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‘Nature', Place and the Recognition of Indigenous Polities

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In the postcolonial context of Australia there has been a belated legal recognition of sui generis Indigenous rights and interests over much of the continent. However, the pervasive environmental discourse guiding resource management practices remains firmly based on ‘commonsense' settler understandings of ‘nature' as an external domain to be managed and/or preserved. In order to understand how this could be otherwise, this paper examines ideas about political landscape formation and the implications of the changing role of the nation-state and civil society in relation to the recognition of Indigenous political subjectivities. Taking the situation faced by Indigenous peoples in two settler societies as our vantage point, I argue here that we need to move away from assimilative environmental governance arrangements and politicise the concept of ‘nature'. This will open up spaces for the recognition and active participation of Indigenous polities in the realm of natural resource management. The paper concludes by contrasting the situation faced by Indigenous landowners in Australia's Kakadu National Park with the overtly political negotiations occurring in two northern regions of Canada. In the latter, in a process similar to what Tully calls ‘daily subconstitutional politics', it is through the recognition of Indigenous polities in environmental governance issues that Indigenous peoples are starting to refashion their stake in the governing ideas and institutions of the broader regional, provincial and national polity.
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Keywords: Australia; Canada; Indigenous people; environmental governance; nature; place; politics; polities

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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