The making of indigenous personhood: a comparative assessment of legal processes for the establishment of indigeneity

Project Purpose: Settler societies such as Aotearoa New Zealand are fundamentally founded on the encounter between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. As the Europeans expanded their territorial rule, they had to come to terms with how to regulate their relations with the indigenous peoples they encountered. Part of that entailed establishing legally defined mechanisms to standardise these relations. Amongst other things these legal mechanisms involved developing legislation that defined who was and was not an indigenous person. This process of encounter literally meant that new forms of personhood were being made up in colonies across the world. This creative force was not simply one-way. In discovering the repercussions of their newly acquired legal status of personhood, indigenous peoples themselves reacted and responded to changing notions of selfhood vis-à-vis the settler societies who moved onto their domains. Thus, the legal mechanisms defining indigeneity have not remained static. Moreover, the precise legislation by which such forms of personhood have been established varied from place to place.

This proposal is grounded in the researchers’ interest in exploring the legal mechanisms by which indigeneity has been established in Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada and Australia. In each of these countries colonial governments have established rules that amount, essentially to the making up of people. In Canada for example, this was done via the Indian Act, which was imposed by the government with limited input from indigenous peoples themselves. The Indian Act established band membership which sets out indigenous rights of access to goods and services from the Crown. In Aotearoa New Zealand whakapapa registration forms that basis of iwi membership. Its function is similar to band membership, but its means of administration and the implications of access to such status are very different. Little has been done to explore the history and legal foundations for the establishment of indigenous personhood in their relations with the Crown. The project will entail identifying the legal mechanisms for the establishment of indigenous personhood currently in place in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In addition, the researchers wish to explore the historical developments of these personhoods.

The programme of work to be carried out: The student will be part of a team doing comparative research on the legal construction of indigeneity in Australia, Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand. The student will focus on one country and be responsible for the following:

  1. Conducting library research to find appropriate material
  2. Reading that material
  3. Noting key issues in the legal development of indigenous personhood in their given country
  4. Possibly contributing to the production of a publication that brings their material together with material from other participating researchers.

Day to day nature of the work: It is expected that the work will entail reading and writing. This means the student will be based either in his/her office at the university or in one of the university's libraries.

Skills the student will learn

  1. Communication skills e.g. with project stakeholders
  2. Questionnaire design
  3. Project resource and document design
  4. Ethics application process.