Indigenous activism for human rights: a case study from Australia

Rachel Standfield, Lynette Russell

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Indigenous peoples, although absent at the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have been central to developments in conceptualizing human rights in the recent past. Indigenous people have helped shape recent moves toward the recognition of group rights and away from the prominence of state or national rights in the United Nations. This influence extends to longer struggles. Across diverse locations and colonial settings, Indigenous people have attempted to protect their individual and collective rights and to signal to colonists their own understandings of their rights as First Peoples. This essay investigates this longer history of struggles for rights through an examination of Indigenous people in Victoria, a state in southeastern Australia. Our exploration ranges from nineteenth-century “protection” policies to twentieth-century calls for full citizenship rights and land, through to twenty-first-century developments in terms of land rights. It explores Indigenous conceptions of rights and how these have been translated across cultural boundaries in the Australian context, as Indigenous Victorian groups worked to engage all levels of government and the Australian public in their quest to gain recognition of their conceptions of land, culture, and humanity. By recognizing the length of Indigenous struggle, and by tracing lineages of activism with attention to specific kinship and political arrangements, this essay argues for attention to cultural difference in the articulation of rights.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge History of Human Rights
EditorsJean Quataert, Lora Wildenthal
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781000617474
ISBN (Print)9781138784338
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameRoutledge Histories


  • Aboriginal history
  • Human Rights

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