This article critically examines definitions of policy ‘success’ in the context of historical Indigenous higher education policy in the Northern Territory (NT), Australia. We begin by summarising applications of the often-used but arbitrary, rarely-critiqued terms ‘policy success’ and ‘what works’. The paper chronologically articulates what ‘policy success’ has looked like in the context of historical Northern Territory higher education, based on a critical analysis of policy documents. We then apply Critical Race Theory and Indigenous research theories to highlight the power processes that are attached to representation of policy issues, creation of policy goals, and ultimately definitions of ‘success’. We also consider the role of ethical principles in framing conceptions about what constitutes a worthy policy goal. We suggest expansion and resourcing of formalised Indigenous governance mechanisms is needed to create more productive dialogue about Indigenous higher education policy goals and, ultimately, discussions around what ‘works’.