Citizenship, History and Indigenous Status in Australia: Back to the Future, or toward Treaty?

By Bradfield, Stuart | Journal of Australian Studies, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Citizenship, History and Indigenous Status in Australia: Back to the Future, or toward Treaty?


Bradfield, Stuart, Journal of Australian Studies


Australia remains unique among settler societies in not signing treaties with local Indigenous peoples, nor recognising their prior occupation in foundational documents like the Constitution. States such as Canada and New Zealand are currently seeking to ameliorate previous non-recognition via negotiated settlements, treaty processes, and even redrawing their internal boundaries to accommodate Indigenous autonomy. Given that these developments build on historical recognitions of Indigenous status that simply never happened on this continent, it may not be surprising that processes of negotiation remain less developed in Australia. Yet the fact is that such processes are largely absent, not simply underdeveloped. Perhaps more alarmingly, at the beginning of the twenty-first century there seems little appetite for a national dialogue on the question of creative new ways to accommodate Indigenous political aspirations.

For many Australians, the articulation of a distinct Indigenous identity challenges notions of 'one Australia'. Cultural representations of Aboriginality are acceptable and may even be presented as 'Australian', such as on a Qantas jet, or when we bask in the reflected glory of Indigenous art's international popularity. However, overtly political claims are more worrying, being viewed not on their own merits but largely in terms of their ability to upset the unity of the state. Arguments for people-to-people negotiations or a treaty relationship are hardly heard because of the degree to which non-Indigenous Australians have psychologically as well as institutionally absorbed Indigenous peoples into the state. It is then conceptually incoherent to 'treat with oneself'.

An alternative position was argued in novel fashion by Patrick Dodson in his 'Wentworth Lecture' of 2000. (1) In it he identified twin Indigenous aspirations of exercising a distinct identity and retaining the protection of Australian citizenship. Despite fears to the contrary, Dodson felt these aspirations could be realised in a way that strengthens rather than undermines the unity of the state. This, he believes, can take place through a formal treaty process that sets out the proper protocols for a just relationship between peoples.

This article seeks to analyse these positions in terms of their conception of Indigenous status. At a superficial level, we see a battle between those who advocate 'assimilation' and those who demand 'separatism'. A key weapon in this battle is the deployment of particular views of history. However, both these extremes seem unrealistic given the strength of Indigenous identity on the one hand, and the continued dominance of 'European' institutions on the other. With this in mind, Patrick Dodson's vision of distinct but coexisting peoples seems more in tune with the reality that more than one people, or 'nation', must share this continent. Any attempt to go 'back to the future' by slotting Indigenous people into assumed structures appears doomed. Developing a negotiated, or treaty, relationship may be one way of affirming the legitimacy of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous identities in Australia.

Back to the future: citizenship not Aboriginality

Australia's political culture is devoid of a tradition of explicitly recognising, negotiating and accommodating the rights of those peoples present before European occupation. The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples has thus been dominated by the ongoing dynamic of colonialism. Given this history, developing a culture of negotiation would take time, and would be reliant upon grasping opportunities, making mistakes, and learning through practice. In a very real sense, the opportunity to fundamentally alter relations only came about in 1992 with the High Court's recognition of native title in Mabo. (2) In determining the continued existence of rights which inhered in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it raised the possibility of Australia as home to two or more nations or peoples. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Citizenship, History and Indigenous Status in Australia: Back to the Future, or toward Treaty?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.