples-Crowe together with VACCHO Researcher-in-Residence, Priscilla Pyett (also from VKHRCDU). This report focuses on the partnership model behind the BBV/IDU Training Project, not the success of the training component, some of which is included for context.