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School of Law

Indigenous Land Rights

Course Code:
15PLAH048
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1

The primary aim of this course is to explore the political, socio-cultural, and historical dimensions of Indigenous rights claims to land in settler-colonies.  The course will specifically examine the jurisdictions of Canada, Australia, South Africa and the USA but will also examine theoretical work which applies to other jurisdictions. The course will critically engage with the concept and political practice of property, including the relationship between property and sovereignty.  The course will also examine legal and other political responses to indigenous rights claims to land in different jurisdictions and transnationally.  The course resonates with other LLM courses offered at SOAS such as ‘Colonialism, Empire and International Law’, ‘Justice, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Post-conflict Societies’ and ‘Development, Environment and Law in the South’.  However this course explicitly focusses on the question of land rights in settler colonies.  Indigenous populations in settler colonies face conditions of poverty, continue to be politically marginalised on the grounds of race, are presently engaged in struggles for legal rights to land, and for recognition of past and present colonial injustices.  These populations thus share much in common with populations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East in historical, political, economic and socio-legal terms.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate the advanced ability to:

  • Understand the political, socio-cultural, and historical dimensions of Indigenous claims to land rights in settler colonies
  • Understand the relationship between Western modes of property ownership and colonialism
  • Discuss the legal and political aspects of the relationship between sovereignty over territory and the control of populations in settler colonies
  • Critically assess the role of international law, national legislative and common law responses to Indigenous land rights claims
  • Critically assess the role of NGO and direct action group responses to Indigenous land rights claims

Scope and syllabus

Topics are likely to include:

1. What is Settler Colonialism?

To consider legal, social and political meanings of the term ‘settler colonialism’ and how those meanings relate to the category of ‘indigenous’ rights.

2. Colonial Sovereignty and Mabo (No.2)

To gain an understanding of the Australian High Court’s reasoning in Mabo (No 2) including the doctrine of terra nullius and how it relates to issues of sovereignty and property.

3. ‘Post-Colonial’ Australia and the Limits of Aboriginal Rights Doctrines

To examine critiques of the Mabo (No 2) decision and the idea that is Australia is now post-colonial.  To examine the limits of aboriginal rights doctrines in this context.

4. The Northern Territory Intervention and the Question of Property

To examine the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act (2007) and the compulsory acquisition of long leases of aboriginal land effected by that Act.  To further explore the relationship between property and sovereignty.

5. The Politics of Recognition

To understand and critique the politics of recognition from a critical race perspective and with specific application to indigenous people in settler colonies.

6. Indigenous Land Rights in Canada

To examine the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision and reasoning in Delgamuuwk and to consider the state of indigenous land rights in Canada.

7. Indigenous Rights Claims in Post-Apartheid South Africa

To examine the South African Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision and reasoning in the Richtersveld case and to consider indigenous claims to land in the specific context of post-apartheid South Africa.

8. Race and Property rights in the USA

To examine indigenous property rights and debates in the context of race politics in the USA.

9. Theories of Governmentality and Biopolitics

To understand theories of governmentality and biopolitics and examine how these theories are applicable to indigenous land rights claims.

10. Resisting Colonial Governance

To examine direct action-based, non-government organisation and academic resistance to colonial governance in settler colonies.

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting: 100% coursework (one essay of 1000 words and one essay of 5000 words).

All coursework may be resubmitted.