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Reviewed by:
  • Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English colonies
  • Signa A. Daum Shanks
Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English colonies Robert J. Miller, Jacinta Ruru, Larissa Behrendt and Tracey Lindberg. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

This work is a collaboration by four authors, all of whom are Indigenous and all of whom decide to focus on the location of their ancestors and the system of the Doctrine of Discovery that has developed in that location. As a result, Discovering Indigenous Lands includes analysis about the regions of the world now labeled as Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

First, the book includes a short chapter which explains the authors' understanding about the Doctrine, its role within the paradigm of international law and then how England's efforts perpetuated the Doctrine's application throughout the world. Next, chapters appear that are devoted to the four different areas in the world where the authors' own heritages originate. Each author has a different technique for introducing information and analysing the law. Two authors, Lindberg and Behrendt, choose to have sections which investigate the concept in the region and then present observations about how the concept resonates in law, political arenas and social policies. Ruru, in her analysis about Aotearoa/New Zealand, decides that having two sections with a generally chronological construction helps reveal how her ancestors' region has experienced the Doctrine. In introducing events in the lands now known as the United States, Miller contends that having a portion devoted to legal norms and then discussing historical events helps expose the components of the Doctrine and how those qualities have resonated in non-law-based sectors of societies located in the United States. While the methods used by each writer and some of the specific details contained in their sections are different, all the writers determine that the use of the Doctrine of Discovery has been based on racism, the pursuit of wealth for a colonizing country without regard of the found country's actual capabilities or the interests of those located in those found countries.

To solidify their perspectives, the authors mainly use legal documents to trace the roots of how colonizing parties acknowledged and used the Doctrine while attempting to dominate other parts of the world. In addition, the book also contains documentation that reveals how those who used (and currently perpetuate) the Doctrine also rarely apply it consistently or in tandem with other laws of the time. In other words, the imposers of the Doctrine have goals, and those goals will be pursued regardless of whether the laws of their country actually approve the process. As a result of the authors' data and their sources, we learn how the Doctrine is race-based, violent and, in fact, not even particularly productive. As a turn of phrase, its nature shifts so those who have used it have also made it act as the justification for actions they have pursued. Certain ends are imagined, whatever acts it takes to get those ends are done, and repeatedly the source which allowed parties to complete those acts, the Doctrine, is mentioned.

The book is also peppered with descriptions of modern events, such as the "Northern Territory Intervention" in Australia or the 2003 Ngati Apa decision in New Zealand, that illustrate how various individuals and groups have not been treated in the same way, so that the rule of law has been jeopardized by the Doctrine's frequent use. The text also contains descriptions of what are sometimes called by other researchers "unintended consequences," such as how national parks and conservation policies interact with the constructs judges have made about Indigenous perspectives and federal authority as an extension of the Doctrine's influence. In these descriptions, we learn where the form chosen for the Doctrine even fails those who decided to impose it. At moments such as these, the colonizers continue to claim the law is on their side, but they also continue the concept's trend of illegitimacy by modifying specific policies and making the Doctrine's foundation even more legally tenuous. Except, of course and as the authors regularly highlight...

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