Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Traditional Owners and 'Community-Country' Anangu: Distinctions and Dilemmas

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Traditional Owners and 'Community-Country' Anangu: Distinctions and Dilemmas

Article excerpt

Abstract: In some contexts, including those that require concrete and locally specific knowledge, the term "traditional owner" has come to mean something different from its original statutory definition, in daily discourse, in the routine operations of settlement life and the administration of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA). It has also become a common referent for Aborigines resident in remote areas, rather than a specific term for land-holder. I will begin to unpack the nexus between this category and the reality of decision making by persons whom I term 'community-country' anangu. To this end, this post-settlement sociopolitical category is examined to contrast it from the definition of traditional ownership under the ALRA. This will highlight the tensions between the functional legal operations of the ALRA--its obligation to consult with traditional owners-and the reality of those persons who tend to be consulted about development proposals. The emerging issue of the regionalisation of remote settlements also plays directly into this issue of defining traditional owners.

**********

It is 21 years since Ken Maddock went 'In search of Aboriginal owners' in the text Your land is our land (1983). Considerable change has taken place since then in the demographic landscape of Indigenous settlement patterns and thus in the political and social landscape of remote areas. This article is concerned with the ways in which these patterns of settlement have encouraged a shift in attachments, identifications and decision-making processes as these may be oriented towards lived locality. Although acknowledging classical definitions of traditional ownership in ways that may be patrilineal and cognatic, I am interested here in exploring the elaborations on attachment to place that have constructed another form of traditional owner. That is the one who appears to know, the one that non-Aboriginal persons often go to first, the one who has lived there for a long time, the one who no longer has to put him or herself forward, but is sought out. This is the Whitefella's Traditional Owner. I will examine something of the context within which this traditional owner is used and consider who this person is through the concept of 'community-country' anangu, 'anangu' being the Western Desert term for Aboriginal person. These are the persons who, in some contexts, may be conflated with traditional owners by the Central Land Council (CLC), for instance. I will also problematise another category, referred to as 'traditional elders', by the Northern Territory government in a proposed regionalisation strategy in this same desert region. What are the areas of intersection between these new forms of identification with place and the administrative burdens that channel residents into these categories?

As a work in progress, this article derives specifically from ethnography undertaken in the Northern Territory on Aboriginal Land that was scheduled under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, the Haasts Bluff Land Trust. In other words, like Arnhem Land, it was automatically granted the status of Aboriginal Land when the Act was first legislated. The work is informed by my experience as a regional staff anthropologist for the two major Northern Territory land councils and most recently as a consultant for the CLC in several communities within this Land Trust; Papunya, Haasts Bluff and Mt Liebig. It was on this most recent field trip, in May last year, that this troublesome imposed category of traditional owner raised itself again as a problematic. Under the ALRA this is the category of person I was to identify, so that the CLC could convene a meeting to consult with traditional owners under s.42 of the Act. This section states that land councils have to consult with traditional owners over the area of land affected by all proposed development, over which traditional owners have the power of veto. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.