A New Analysis of Claims to Identity and Belonging: The Importance of Knowledge within Australian Native Title Claims

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Rebecca O'BRIEN , School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Sydney, The University of Sydney, Australia
Within Australia success in native title claims for Indigenous peoples has come to be heavily based upon the ability of Indigenous groups to establish ongoing connection to land by presenting proof of the continuity of their identity and cultural practices since colonization. This paper explores the processes through which these claims of identity and belonging are made, and challenged, within Australian native title legal processes. It seeks to extend previous work examining what is creating the difficulties that prevent Australian Indigenous peoples from articulating and presenting their culture and identities in such a way that can be understood within the non-indigenous courtroom. Specifically, this paper will present a sociology of knowledge that enables new insight into these issues by bringing processes that underlie the legitimation of knowledge to the forefront. It will be demonstrated that engagement with the sociology of knowledge can be used to uncover the structural relations that inhibit Indigenous voices within native title claims. In order to do this the Australian Yorta Yorta native title case will be explored in depth using this approach. In particular the paper will deconstruct the arguments that led to the judgment that ‘the tide of history’ had ‘washed away’ the traditional laws, customs and culture of the Yorta Yorta people in direct opposition to their own claims. Through this analysis it will be shown that it was not simply the content of the knowledge itself that affected the final judgment, but a disconnect between two different understandings of the basis upon which knowledge may be considered ‘legitimate’. Finally, it will be argued that the sociology of knowledge can be extremely useful in analyzing the ways in which different groups of people present their identity and senses of belonging, as well as the ways in which these claims are received by others.