Should land right be given back to indigenous people

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Literature Review

Most societies in the world have neglected the rights of Natives and pushed them to the fringes of society. Places such as the United States with Native Americans, Canada and Australia with the aboriginals are evidence of marginalization the indigenous people within the society. Considering that these groups differ in their issues, the paper targets the Indigenous people of Australia also known as the aboriginals.  Among the main issues affecting these Indigenous people are land rights and these were enshrined in the Commonwealth agreement created in the year 1976 (Posey, 1995; International Law Association, 2010). For a long time now, researchers have not been able to agree on whether or not the Indigenous people in Australia deserve to have their land rights reverted to their society. While some researchers view land as a communal property, some scholars confirm that Indigenous Australians bestow intrinsic values to land as it is a form of cultural identity. This paper uses both indigenous and non-indigenous research to find out whether Indigenous Australians should be given back their land rights.

The British Empire colonized most parts of the world, conquering them and leaving the concomitant waves of billions of British migrants in the countries they ruled over forcefully. Colonization was not a passive exercise but one full of hurdles tied with the forceful denial of the rights of the original owners of the land (Hale, 2002). All countries that colonized another did so under the customary laws established on tenets of conquest or cession. In Australia, the process took place in waves (Posey, 1995). During the first wave that took place in 1788, the colonialists dispossessed, and incarcerated the original aboriginal owners so as to take over their lands. The clear explanations of the evils and thieving perpetrated by the British colonialists is explicated and ostensibly celebrated in the fiction Terra Nullius (Mercer, 1993)

In Terra Nullius, there are numerous discourses on the British colonialists and their process of migration to Australia. In this fiction, British migrants are poised as individuals who envisaged their main role as establishing a colony in Australia ((Mercer, 1993). To them, they are the pioneers of all lands and everything in them was unexplored and free for takeover. When they came to Australia, they established their presence in places they deemed fit based on the discourse of pioneering and rightful ownership (Mansell, 1997; Horrigan & Young, 1997). Even after they left, they believed that they brought civilization that introduced aspects such as democracy which are responsible for developing market economies. In such a nation, a lot of focus was placed in the accumulation of capital, ownership of private lands, an increase in social worth, and gaining authority.

It is evident that the British migrants were poised on the need to reproduce a society made of white supremacy. After the Second World War through to the mid-twentieth century, this was the main goal of the British as presented in the “accounts of post-war British migrants”.  In this account, the British misrepresent their unwarranted colonization of the aboriginals and other minority communities as "battlers" or individuals who worked hard, travailed and struggled to overcome adversity with an aim of achieving a better life in a new found society (Charters & Stavenhagen, 2008). They misrepresent their colonization as immeasurable and profitable investments in various nations which also contribute to the reinforcement of a better social status (Fraser, 1995; Horrigan & Young, 1997). Such take-over simply gave all privileges to the British immigrants as seen in the wallowing poverty that aboriginals live (Freckleton & Selby, 1993). The coming of the British to Australia clearly destabilized the ideals and culture of the nation making it impossible for the aboriginals to live normal lives.

In a research paper written by Engle (2011), the researchers confirms that monumental changes to land rights have not been handled by any organization even after they were ratified and posted by the commonwealth. The aboriginals have been complaining that even with the existing land rights, the ownership of land has not been handed over to the Indigenous Australians. Most of the mining companies have taken over these lands to the extent that most of them are forced to sell it at low cost (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2010). As a result, the aboriginals in Australia feel like they are losing on their heritage and culture. In as much as the aboriginals would love to develop their lands, they find it difficult to achieve their objectives due to interference with mining companies and other powerful people in the government (Charters & Stavenhagen, 2008).

In another non-indigenous study, Fraser (1995) offers applicable and contemporary examples of equal alliances and tensions that emanated from the application of the frame that guides the fact that every society has the right to culture. On one hand, the challenges mentioned by Fraser (1995) are aimed at pushing the liberality of the paradigm on human rights. Right to culture is comprehensive and covers over a wide range of people. The right to culture is also a representation of continued power and persistence from an international human rights paradigm. Fraser (1995) makes it very clear that this right eschews strong structures of indigenous self-determination. For this reason, it encompasses all the privileges, individual, political and civil rights of an individual as well as a society. In this sense, Fraser (1995) and Posey (1995) assert that the right to culture signifies the sustained limitation of human rights. Furthermore, it encompasses the perpetuation of particular biases related to cultural rights especially in their collective form (Freckleton & Selby, 1993).

Considering that land is considered part of intellectual property, the recognition and protection of these rights is more than relevant to copyrights and arts. Indigenous peoples kept artistic designs as part of their lands in form of the integral factions of the cultural system. These appear in form of language, land practices – such as farming, sacred objects and cultural sites. These elements are part of a myriad of aspects that constitute cultural heritage. For this reason, they must be conserved, maintained and managed using a combination of various rights and responsibilities in a collection of codes or rules. Instead of inhering them on specific individuals, they should be given to a group of individuals to avoid bias and other unforeseen circumstances.

In the article written by Darrell and Dutfield (1996), the researchers assert that Indigenous peoples have raised the question relating to screening, collection, and commercial use of some traditional knowledge connected to biological and genetic products. Apparently, the Australian and international societies borrow some knowledge from some of their lands which they conserved over the years. Darrell and Dutfield (1996) make it clear that this brings about the concept of ‘bioprospecting’- the aboriginals have maintained their ecosystems which are also significant figures of both social and cultural systems. These ecosystems are sought after by the expanding biotechnology industry as they have cosmetic, medicinal, industrial, and agricultural benefits (Mansell, 1997; Charters & Stavenhagen, 2008). It is only through the maintenance by the aboriginals that these lands have remained stable over the years yet the Indigenous communities remain unrecognized in their contribution to conservation. A major issue that falls under this category emanates from the idea that the lack of land rights makes it impossible for the people to protect their intellectual property. The aboriginals have maintained some of these properties with the knowledge of their significance yet they remain unrecognized.


Should Australian Aboriginals be given back their lands? The methodology that will be used in obtaining answers will diligently follow indigenous research methods. As such, it will endeavor to pursue the aboriginals’ views of the world, realities, and information that are important to their daily lives. It is vital that their social customs are recognized as part of their existence and situate themselves as Indigenous peoples in their own and other Indigenous peoples’ habitats.

The Indigenous system and procedure of inquiry of this research therefore differs from ordinary methods because the researcher will endeavor to be part of the research. According to Douglass and Moustakas (1985), the most impartial evaluation is the one that takes the personal perspective fully into consideration. Such Indigenous methodology will honor their voices and experiences of the Aboriginals, and will emphasize contexts that have influenced their societies, politics and history (Frederick, 2007). The research will likewise endeavor to honor the complex views and information relating to the ontology, epistemology and axiology of Aboriginals.

According to Wilson (2001), these elements along with Indigenous methodology comprises the Indigenous research paradigm comprise. As such the researcher is to consider the ontological aspect of the Indigenous people, to be able to gain knowledge of their perception and way of understanding within the context of their existence.

Epistemology covers the nature of knowledge, while axiology is composed of their values and ethics. Ontology and creating a bond of connectivity is the framework that defines how research has been created and how it is going to be used in the practices of future (Henry, et al., 2002). Personal identification with indigenous peoples gives authenticity to the research. Truthfulness is crucial in presenting Indigenous people without misrepresentation or reliance of stereotype representations. The researcher should respect the indigenous knowledge, rituals, customs and ethics. The meaning of Ontology is to bring out the traditional differences that discovers and highlights how an individual may form results by Indigenous research. The story of a person and the identification that follows is a way to provide importance to the research. Furthermore, when the bias is recognized the research is more powerful and legitimate rather than ambiguous. Indigenous people have a cultural and valuable system to which they adhere and by which they are identified.

In regards to the protection of rights, a part of the Indigenous people argue against western intellectual property laws stating that they are essentially incompatible with the traditional Indigenous cultural systems. Apparently, these laws are useless since they do not take into consideration the complexities that make up Indigenous systems. According to Mercer (1997), the western laws regarding property rights purport that land is a private resource- one that is owned by an individual and alienability is allowed. From this perspective, the property rights from the westerners are only applicable in instances where the land is managed as a commercial piece of property and managed from the same perspective.

On the other hand, from a traditional sense, land is part of intellectual and communally owned property. The laws should work from this point of view to avoid posing a threat to Indigenous peoples. The whole system should be based on informal innovation, and communal rights. In this case, the responsibilities are given and taken from a cultural expression thus protecting the interest of the community. Even though some international observers support the integration of Indigenous and western laws and regulations,  the indigenous people feel like land rights should always be given back to them.

Studies about Indigenous people demand a full understanding of decolonization which is imperative because of the insensitive way in which research studies have been conducted by many researchers over the years. The Indigenous research practice has been replete with a lack of cultural and ethical understanding of the researchers' Indigenous subjects (Graham, 2010). The Indigenous people of Australia should be studies within the context of their history which includes their economical, social and cultural backgrounds. Studying them requires a certain degree of empathy that is rooted from an understanding and appreciation of their differences including their ways of living (Webber-Pilwax, 2001).

In the book Decolonizing Methodologies, Smith subscribed a new agenda and map work for Indigenous research through the decolonization of research methodologies. I involved a more crucial comprehension of the values and motivations that inform the practices of research (Smith, 1999). The framework for research with Aboriginals in this research will comprise of research strategies, knowledge foundation, established methods, learning, and trust. It is important to understand their basic human processes of relating to the transmission of information and generating space for Indigenous knowledge that may be alien to the conventional scholarly customs.

The methodology is the means of theorizing the research. It is the measure by which the research goals are achieved, and expectations of commitment among subjects and participants are aligned. It is also the measure for decolonization of both indigenous and non-Indigenous participants of the research.

The personal interest in this research arose out of the impending need for the government to decide on important but apparently less prioritized matters as giving back the Indigenous people their lands. The procrastination that governments all over the world, beginning with Australia, is a direct motivation for researchers to provide scholarly backup so that Indigenous people will get the deserved respect by granting them back their lands.

Indigenous Methodologies

There is also a lack of formal education and obvious non-acceptance among more established authors that are writing for mainstream media. There is a need to provide a literary output on the subject of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous methods are important because one of the main problems that researchers undergo Indigenous research is the absence of respect for them as individuals and as people. Their worldviews have also not been represented in the educational structures. And educational curricula still lack the acknowledgement and inclusion of Aboriginal peoples. The acknowledgement and notion of reciprocity is vital not just for Indigenous research but also for Indigenous peoples because it will help them be accountable for their own lives and communities (Kenny, 2000).

Reciprocity is important because it is the mutual understanding of the values and knowledge of the researcher and research subject. It emphasizes the sharing of expertise and knowledge, decision making and ultimate ownership of knowledge. In varied researches, Indigenous teachers and leaders were always consulted (Wilson, 2001). Future researches are being planned based on these successful consultations and strong bonds between the researchers and subjects were formed (Graham, 2010).

Reciprocity is, in fact, one of the four Rs of Indigenous Ethics for research which comprise- Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, and Responsibility. This research will endeavor to respect and honor the basic beliefs and values of Indigenous relationships. This research will find relevance to the issues that are faced by people in general. Reciprocity involves the mutual participation of researcher and Aboriginals in the pursuit of information. Responsibility is critical in order to establish and uphold trust between the researcher and the Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Ethics, Protocols, and Etiquettes

Ethics is important in Indigenous research, particularly in its design and implementation. What is appropriate is based on the ethics and protocols of the Aboriginals particularly when it comes to cross-cultural matters. A main Indigenous Research guideline is the researcher’s accountability with and for who the research is being conducted (Rigner, 1997). Thus this research will endeavor to be responsible, truthful and accurate in recording information. At the same time, it is mindful that all actions are taken foster responsibility toward the research subject. The pedagogy that will be followed in this research will involve rediscovering, respect and recover the culture and traditions of the Aboriginals (Roberts, 1994). This is done in order to reflect their cultures in a more truthful matter. The pedagogy will involve the interconnectedness of all living things, the importance of intentions on human beings and communities; the basis of research through Indigenous experience; the theoretical foundation according to Aboriginal epistemology; the transformative research nature; the accountability of keeping the integrity of the Indigenous people and their communities; the acknowledgement of languages and traditions as part of their processes of living.

Indigenous peoples like the Aboriginals have instated canons of etiquette for research. These etiquettes are meant to uphold their rights to be Indigenous, to determine their course of existence and to achieve a greater comprehension of the complicated past and present relationships that exist internally and externally between their habitats and human communities. Each society's culture follows its peoples’ cosmological worldviews and expresses their ideas of self-identity, principles, customs, geography, protocols, history, and language. Indigenous peoples are essentially rooted in places of origin, particularly their lands. It is Aboriginals' way of associating their identity and their place here on earth.

In the pursuit of information, asking something from the Indigenous people will actually be an imposition. As such, the researcher will be prepared and willing to offer something in return for the information that the Indigenous people will offer. The motive of undergoing the complexities of Indigenous research is the fact that it is not a second thought or a unique applied action. It is a function of the whole process of research. It will emphasize the relationship of researchers and participants in all aspects of doing the research to acknowledge the relatedness of both parties and foster reciprocity from each other as well.

Naming the respondents can be an important element in keeping the research cultural and truthful. It is vital for studies in cultural societies to trade historical and genealogical resources. Knowing the sources of information or who is speaking is important. This research will endeavor that its participants will forego anonymity because to foster credibility, truthfulness, and integrity. Acknowledging the sources paves the way for more integral inquiry of the research's cultural processes.

This research will endeavor to seek Indigenous wisdom, not as Indigenous psychology. It should not be a creation of the natural world based on its sound and careful observations. In fact, Indigenous wisdom has been tested for many years. This research will be entered into a body knowledge, concepts, tools and methods of learning that are more conducive in addressing the issues that are currently happening in the world.

The International Perspective

The suffering and pain of aboriginals, just like any other community has also been the concern of the international dimension (International Law Association, 2010). From a traditional point of view, the international law had minimal concern for issues that were classified as the liability of domestic jurisdictions. However, the situation has changed with the adoption of contemporary law in regards to the treatment of all types of nationals. Today, there is a lot of interdependence and all countries are expected to partake in the expanded reach of the laws, forces and regulations of international norms (International Law Association, 2010). For this reason, it is important to consider the international perspectives and their ethics in research.

Over the years, there has been an increase in the attention of legal observers as they are allowed to give their views on various aspects. For instance, international observers have been rightfully involved in the commonality of the problems facing indigenous and minority communities in places such as Latin America, the United States of America, Scandinavia, and other countries as these people are considered to play a major role in the cultural and historical heritage of a country (Posey, 1995; Horrigan & Young, 1997). With such significance granted to indigenous people, it is imperative to gain an in-depth understanding of the views of the international field.

Research Method

Research method will follow this process: research question identification, research design; assessing the metrics, purposive sampling; institutional approval and permissions; a collection of date, and analysis of data. To answer the overarching research questions, the research design involves conducting qualitative interviews during preset varied activities like dinners, activity gatherings, and observation trips (Taylor & Ward, 2001). The nature of the design is explorative and descriptive in nature, but it will respect and uphold the values of Aboriginals by not being intrusive, or even use a recorded. The method is to spend time with them as often as possible to get the whole perspective of why their lands are important to them. In gathering data, the researcher will honor the values of responsibility and accountability that are expected of the researcher in conducting Indigenous research. As such the researcher will be accountable for the effects of the research study on the lives of the Aboriginal participants. The researcher will also endeavor to make the research beneficial to the Aboriginal community.

The founding premise of the accustomed Indigenous information system is the fact that what maintains human beings are our identity and connections with other living beings, the environment, and agents of creation (Glesne & Perkins, 1992). These connections are established specifically and locally and not just an abstract notion about the connection of living beings. It is a deeply rooted connection that involves specific localities where the ancestries of people are honored. The connection is not also to a collective but to individuals with identities, histories, and personalities. That is why in dealing with the Indigenous peoples it is important that to remember that the connection of each individual is unique.

The researcher will endeavor to make decisions through balancing the process of projections. It will endeavor to balance practical issues such as time and budget efficiency with a projective measure of effectiveness and academically adequate result. The objective is to achieve the goal without many modifications from the original research plan. The place of ethics will be prescribed because it will affect the decisions of the researcher who will be based on the approval of the protocols and customs of the Indigenous peoples participating in the research.



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Darrell, P., & Dutfield, G. (1996). Beyond Intellectual Property: Toward Traditional Resource Rights for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Ottawa:  International Development Research Centre.

Douglass, B. & Moustakas, C. (1985). Heuristic Inquiry: The Internal Search to Know. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23, p.39.

Engle, K. (2010). The Elusive Promise of Indigenous Development. Sydney: Cengage.

Fraser., (1995). From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a “Post-Socialist” Age’, 212 New Left Review, 68, 69.

Freckleton, I., & Selby, H. (1993).  Expert Evidence. Sydney: Law Book Company.

Fredericks, B. (2007). Talking up the research. Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 10,(2), 45–53.

Glesne, C., &Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction (p. 6). White Plains.  NY: Longman.

Graham, M. (2010). Understanding Human Agency in Terms of Place: A Proposed Aboriginal Research Methodology. PAN: Philosophy Activism Nature, No. 6, 2009: 71-78.

Hale, D. (2002). Does Multiculturalism Menace: Governance, Cultural Rights and the Politics of Identity in Guatemala, Journal of Latin American Studies, 34, 480- 485.

Henry, J., Dunbar, T., Arnott, A., Scrimgeour, M., Matthews, S., Murakami-Gold, L., & Chamberlain, A. (2002). Indigenous research reform agenda: Rethinking research methodologies. Linking Monograph Series: 2. Casuarina: Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health.

Horrigan, B. & Young, S. (1997). Commercial Implications of Native Title, Newcastle: Federation Press.

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Kenny, C. (2000). A sense of place: Aboriginal research as ritual practice. In R. Neil (Ed.), Voice of the drum: Indigenous education and culture (pp. 139– 150). Brandon Manitoba: Kingfisher Publications.

Mansell, M. (1997). Barricading our last frontier: Aboriginal cultural and intellectual property rights', in Our Land Is Our Life: Land Rights, Past, Present, and Future, ed. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Brisbane, 1997: 195-209.

Mercer, D. (1993). Terra Nullius, Aboriginal sovereignty and land rights in Australia: The debate continues. Political Geography, 12(4), 299-318.

Posey, D. (1995). Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Resource Rights: A Basis for Equitable Relationships?, London: Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding, Oxford.

Roberts, D. (1994). Changing the hierarchy of power in Aboriginal research: Towards a more collaborative approach. Kaurna Higher Education Journal, 5, 36.

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