Schools, in their attempts to construct children as subjects, are tightly bound up with shaping the future. For this reason, schooling has been a crucial site of struggle between Aboriginal people and settler colonial governments: both a site of paternalism, assimilation and erasure, and simultaneously a site to work against these logics. This paper reports the findings of my PhD research exploring this dynamic in three schools between 1972 and 1983, during the first phase of federal policies of Aboriginal self-determination and self-management. Centering previously overlooked Aboriginal-authored texts and oral histories (‘Indigenous archival power’), it shows that in these diverse contexts, Aboriginal educators and supporters exploited and reshaped settler technologies of schooling to bring together and sustain communities, and reclaim power and control. What this study terms ‘self-determination as state governance’ worked to both enable and constrain Aboriginal initiative. Educators developed their own philosophies and strategic practices of ‘subaltern self-determination’ in order to challenge settler state imperatives. Through five identified ‘arenas of contest’, Aboriginal educators and their supporters contended with settler state priorities to articulate their goals: political economy; school sovereignty; knowledges, technologies and temporalities; language and linguistic power; and spaces and lands. In this process, they developed and partly realised Aboriginal-led approaches to Aboriginal modernities, and formed part of emergent Aboriginal polities which engaged in processes of governance to make Aboriginal interests legible to the settler colonial state.