History wars and Indigenous Rights

Indigenous rights claims remain a central, unresolved human rights issue in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. These countries, which are former British colonies, have intertwined but divergent legal, intellectual, and cultural traditions. In these countries judgments about ‘history’ are essential for the determination of compensation for past abuses and recognition of existing indigenous rights. This requires the judiciary, or quasi-judicial bodies, to make difficult choices among conflicting interpretations of aboriginal history during the post-European contact era. This project addresses three fundamental questions: (1) How have the forums and procedures offered by commissions and tribunals, and the reforms made by the judiciary, enabled these institutions to access history and make judgments about that history in Indigenous rights claims? (2) How have judicial decisions, and those of commissions and tribunals, influenced public understandings of national historical narratives and thereby altered the political-legal environment in ways that affect subsequent claims adjudications? (3) What useful lessons for future approaches to aboriginal claims can be drawn from a comparative history of past and current adjudication practices in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States?

Project leader(s):
  • Arthur Ray (British Columbia)

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