2 Unit Religion – Aboriginal Spirituality.
What does Terra Nullius mean? From at least 60,000 B. C. , Australia was inhabited entirely by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with traditional, social and land rights. To the Aborigines the land was everything to them and is closely linked to their Dreaming stories. Dreaming is the belief system which explains how the ancestral beings moved across the land and created life and significant geographic features. In consideration, the Indigenous Australians are a people with a close relationship with the land, and through the land they maintain the spiritual links to the ancestral beings.
The land is sacred, and for many thousand years, Aboriginal people lived in harmony on their land. After the arrival of the British colonies in 1788, Australia was declared “Terra Nullius”, which is a Latin term meaning land belongs to no one. As a result of this, Captain Cook, the British captain of the first fleet of ships to arrive at Australia’s shore, claimed that all of the east coast of Australia belonged to Britain. The underlying argument was that Aboriginal people were so low on scale of human development that their needs were discounted.
Because Aboriginal people did not farm the land, build permanent houses on it or use it in other familiar ways, the British decreed that they did not have rights over the land nor did they have any proof of land ownership. Another reason was that there was no identifiable hierarchy or political order which the British government could recognise or negotiate with. Once European settlement began, Aboriginal rights to traditional lands was disregarded and the Aboriginal people of the Sydney region were almost obliterated by introduced diseases and, to a lesser extent, armed force.
First contacts were relatively peaceful but Aboriginal people and their culture was strange to the Europeans as well as their plants and animals. Consequently, Terra Nullius continued on for over 200 years. Figure 1: Eddie Mabo Figure 1: Eddie Mabo Who was Eddie Mabo? Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo (seen in figure 1) was born on 29 June 1936, in the community of Las on Mer, known as Murray Island in the Torres Strait. His birth name was Eddie Koiki Sambo; however he was raised by his Uncle Benny Mabo through a customary ‘Island adoption’. During this time, the concept of “terra nullius” was legislation.
When Eddie was growing up, life for the people of the Torres Strait Islands was strictly regulated with laws made by the Queensland Government. However, the Meriam people strived to maintain continuity with the past and continued to live a traditional lifestyle based on fishing, gardening and customary laws of inheritance. At the age of 16, Eddie was exiled from Murray Island for breaking customary Island law, and he set off for the mainland where a new life was waiting for him. Through university, Eddie read a speech in front of people about his people’s belief about the land ownership.
A lawyer heard him and asked if he would like to argue with the Australian government about the right for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to have land rights. After this, Eddie Mabo was successful in addressing the concept of native title to the Australian government on behalf of Murray Island people. He is known for his role in campaigning for indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the high court of Australia which neglected the legal doctrine of “terra nullius” land belong to nobody, which characterized Australian law with regards to land and title.
Eddie died in 21 January 1992 and was unable to see the native title given to them. What were the Mabo case and the high court decisions? In the 1970’s, the Queensland Government took over Aboriginal land and was unsympathetic to the concept of land rights or any idea of native title to the land. On the 20th of May 1982, Eddie Koiki Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders challenged “terra Nullius” and began their legal claim for ownership to the Supreme Court of Queensland of heir lands on the island of Mer in the Torres Strait since their people had lived on the islands long before the arrival of the white settlement. Eventually, the supreme court of Queensland dismissed the case. Later, another challenge to the concept of “terra Nullius” was witnessed when Mabo and the four other islanders took the case to the High court of Australia. They requested that the court declare that their traditional land ownership and rights to the land and seas of the Mer Islands had not been extinguished. Furthermore, they claimed that the Crown’s authority over the islands was subject to the land rights of the Murray Islanders.
It was not until 3 June 1992 that Mabo case No. 2 was decided. By then, 10 years after the case opened, Eddie Mabo had died. By a majority, six out of one of the judges agreed that the Meriam people did have traditional ownership of their land. The judges held that British possession had not eliminated their title and that the Meriam people are entitled as to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands. This decision has wiped the concept of “terra nullius” and awarded the indigenous Australians with the Native Title.
Consequently, the term “Native title” is still in existence and contributed to allow the Indigenous Australians to maintain a continuous spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Therefore, this decision was important because it recognised that Australia was inhabited By the Indigenous Australians long before the White settlement and hold the native title. What is the Native title Act (1993) Commonwealth? Native title is a legal term which recognises the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the use and occupation of lands with which they have maintained a continuing, traditional connections.
Eventually, in the 1970’s the Queensland government began to remove the land rights of people of Murray Island in the Torres Strait. One of the Meriam people, Eddie Mabo, took the Queensland Government to court to prevent this from happening. Sadly, this case failed. Moreover, Mabo and some other people took the case to the high court of Australia. The high court decided in favour of the Meriam people and recognised the principle of Native title. Ultimately, during this historical event, Eddie Mabo was dead. In 1993, The Keating Labor government passed the Native Title Act.
This Act accepted the notion of Native title in law and also recognised the rights of owners of freehold property. Nevertheless, pastoralists and miners were still concerned, and many people leased land from the government. The legislation aimed to codify the Mabo decision and implemented strategies to facilitate the process of granting native title. However, it had not resolved the question of whether the granting of pastoral lease extinguished Native title. In this case, the High court argued that native title could co-exist with the rights of leaseholders.
However, the pastoralists and the mining companies who lease lands were still concerned that the court was too much in favour of native title. In 1997, native title act passed by the Howard government. This act stated that Native title and leasehold rights could co-exist and in any conflict, the rights or the leaseholders would come first. What was the Wik Decision (1996) commonwealth? The Native title Act of 1993 had not resolved the question of whether the granting of a pastoral lease extinguished Native title.
In 1993, the Wik people on Cape York in Queensland made a claim for land on Cape York Peninsula which included two large Pastoral leases. The federal court upheld the Native Title Act 1993 against the Wik people, with an argument that Aboriginal Australians had no control over land that has been leased. This case was further taken to the High court of Australia. In December 1996, the high court ruled that the granting of a pastoral lease had not in fact extinguished native title. With reference to a letter from 1848 in which a British secretary of state for colonies wrote to governor of
NSW which stated that the leaseholders had to negotiate with the traditional owners to allow them access. Pastoralists viewed the Wik decision with great concerns, for they had always believed that they had full and sole rights to manage their leases. After the Wik decision, Pastoralists would have to negotiate with any group who could prove native title right. Unfortunately, the pastoralists and miners increased the pressure on government because they were not happy with the Wik decision and the idea that Indigenous Australians had rights to leased land.
After a debate on this issue, the Howard government passed an amendment to the 1993 Native title Act. This change reduced the rights of indigenous Australians under the act and removed their right to negotiate with pastoralists and miners. This new law, made it difficult for Aboriginal Australians to make land rights claims Outline the importance of the Dreaming for the land rights movement? The Dreaming for Australian Indigenous people (sometimes referred to as the Dreamtime or Dreamtimes) refers to when the Ancestral Beings moved across the land and created life and significant geographic features.
The land rights are of critical importance in relation to Aboriginal spirituality, because the dreaming is inextricably connected with the land. Since the Dreaming is closely connected to the land, the land rights movement is an important movement in helping Aboriginal people re-establish spiritual links with their sacred land which was lost as a result of the European settlement. The dreaming is essential to the land rights movement because of many reasons such as: To the Aborigines, the dreaming is the central role which land occupies in Aboriginal spirituality, as land is the path through which the dreaming is experienced and communicated.
Without the land, the dreaming cannot be communicated because it is from the land that the stories of ancestor spirits in the dreaming flow. It is through their intimate connection to the land that the foundational concept which lies at the heart of Aboriginal spirituality, that is, the dreaming can be accessed. The land therefore, acts as the mother for the Aboriginal people, and that since it is, the identity of every Aboriginal person is closely linked to the land. Therefore, the importance of the land rights movement for Aboriginal spirituality should not be underestimated.
More importantly, the dreaming stories provide the entire ethical and moral basis by which Aboriginal people live on their land and relate to each other. It is known that the access to their land is fundamental to the putting into practice of Aboriginal law. This factor underlies the Aboriginal law is the knowledge and ritual relating to sacred sites. These sites need to be cared for and this is done through ritual ceremony. Each person is linked to the spirit ancestor who created the land, and it is this which creates an Aboriginal person’s identity.
Through the dreaming, Spirit connects each person with particular sacred sites, with the result that each person has a connection with specific places on the land. According to the Aboriginal belief system, individuals have clearly defined responsibilities in relation to the land, in particular the protection of sacred sites. Sacred sites may be desecrated through grazing, mining, or perhaps contact with site by people without knowledge of the necessary ritual. Access to these sites is critical for the performance of rituals and ceremonies so that the law can be taught to new generations.
Another importance of the dreaming is that the dreaming connects each tribe to a totem. A totem is an emblem mainly a plant or an animal that has become a symbol for a group who is believed to be responsible for their existence. The totem unifies the Clan (group) under the leadership of the spirit ancestor and thereby also creates a metaphysical connection with other clans bearing the same totem. Without their access to their totems, the Aboriginal people would lose their identity and prevent the belief system to be passed on to the next generation. Also, being taken away from a totem can alienate the individual from their clan.
The land rights movement can re-establish the access to the totems and belonging to the same clan under the sacred totem. Thus, the dreaming which explains the clan’s existence by their totem is essential to the land rights movement. For the purpose of land rights and spiritual fulfilment of the land, the Australian History has witnessed many land rights movement. Those include the Yolgnu people of Yirrkala in 1963 and the 1966 Gurindji people. In 1963, the Yolgnu people of Yirrkala sent a typed petition in both their own language and English to the federal parliament because the government had granted a mining company the right to mine auxite without consulting the traditional owners. The paper was fixed to a surrounding bark painting which depicted the people’s relationship with the land, and the Yirrkala people were seeking recognition of rights to their traditional lands on the Gove Peninsula. This however, was rejected in the court. To not underestimating this land rights movement, it was the first Aboriginal land rights movement and was an important step in the eventual recognition of indigenous land rights movement.
Another Early land rights movement was in 1966, when the Gurindji people began a strike at the British-owned Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory to protest about intolerable working conditions and low wages. They set up a camp at Wattie Creek and demanded that some of their traditional lands to be restored to them. The protest eventually led to their being granted the rights to Wattie Creek by the Whitlam Government in 1975. The passing by the Fraser Government of the Commonwealth Land Rights Act northern territory, 1976, gave Aboriginal people freehold title to traditional lands in the northern territory.
As shown, the land rights movements were based on the belief of the dreaming. This is because the land is closely linked to the dreaming and by restoring land rights again, the Aboriginal community could re-establish the dreaming which involves the land, sacred sites, totems and ancestral beings. How has dispossession affected Aboriginal spirituality? (seperatio Land, kinship, stolen generation). The Dispossession of the Indigenous Australians has had a major impact on their Spirituality and beliefs, including their connection to the land, kinship and explored a major effect which is the stolen Generation.
When the White Settlement began in Australia in 1788, Australia was called “terra Nullius” meaning that the land belongs to no body. What was unknown to the British settlement is that the land is the home for the Aborigines and those Aborigines have been living in this land for more than 50,000 years. In the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth century the official policy towards Aboriginal Australians was called protectionism. Protectionism is the idea that Aboriginal Australians needed to be separated from the white society and be protected because they were unable to do so.
As a result, they were removed from their traditional lands and placed in missions which at that time were controlled by Christian churches. This was a major factor in separating Aboriginal people from their own culture and religions. Since the Aboriginal religion is based on the dreaming which refers to the time where ancestors created the land, the dreaming is closely connected to the land because it is through the land that the stories of the dreaming emerge. Many of their rituals and ceremonies were inseparably linked to the land and sacred sites.
Consequently, many Aborigines were separated from their spiritualties and beliefs. Another major effect of dispossession from land is when separated people have later tried to gain access to their land but have no knowledge of the law and tradition and also no proof of their connection to the land. Therefore, dispossession from land has impacted on the Aborigines because the land plays a major role in their spiritual beliefs. Similarly, separation from Kinship groups has limited the Aboriginal people’s opportunity to express their religion in traditional songs and dances.
The Kinship is a complex system of belonging, relationships and responsibilities within a tribe that are based on the dreaming. Due to the fact that most of Aboriginal tribes had their own language, separation from kinship made it impossible for Aboriginal people to preserve their own language and dreaming stories of their clan (tribe). It is known that each Aboriginal individual has a responsibility within their clan. Many Aborigines as a result of dispossession lost the opportunity to participate in rituals that would gain them acceptance into the clan.
Eventually, Kinship groups had the responsibility for raising and nurturing children even though they were not their biological children. When children were taken away from their clan by the white colonisation, the community lost the responsibility of taking care and nurturing the children and thus, lost the concept of kinship. Another effect of separation from Kinship groups is that the separation prevented individuals from inheriting the traditional parenting skills such as teaching the young their responsibilities and the dreaming stories.
Separation from Kinship can also mean isolation from the ceremonial life. Ceremonies such as initiations or funerals are of a critical importance because they are a part of the Aboriginal life. Without these ceremonies, a person is disconnected to their kinship and their Aboriginal spirituality. This also limited the spread of their beliefs to the next generations. Hence, Kinship separation has led to the loss of spirituality. The so called “Stolen Generations” have also affected the Aboriginal spirituality.
The term “Stolen Generation” refers to the children who were removed from their homes between 1900 and 1972 by the Government and Church missionaries in an attempt to assimilate these children into European society. Most of the children who were taken away lost contact with other Aboriginal people, their culture, beliefs and land. In addition, they also lost their own languages. As a result, the stolen generation found it difficult to restore the connection with their own people and culture. The children were only exposed to white culture, because they were told that their families had rejected them or they were dead.
The contact between the children and families was rarely allowed. This lead to a lack of role models taught the Aboriginal beliefs. Some of the stolen Generation could not pass on the dreaming stories of the ancestral beings to their children, unlike how they were initially taught with their Aboriginal community. Many of the children were exposed to Christianity in its various forms. The children were taught the Christian religion in Christian missions, which undoubtedly contributed to the destruction of aboriginal culture and spirituality. Thus, the removing of the Aboriginal children had impacted on the Aboriginal spirituality.
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