Towards an International Indigenous Design Charter

miller_damien_sml_thumb By Damien Miller, Australian Ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland

Recently, I was fortunate to take part in a conversation about establishing an international indigenous design charter.  In what would be a world first, the charter would encourage the design community to think about the appropriate representation and use of indigenous designs and traditional symbols.  It follows on from an Australian Indigenous Design Charter that was finalised this year.

The project, Was.Is.Always-South to North, was organised by Deakin University and supported by DFAT through a cultural diplomacy grant. It brought together indigenous artists and designers as well as academics and students from a range of countries, including Australia. A series of discussions and workshop were held in Greenland, Denmark and Sweden where participants were able to showcase their designs, learn and share knowledge of culture and design practice, and build long term academic, professional and social networks.

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Ambassador Damien Miller with Indigenous Australian artists at Kapisillit, Greenland. Photo: Dr Meghan Kelly

One of the highlights for me was accompanying seven Indigenous Australian artists on a visit to Greenland where they met with Greenlandic designers and artists—finding new artistic inspiration and forging new links with Inuit peoples.

As Australia’s first Indigenous Ambassador, I am delighted to have been involved in this indigenous-led project that aims to protect the integrity of indigenous design. It will improve the representation of indigenous culture in design and will have wider benefits for the world’s indigenous peoples and for Australia.

Since the launch of DFAT’s Indigenous Peoples Strategy in 2015, our department, in Australia and overseas, has been working to advance the rights of indigenous peoples, strengthen links between them, and encourage indigenous business engagement.  The Deakin workshops helped us advance all three of those objectives.

An agreement has now been signed to establish an international indigenous design charter and Deakin University has agreed to host the International Indigenous Design Network or INDIGO — an open platform that connects and unites indigenous communities and designers worldwide.

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Signing of the INDIGO MOU agreement. Photo: Dr Meghan Kelly

It was also truly satisfying to witness how DFAT’s cultural diplomacy activities are influencing the worldview of Australia.  In today’s globalised world, alliances are just as likely to be forged along the lines of cultural understanding as they are on economic and geographic ones.  Projects like Was.Is.Always stimulate innovative collaboration and deepen engagement that will have ongoing benefits for Australia.

The 2017-18 grant round is now open for DFAT’s Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program. Applications close at 2pm AEST, 12 April 2017. These small grants are designed to open doors for Australians engaging overseas in creative industries, innovation, and the arts.

If you have a promising idea for a joint project with an international partner have a look at the DFAT website for more information.

Damien Miller is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and was Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Germany. He has previously served in the Australian High Commission in Malaysia.

Mr Miller holds a Graduate Diploma in Foreign Affairs and Trade from Monash University and a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws from the University of New South Wales. He was selected “Aboriginal Scholar of the Year” by the National NAIDOC Committee in 1993.

Ambassador Miller is the first Indigenous Australian appointed as a Head of Mission overseas.

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