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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • Indigenous;
  • self-determination;
  • postcolonial;
  • liberal multiculturalism

ABSTRACT  Since the 1970s, “self-determination” has been the dominant trope for expressing national aspirations for Indigenous Australians. Through the principles of self-determination, the liberal multicultural state has attempted to deliver postcolonial justice to its first peoples. In this new century, the sheen of the self-determination era has faded. Once heralded as the antidote to the racist assimilation era, it is now depicted as the cause of social ills. In this article, I draw on an ethnographic study of White antiracists working in Indigenous health in northern Australia to analyze the brand of liberal rationality that dominated the discourse of the self-determination era. By engaging with a “tribe” of White people who identify with the aims of the self-determination era, we can decipher the logic of self-determination as an instrument of the liberal state and better understand the internal contradictions and ambiguities that have led to its recent demise.