Legitimising Belief: Identity Politics, Utility, Strategies of Concealment, and Rationalisation in Australian Aboriginal Religion

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Abstract

The ‘women's business’ on Hindmarsh Island has had spectacular success although vital evidence had been kept secret ‘in a sealed envelope’. This paper, drawing primarily on the author's own encounter with the native title claims procedure, discusses various formative processes involved in the contemporary construction of Aboriginal indigeneity in which religious belief is heavily valorised. Subjected to a process of rationalisation for a long time, religious traditions are now being used as a strategic resource in native title claims. In the endeavour to make best possible use of the jurisprudential opportunity offered, the maintenance of secrecy and cloaking of information emerges as an important strategy. Secrecy clearly is an integral part of traditional Aboriginal culture. However, cloaking in fact may not only privilege esoteric contents, but merge with attempts of deliberate deception. Yet, in itself this too might be considered an Aboriginal cultural tradition.

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