Christianity, cultural change and the negotiation of rights in land and sea

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Abstract

Various aspects of Christian belief and practice have been documented as significant across Aboriginal Australia. In recent years, many communities have been involved in seeking to achieve traditional rights in land and sea as recognised in Australian law. Asserting and proving these rights entails demonstrating continuity of traditional law and custom since the establishment of British sovereignty. While legal discourse indicates that this does not exclude cultural change, law and custom must continue to derive from pre-sovereignty traditions. This article addresses the extent to which Christian belief and practice have been articulated and researched in applied anthropological work, against the background of relevant academic studies. If a sophisticated theory of cultural change and continuity is germane to researching land claims and native title, what is the significance of Christian syncretism in Aboriginal relations with place and the inheritance of ancestral connections to ‘country’? Several case studies are examined.

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