Community housing and Indigenous self-determination

Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians – as individuals, families, communities, organisations and importantly as a nation – and for the community housing sector, understanding and incorporating Indigenous self-determination as a guiding principle is a key step forward.

As the First Australians, Aboriginal Victorians are the traditional owners and custodians of the lands on which all Victorians live. It is a grim irony that the people with the greatest hereditary right to this place as their home, are also the group most likely to be homeless.

Aboriginal communities are culturally rich and diverse with histories and heritages that were shaped over many thousands of years.

The years after white settlement have seen massive dispossession from land, culture, language, community and family. The compounding impact of inter-generational dispossession, loss and disadvantage flows through to the disadvantage that Aboriginal people experience to this day.

Despite this Aboriginal people have survived, maintained their identity and find strength in their culture and community connection. These strengths are the basis for the authentic engagement.

Self-determination is an ongoing process to ensure that Indigenous communities are able to exercise their fundamental right to freely pursue their social, cultural and economic interests. The right to self-determination stems from the unique status of Indigenous peoples as Australia’s first people, as was recognised by law in the historic Mabo judgement.

The loss of the right to live according to a set of common values and beliefs, and to have that right respected by others, is at the heart of the current disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians.

Self-determination reasserts autonomy and power to Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal institutions and individual Aboriginal people, and counters the destructive historical experience of colonialism as well as its ongoing legacy.

Community Housing Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework

The Community Housing Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework aims to achieve structural and organisational change through deep understanding, awareness and practice of Aboriginal cultural safety.

Aboriginal cultural safety is the creation of an environment that is safe for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity and experience.

Lack of cultural safety is a well-documented and critical barrier to Aboriginal people successfully accessing services, including in the housing and homelessness sectors. Embedding cultural safety is crucial for housing organisations who wish to work with Aboriginal people and organisations.

The purpose of the Community Housing Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework is to strengthen understanding and provide practical tools that will support community housing organisations to improve cultural safety within their organisation and their work.

This tool takes a ‘rights based’ approach, which places Aboriginal Victorians and their communities firmly at the centre of community housing policies and practices.

It includes a self-reflection tool for organisations to understand their levels of cultural safety, progress their learning and agree on actions to implement the framework. The change strategy each organisation adopts will be contextual and relate closely to its vision, objectives, size, location, culture and internal and external environments.

How to take action

CHIA Vic has committed to implementing the Community Housing Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework within our own organisation. We will begin this process in the coming weeks, and we invite our members to join us to share encouragement and support.

To kick it off, CHIA Vic will be running ‘Getting Started’ sessions in June 2021 with Jenny Samms, Director of the Council to Homeless Persons and former CEO of Aboriginal Housing Victoria, who played a key role in the development of the framework. These sessions will be open to all members and will provide guidance and practical information for CHOs to begin incorporating the framework into their operations.

Stay tuned for further details on these sessions, and please contact our Social Outcomes Coordinator, Emma Barker-Perez (, if you are interested in embarking on this supported journey alongside us.