Working Together Towards Sovereignty

Aboriginal People Could Form Nations within Australia

Dr Jean-Paul Gagnon is a social and political philosopher currently working at the University of Queensland where he is affiliated with the School of Political Science and International Studies as well as the school of Maths and Physics.

He founded and edits the Journal for Democratic Theory and has been involved with The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis and Centre for Greater China Studies housed by the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

As well as this he is a descendent of indigenous people in what is now called Canada.

In late November he gave a public lecture at the University of Queensland which was sponsored by the Sustainable Minerals Institute.

The lecture was based on a paper which he had published in the Australian Journal of Indigenous Issues regarding Indigenous Peoples ownership of subsurface minerals.

His argument is that IP who have inalienable ownership of subsurface minerals enshrined in one or more bodies of public law are placed in a much better position to control their own development.

He says this would empower IP and give them a greater than equal foot hold when working within colonial legal structures in pursuit of land rights.

He found that the United States has the most advanced legal code and cites a decision last year made by the US high court to compensate indigenous people that had been part of a class action.

While some money was paid directly to IP, some went to buying back land so Indigenous nations could reconstitute their tribe lands and continue to practice their management of sovereign territory.

He says in Australian law there are no provisions anywhere near similar to those in the USA and that legal ownership of subsurface minerals for Indigenous Australian Nations is something that must be fought hard for.

In remote areas nations such as the Haida Gwaii people in Canada have had their land returned into their control by law; and in New Mexico the Jicarilla (pronounced hek-a-reya) Apache Tribe are a officially recognised Tribal Government.

In areas which are populated by descendants of white settlers the way towards a just future for all peoples is more difficult.

“This is beyond 50 shades of grey,” says Jean-Paul, “this is a hundred this is five hundred shades of grey.”

“It’s both an opportunity to use what we can now within the current system, but also a benchmark, a target that IP in this continent can look at and say … a discussion has to happen.”

Jean-Paul stresses that indigenous nations must come together.

“Once nations come together then we can start to have a good hard look, a collective democratic indigenous look at Native Title or any other Act associated with indigenous people on this continent.”

While some might suggest that Native Title legislation gives IP sufficient control over their land this is not the case.

The formulation of the Native Title legislation happened in a very paternalistic, colonial manner.

“Under Native Title indigenous people do not have sufficient control over their lands to say no to resource extraction nor are they able to negotiate which companies should be involved or how the profit is shared.”

Related article by Dr Gagnon Musgrave Park and ‘Embassy in my own land’


The site of the Brisbane Embassy at Musgrave Park had become an eyesore and an embarrassment for the Aboriginal community over the last few months.

So a number of elders and traditional owners from the area banded together to ensure the inevitable Brisbane City Council clean up was done in consultation with them with respect to culture.

That they could work with the Lord Mayor to clean up the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy shows that the Aboriginal people of this area and the Brisbane City Council can unite and work together.

This could prove to be the beginning of a new era for relations between the original nations of this area and the colonial governments that now govern [occupation would have been truer 200 or so years ago…it has now moved into a post-colonial type of mixed stewardship] their lands.

Disenfranchisement is a major hurdle for First Nations people around the post-colonial world.

The way forward and to having sovereignty recognised by the international community is to stand together and strong in your law/lore as the original clan groups from the area.

A strong clear message of sovereignty with the reforming of the Nations within the area now called Brisbane would empower Aboriginals and lead them along a path of self-determination and self-governance.

The Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy was established in March as the first step in the long path towards regaining, at least originally, local indigenous sovereignty.

And while there are many hurdles to overcome, the hurdle presented by the unsatisfactory condition of the Embassy site near Musgrave Park could prove to be an opportunity to move forward.

Since the Council has shown a willingness to work with the original inhabitants of Brisbane to solve problems in the community there lies the opportunity for this alliance to solve further problems.

Graham Quirk surely now will be willing to work with the Yuggera and Turrbul nations to solve the problems of homelessness, poverty, substance abuse and all the others which have been caused by colonisation. [if he really cared he would instead of just using it for political point scoring]

It is hoped that this will help to bring the Aboriginal nations of Brisbane together.


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