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.”