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Indigenous Law Bulletin

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Bauman, Toni --- "Book Review - Citizenship and Indigenous Australians" [1998] IndigLawB 79; (1998) 4(15) Indigenous Law Bulletin 23

Book Review

Citizenship and Indigenous Australians

Edited by Nicholas Peterson and Will Sanders

Cambridge University Press, London, 1998

R.R.P: $29.95

Reviewed by Toni Bauman

Citizenship and Indigenous Australians is a collection of papers arising out of a conference held at the Australian National University in 1997. The book's central concern is whether or not indigenous Australians can be members of a common Australian society on equal terms with non-indigenous Australians. Broadly, the book identifies three key factors which have had a major bearing on the issue of indigenous citizenship: the progressive incorporation of indigenous people as subjects into the Australian nation-state through successive pieces of legislation; the insistence of indigenous peoples themselves on their citizenship rights and the nation-state's need to accommodate difference.

Historically, indigenous Australians had to be like whites if they wished to achieve citizenship. This fact is highlighted in Historical Conceptions, the first part of the book, where Geoffrey Gray discusses the anthropologist A. P Elkin, and Marilyn Wood analyses bureaucratic constructions of indigenous identity in nineteenth century NSW.

The ambivalence of the category 'indigenous citizenship' emerges in Contemporary Conceptions, the second part of the book. Bain Attwood and Andrew Marcus discuss some of the myths surrounding the 1967 referendum. Nicolas Peterson argues the need for an analysis of indigenous citizenship in terms of 'cultures of engagement'. Using this framework, he suggests that in the transition period around the mid twentieth century, Aborigines were able to move between 'two different social and moral regimes' either as 'full citizens' or 'wards', and that this constituted a kind of 'double citizenship' for indigenous Australians. Tim Rowse discusses the shift from the paternalism of managed consumption within a ration-based economy to the greater independence of a cash-based economy, and, ultimately to self-determination. He suggests that in this transition, governments and indigenous people themselves have had to strike a balance between the civil rights of indigenous peoples to state support on the one hand, and the responsibility to maintain indigenous collective forms of life. Will Sanders provides a useful outline of the history of the Community Development Employment Program ('CDEP'). He argues that since the program is now operating throughout indigenous Australia, it is necessary to rethink notions of community in order to take into account the diversity of indigenous communal life, rather than preserving the benchmark of 'remoteness' by which the CDEP originally targetted communities. David Trigger portrays indigenous responses to mining in the Gulf of Carpentaria as a form of resistance to the commodification of the landscape.

In the third part of the book, Emerging Possibilities, the writers suggest a number of ways in which indigenous citizenship might be reconceptualised. Henry Reynolds emphasises the need to distinguish between the concept of 'nation' and the concept of 'state', given that the unique position of indigenous peoples arises not from their acquisition of any special rights from the state, but from their membership of first nations. Garth Nettheim argues for the importance of the UN Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other instruments of international law. Peter Read makes a plea for the recognition of the special relationships which non-indigenous people might have to the country, suggesting that indigenous and non-indigenous people should be seeking a bilateral relationship to the land. Richard Mulgan describes how this relationship could be realised through accommodation and compromise, rather than reconciliation and consensus.

This important book challenges the reader to address the full complexity of the concept of indigenous citizenship. Disappointingly, however, there are no indigenous contributors; few indigenous people speak in the language of this book. This suggests that despite the premise or goal of 'equality' which informs these essays, the terms of academic discourse are by no means equal. Indigenous people have a number of competing and contrasting views of and ways of representing citizenship which have yet to be fully explored. I look forward to a time when these indigenous views, in all their complexity and ambiguity, are more clearly heard and better understood by other Australians.

Toni Bauman is an anthropologist and former editor of the ILB.

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