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Reviewed by:
  • Mark Ebert
The Land Is Our History: Indigeneity, Law, and the Settler State. Miranda Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xi + 233, $24.95 paper

The Land Is Our History is a book about claims to indigeneity, their emergence, and the contexts in which they were made in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Beyond an introductory chapter and a brief epilogue, each chapter focuses on one claim, or case study, each placed in its historical context. The first four chapters focus on Canada and Australia and are centred mainly on activist movements, a single court case, or commissions of inquiry. Two of these chapters deal with both countries, while the other two focus on one country. Two chapters [End Page 826] then deal with New Zealand and Māori activism and the very lengthy claim that the Whanganui Māori have made to the Whanganui River.

Although Johnson is partly educated in the United States, it becomes readily apparent that she is most knowledgeable about Indigenous peoples and their history in New Zealand and Australia. For example, in the introductory chapter, there are barely any citations to materials regarding Canada. As a result, I got more out of the chapters and discussions dealing with those countries and peoples than out of her discussions of Canada. Given the current climate in Canada, the scarcity of engagement with the impacts of residential schools seems glaring when studying indigeneity/Indigenous identity in Canada. This seeming relative lack of knowledge means that she misses a lot of court cases (and literature) that could have been valuable for her assertions. Excluding the United States from her book–though she occasionally mentions links and influences–is problematic at least in terms of understanding developments in Canada.

The lack of citations (or the tangential nature of some of them) makes it difficult to drill down into some of Johnson's points, even interesting ones in which I found myself wanting to know more information about, or to allow readers the opportunity to decide whether they agree with Johnson's assertions. This compounds the problems when court cases are cited. For example, the citations to the Northwest Territories caveat case in Chapter 3 have so many issues that I am not sure where to start. I can appreciate that this is perhaps a copy-editing issue, but I am not sure in this book. And, at times, Johnson will refer to, for example, "some commentators" (157), but then fail to cite or identify even one of them.

The book's structure also hinders the making of what could be really interesting linkages between the three countries. While Johnson occasionally makes them in passing, on numerous occasions I was able to see parallels between what was going on in Australia and New Zealand with, for instance, the Delgamuukw v. British Columbia case in Canada (beyond its role in the Mabo v. Queensland case). And although Delgamuukw appears in the bibliography, only one scholarly article about it is actually cited in the book. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits I got from the book, then, was in reading the discussions of Australia and New Zealand and then making my own links and connections to the Canadian context.

This is not to say that I did not find interesting things in the book. The final chapter on the Whanganui Māori's claim to the river was interesting, although it highlights a lesson I have learned since entering the legal field: the legal landscape–at least in terms of Indigenous [End Page 827] rights–changes quickly. Johnson details the century plus struggle of the Whanganui Māori for rights related to the river and contextualizes it within the larger conflicts–both legal and historical–the Māori have had over land and their rights. The Whanganui Māori were seeking to have the river recognized as their ancestor, and, in March of this year, the Whanganui River received that recognition through a Whanganui Treaty settlement. This recognition of shared personhood and legal rights of a river left me wondering what the implications of such a decision is for Johnson's discussion, particularly regarding Whanganui Māori identity.



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pp. 826-828
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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