Land Ownership – From Recognition to Reconciliation

In response to a recent article in The Conversation, we spoke with Evolve’s co-Directors Carla Rogers and Aunty Munya Andrews about land ownership and the role it plays in Practical Reconciliation.

The article Truth Telling and Giving Back, examines the movement among non-Indigenous Australians and Americans to critically examine their family histories as a way of re-examining the impact of centuries of dispossession and slavery of Indigenous peoples.

In the article, there are examples of families discovering the atrocities of their ancestors and seeking to make amends, including through the return of ill-gotten lands.

Tom and Jane Teniswood are an example of this movement in Australia. In 2019 they returned half of their 220-acre property in Tasmania to the local Aboriginal community. The Teniswoods advocate individual action over government Reconciliation efforts, saying “Reconciliation is great but it is so much talk, so many documents and so little action. This is just a symbol of action.”

Some Australian organisations have also included the return of land as a meaningful part of their Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). When the building materials company Boral, returned a parcel of culturally significant land earlier this month, CEO and Managing Director, Zlatko Todorcevski, stated: “We are a proud Australian company, and as we celebrate Boral’s 75th anniversary, we proudly acknowledge today’s achievement and what it means to the Wadawurrung People. This is just one aspect of the work we are doing to demonstrate our commitment to Reconciliation.”

Most individuals don’t own large parcels of land In Australia but we strive to eventually own our own homes. Where does individual home ownership fit into this conversation?

Both Aunty Munya and Carla acknowledge this is a vexed issue in Australia, “It’s what I’d call a ‘hard yarn’ but necessary if I’m going to walk my talk as an ally,” notes Carla.

Carla and Aunty Munya have both owned property in the past but, for a variety of reasons, now rent.

“I find the concept of land and home ‘ownership’ exceptionally conflicting,” admits Carla. 

“The idea of home ownership is so ingrained in the white Australian fabric and a massive part of my cultural identity.”

For most Australians, home ownership is considered the ultimate goal and when achieved is a source of great pride and accomplishment. Property is both a major part of the household balance sheet and the Australian economy. 

But, with property prices continuing to soar, the ‘Australian Dream’ of home ownership is looking increasingly out of reach for many. Particularly for the next generation of Australian’s and those without the benefit of an inheritance.

Aunty Munya invites us to critically examine the long-held but erroneous view that home ownership is a source of accomplishment, earned through hard work. 

“Everybody works hard,” she observes, “not just those lucky enough to own land.”

“The most hard workers in the community are the poor and the working class, not those privileged by family connections and bestowed legacies.”

From an Indigenous perspective, land is not something that is earned by a few, it belongs to everybody or, more accurately, we belong to it.

Aunty Munya explains, “Many Indigenous peoples the world over generally do not believe that anyone or anything can be ‘owned’, especially the land.”

“Rather than ‘owning’ the land, we believe that we belong to the land, in which there is no concept of individual ownership but rather one of joint belonging, collaboration and care of the land. What is more, land is not regarded as a non-human entity but rather as family whose obligations and responsibilities are determined by kinship ties.”

How can we acknowledge the Traditional Owners when they don’t own the land?

Australians are now familiar with the practice of Acknowledging Country at meetings and events and are increasingly aware of the special connection to the land that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share. 

Some question the hypocrisy of acknowledging First Nations people as the Traditional Owners without taking any action to return land or provide meaningful compensation.

Aunty Munya explains, “Acknowledgement of Country is steeped in traditional Aboriginal protocol and customs. We invite all Australians to do an Acknowledgement as a way of being respectful and of showing respect to our Ancestors and their descendants.”

“My own personal view”, shares Aunty Munya, “is that these are everyone’s Ancestors, not just of Aboriginal people. They are the ‘Ones Who Came Before Us’ and their spirits remain in the land, which is why Country is so sacred.”

“For me, there is no hypocrisy when it is genuinely done in good faith and with love in people’s hearts.”

Acknowledging Country is one way for individuals to demonstrate their allyship. 

Becoming an ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the most powerful thing individuals can do to support Reconciliation, Evolve provides a wealth of resources to help you: 
What about our government and private corporations? 

Both Carla and Aunty Munya agree that our government and private corporations are in a position to do much more than most individuals and sadly, there are many examples of hypocrisy.

“Governments often make mistakes and are hypocritical when they abandon programs like Closing the Gap or fail to facilitate Native Titles,” agrees Aunty Munya.

Carla adds, “It’s also hypocrisy when organisations have expressed a commitment to Reconciliation, but then not appropriately funded actions within a RAP, or are taking actions that cause damage, like the destruction of sacred sites we’ve seen so much of in recent times.”

What more can individuals, organisations and our government do to make things right for the 3% of our population whose land was stolen just over 200 years ago?
  • Anyone can support the Uluru Statement From The Heartan invitation to the Australian public calling for structural reforms including constitutional change to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution
  • Organisations of all sizes can develop a Reconciliation Action Plan – a meaningful RAP should include company wide Cultural Awareness Training
  • Our government can do more to facilitate Native Title – ultimately a Treaty is long overdue and would formally acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as having rights to land and natural resources
  • Use your vote and your wallet to support the organisations and political parties acting on their commitment to Reconciliation

Perhaps it’s time we create a new Australian dream, one that values kindness over capital gains and inspires us to care for the land, and all living things, as Indigenous people have done for millennia.

To understand more about the special relationship First Nations peoples have with land, we encourage you to listen to the wisdom of the late Uncle Bob Randall in this short video, The Land Owns Us.

Curious about how we can help ignite your Reconciliation Action Plan and create a more culturally aware and inclusive workplace? Book a call below with Evolve co-Director Carla Rogers, or contact us today and let’s explore what we can do together.

Schedule a time to talk with Carla Rogers

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