2–5 February 2021


Short Paper

Designing in response to Indigenous sovereignties


Presenting Author(s): Peter West
02 February 2021

Please be aware that multiple presentations will take place during this session commencing at 05:00PM AEDT and share the same zoom link. Check how presentations are clustered in the program spreadsheet when adding the calendar.

This paper presents ‘gaps’ or limitations within the Western Design episteme as the author explores the requirement of Design to position itself in response to Indigenous sovereignty, specifically through the sovereign practice of Welcoming. The author argues that these gaps are created by, denied and deflected through racialized, capitalist logics. However, Indigenous sovereignty remains, presenting the opportunity and responsibility of the non-Indigenous Designer to reposition into practices of Designing lawfully on Country. This paper is written in Melbourne or Naarm therefore the author responds to Kulin practices of Welcoming; Womin Djeka. This sovereign practice locates Design ontologically and epistemically as ‘the visitor’; dependent on and distinct to the Indigenous sovereign host. This paper may also serve as an example to non-Indigenous Designers, in global contexts designing, researching and visiting on unceded lands. The paper’s central argument emerges through a critique of the universalising logic of whiteness in Design, which by its nature replicates globally, therefore this critical reckoning has global applicability. On Kulin lands, the sovereign practice of Womin Djeka addresses the guest or visitor and may include the laws of Bundjil. I contend that Womin Djeka is the foundation from which to Design lawfully in response to the ontological and epistemic boundaries set by Indigenous sovereignty.

N.B. The author is a non-Indigenous white man; invited to live and practice Design on the unceded lands of the eastern Kulin Nations (Melbourne as Naarm). I’ve heard colleagues and friends refer to themselves as ‘uninvited’ guests, settlers or visitors. I refer to myself as invited in recognition of the sovereign practice of inviting and welcoming guests. However, I also acknowledge the value in the term ‘uninvited’ in recognition of the ways I have been taught to misinterpret or ignore the sovereign invitation. Therefore, I also see the term ‘uninvited’ as a recognition of my starting point and unrealised design practice response.

Europe (CET): 2nd February 2021 7:00 am to 7:45 am

US (EST): 2nd February 2021 1:00 am to 1:45 am

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Peter West
Peter West
RMIT University

Peter West is an academic in RMIT’s School of Design and co-lead of Bundyi Girri. Peter’s research has seen him engage with Indigenous Nations across Australia. This has led to a teaching practice which focuses on non Indigenous students contextualising their design practices in relation to Indigenous sovereignty. This has consequently been the impetus for RMIT’s Bundyi Girri strategy. Bundyi Girri is RMIT’s university wide change strategy which supports non-Indigenous people into an awareness of their role and ongoing responsibility in their relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.