- Indigenous Communities and Settler Colonialism: Land Holding, Loss and Survival in an Interconnected Worlded. by Zoë Laidlaw and Alan Lester
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Until recently, the wave of transnational and global studies of settler colonialism has tended to privilege the histories of British emigrants at the expense of the Indigenous peoples they "displaced and dispossessed" (3). A growing body of work, led by Australasian scholars such as Tim Rowse, Lisa Ford, Jane Lydon, Jane Carey, and Rachel Standfield, is encouraging researchers to reappraise this settler focus in order to better illuminate the Indigenous experience of settler colonialism in the past and the present.
Indigenous Communities and Settler Colonialism: Land Holding, Loss and Survival in an Interconnected World, a provocative volume of essays edited by Zoë Laidlaw and Alan Lester, focuses on the Indigenous experience of "re-dispossession" during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (64). The authors trace this disturbing pattern across the settler colonies, where some communities of Indigenous people had managed to retain access to land and create viable farming communities, only to be persuaded, forced, or obliged to abandon them. Lest these events and their consequences are relegated to the colonial era, the juxtaposition of Australian and Canadian legal proceedings to challenge the settler order highlights the persistence of colonial racial categories and ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples at the turn of the twenty-first century.
The collection arises from an international symposium held at the University of Sussex in 2013, which brought historians involved in the Australian "Minutes of Evidence" project into conversation with colleagues working on similar themes and issues in the United Kingdom, North America, South Africa, and Australasia. This collaborative effort is thoroughly rewarded, as the case studies are carefully drawn together through the themes of land and race, the negotiation of Indigenous identity in settler colonial space, and the engagement of Indigenous peoples in global networks of knowledge.
At the heart of this volume is Indigenous land, and the efforts of Indigenous peoples to resist their dispossession through acts of agricultural cultivation. Focusing on humanitarian projects, the authors show that such spaces were "co-created" by Indigenous peoples with missionaries and other settlers (7). Moving such sites to the center of settler colonial analysis shifts attention to the local and everyday encounters of settler colonialism, and the "tenacious adaptation" of Indigenous peoples who "tried to stay grounded in the midst of colonization" (11, 173).
In some cases, such as Coranderrk and New Norcia in Australia and the Kat River Settlement in South Africa, Indigenous peoples joined with humanitarian settlers to establish landholdings on reserves and missions, where their farming success "challenged the behaviour expected of the 'Indigenous'" (15). The close relationship between racial categorization and landholding in settler colonies underscored the pattern of re-dispossession that these essays reveal. Land was to be a privilege reserved only for the racially pure Indigine, a compensation for the settler invasion. However, subsequent generations of the "dying race," whose blood it was assumed would be increasingly diluted, were less worthy of such "special treatment" and expected to be self-reliant (13).
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, as Sarah Carter writes of St Peter's Reserve in Canada, "it was profitable to insist that Aboriginal people were incapable agriculturalists and not legitimate custodians of that land" (175). It was reasonable then to "disappear" Indigenous lands for the benefit of settler peoples (190). In Western Australia, South Africa, and the United States, for instance, land allotment to Indigenous peoples was another means to expropriate their land under the guise of [End Page 343]reducing government dependency. Angela Wanhalla also underscores the significance of watered places as sites of settler colonial contestation in her study of New Zealand's Taieri Native Reserve on the South Island. Settler drainage programs were a means to deny Kāi Tahu their refuge in the local waterways and subsume the area into the region...