Inside Out: Indigeneity in the era of Native Title in Australia
Dr Suzi Hutchings
December 13, University of Adelaide
Dr Suzi Hutchings is of Arrernte descent. She is a social anthropologist with a doctorate from the University of Adelaide. For the past 20 years Suzi has worked as an anthropological consultant and expert witness on native title claims and Aboriginal heritage protection across Australia. She has also provided expert cultural evidence in the Federal Magistrates Court, the Supreme Court and the Magistrates court in family law, criminal law and injury compensation cases involving Aboriginal families. Suzi is currently a senior lecturer in the Indigenous Studies Unit in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne.
In 2011 former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, in his Lowitja O’Donohue Oration, revisited the history of the implementation of native title law and the passing of the Native Title Act in 1993 by the Australian Federal Labor Government. The most telling message in his speech was the level of change in intent of the Act, as it has been enacted during the past 22 years. Originally native title was an existing title recognized by the common law of Australia, now the burden of proof of native title is firmly the responsibility of Aboriginal people. For those whose lands lay in areas of intense rural and urban colonisation the level of proof of prior occupation required to obtain native title rights has been almost insurmountable.
Many urban and rural communities have suffered a history of removals of knowledgeable members variously disrupting a lineage of the laws and customs needed to show a continuous connection to the lands they once occupied. But it is within the social and intellectual spaces created by the requirements of native title that many claimants and community members have re-interpreted and combined the often-fragmented knowledge they have learnt from their elders into a comprehensive Indigenous knowledge that they believe does meet the requirements of the burden of proof. Invariably, what they have faced is skepticism among practitioners including lawyers, judges and anthropologists, as to whether their knowledge is authentic, or fabricated to suit a new political game in the face of oppression from the dominant society.