Designing in response to Indigenous sovereignties

Peter West
Communication Design, School of Design, RMIT University, Melbourne

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Ingår i: ServDes.2020 Tensions, Paradoxes and Plurality Conference Proceedings, 2-5th February 2021, Melbourne, Australia

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 173:11, s. 66-79

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Publicerad: 2020-12-22

ISBN: 978-91-7929-779-4

ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


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.


sovereignty, design ontology, epistemes, womin djeka, plurality, whiteness


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