The Land Is Our History

Indigeneity, Law, and the Settler State

Miranda Johnson

The Land Is Our History

Indigeneity, Law, and the Settler State

Miranda Johnson






5 Oct 2016


Print on demand


$44.95 AUD

$50.99 NZD

Add To Cart


The Land Is Our History tells the story of indigenous legal activism at a critical political and cultural juncture in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In the late 1960s, indigenous activists protested assimilation policies and the usurpation of their lands as a new mining boom took off, radically threatening their collective identities. Often excluded from legal recourse in the past, indigenous leaders took their claims to court with remarkable results. For the first time, their distinctive histories were admitted as evidence of their rights.

Miranda Johnson examines how indigenous peoples advocated for themselves in courts and commissions of inquiry between the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, chronicling an extraordinary and overlooked history in which virtually disenfranchised peoples forced powerful settler democracies to reckon with their demands. Based on extensive archival research and interviews with leading participants, The Land Is Our History brings to the fore complex and rich discussions among activists, lawyers, anthropologists, judges, and others in the context of legal cases in far-flung communities dealing with rights, history, and identity. The effects of these debates were unexpectedly wide-ranging. By asserting that they were the first peoples of the land, indigenous leaders compelled the powerful settler states that surrounded them to negotiate their rights and status. Fracturing national myths and making new stories of origin necessary, indigenous peoples' claims challenged settler societies to rethink their sense of belonging.

Key Features:

  • First single-authored history to synthesise and examine indigenous legal claims in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand
  • Focuses on how indigenous agency in the late twentieth century forced settler states to engage in rights negotiations
  • Demonstrates the distinctiveness of postcolonial politics in Anglo settler states
  • Shows how indigenous claims in the 1970s were enmeshed with the changing politics of national identity in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, as each threw off ties to Britain and sought out new postcolonial identities
  • Comparatively examines the unexpected effects of indigenous peoples' claims on broader issues of national identity and state-building


A Note on Terms
Introduction: A Fragile Truce
Chapter 1: Citizens Plus: New Indigenous Activism in Australia and Canada
Chapter 2: Australia's First, First People
Chapter 3: Frontier Justice in Canada's North
Chapter 4: Commissions of Inquiry and the Idea of a New Social Contract
Chapter 5: Making a "Partnership Between Races:" Maori Activism and the Treaty of Waitangi
Chapter 6: The Pacific Way
Epilogue: Truce Undone


Miranda Johnson, University of Sydney
Miranda Johnson is a lecturer in history at the University of Sydney.