Session 1 Keynote Address

David Martin

Differing constructions of Indigenous identities in Australia s Native Title Act, and their implications for Indigenous people and those working with them

This paper is directed in the first instance towards processes under Australia's Native Title Act (NTA), where seemingly alternative constructions of Indigenous identity are, I argue, established in different sections of the Act. The first, which I characterise as a 'traditionalist' and essentialised identity, must be established for the purposes of proving native title. Yet, arguably less prescriptive constructions of Indigenous identity are implicit in the agreement-making sections of the NTA, specifically arising from its 'right to negotiate' and 'Indigenous Land Use Agreements' provisions. These I suggest have the effect of facilitating a move for the Indigenous people concerned to a more individuated and 'modernist' identity. I argue however the notion of a dichotomy between tradition and modernity in contemporary circumstances is a false one, and propose that Indigenous identities are better understood as 'hybridised' or 'layered'. And, while I concentrate my discussion in this paper largely on the native title arena, I suggest that the implications of these arguments go well beyond native title itself, to core issues at the heart of Indigenous people s engagements with the wider Australian society and state. They pose challenges both for Indigenous people themselves and for those working to support them, including anthropologists. I focus in particular on the need to develop a 'hybrid' anthropology in the native title arena, which is alert to such contemporary processes as Indigenous engagement with the wider society, development, and transformation as well as with cultural continuities.

Dr David Martin was one of the anthropologists on the Wik native title claim, and has worked extensively in peer reviewing and assessing native title connection reports. He has had a long-term involvement in issues of Aboriginal community and economic development, including those in the native title post-determination stage, and also in Aboriginal governance. His research and applied work for and about Aboriginal people has focussed as much on transformation as it has on continuity and tradition.