Nukun and Kungun Ngarrindjeri Ruwe (Look and Listen to Ngarrindjeri Country): An Investigation of Ngarrindjeri Perspectives of Archaeology in Relation to Native Title and Heritage Matters

Article excerpt

Abstract: Australian archaeology has in past decades been subject to criticisms from Indigenous Australians for its treatment of and lack of consultation with their communities. Since these critiques the situation has changed and archaeologists are now required to consult with Indigenous communities, leading to improved relationships between many archaeologists and Indigenous peoples. However, there are still a number of factors that inhibit meaningful collaborative research. The utilisation of archaeology in native title and heritage research, particularly in relation to 'future acts' and 'site clearances', provides an added tension to this arena where different cultural values, politics and worldviews collide. Thus, it is now more important than ever that archaeologists have a greater understanding of Indigenous peoples' 'lived experiences' as well as their responsibilities to the communities with whom they work. Part of this involves an appreciation of Indigenous research agendas. It is also crucial that archaeology understand its power as an important player in the politics of knowledge surrounding native title and heritage regimes in contemporary Australia.

This paper explores these issues through the 'lived experiences' of six Ngarrindjeri people who have extensive experience in native title and heritage matters, and was written in collaboration with two researchers. It is hoped that the 'lived experiences' of the Ngarrindjeri authors may be used to educate archaeologists as well as other researchers, particularly those who may be new to an Indigenous community, so that future relations between Indigenous peoples and archaeologists will undergo profound changes. Such changes will mean that archaeologists can work ethically, sensitively and professionally with, and more importantly for, Indigenous communities and thereby contribute to the improvement of native title and heritage processes.


The impetus for this paper began with Roberts' study (2003) which investigated Indigenous South Australian perspectives of archaeology. This interdisciplinary research, which involved 16 Indigenous South Australians through a series of in-depth interviews, revealed that there are currently a number of factors that contribute to meaningful collaborative research between archaeologists and Indigenous South Australians. While the 'lived experiences' of the participants were viewed as evidence that some or many of the relationships are improving, and indeed in some cases even producing real partnerships and sites for reconciliation, it was argued that these experiences were tempered by or held in tension with the participants' inhibitive feelings, opinions and 'lived experiences'. Within this wide-ranging study a number of issues arose that may be considered to be directly related to native title and heritage processes, particularly 'site clearances'. (1) Thus, it seemed appropriate to compose a separate paper based solely on these issues.

Rather than investigate these issues on a state level (as took place in the Roberts 2003 study), and more importantly subsequent to discussions between Amy Roberts, Steve Hemming (2) and Tom Trevorrow, it was thought that recent events in the Ngarrindjeri Nation's history (3) would provide a unique case study as well as some challenging considerations for archaeologists and other interest groups involved in native title and heritage issues. Thus, Tom Trevorrow along with two other original participants in the Roberts study, Matthew Rigney and George Trevorrow, agreed to write a collaborative paper on issues relating to archaeology, native title and heritage as they affect Ngarrindjeri people. During the initial discussion about the content of this paper, three other Ngarrindjeri people, Grant Rigney, Lawrie Agius and Rhonda Agius, joined the authors to produce this final document.

Privileging Indigenous voices in archaeological research

Before we begin an exploration of the above issues we feel that the importance of privileging Indigenous voices in archaeological research needs a brief examination as this was the primary impetus for the aforementioned study. …