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I Don’t Get It: Land back


Let's face it: Australia's prosperity and wealth are built on and benefit from Indigenous stolen land. The majority of non-Indigenous Australians do not understand that our country is a settler-colonial nation regarding its way of governance, societal attitudes, and oppressive treatment towards Indigenous people. Since the invasion, First Nations people have fought against settler colonialism for land back. However, the whole idea and understanding of giving land back has been misconstrued and twisted by settler-colonial governments and the mainstream media. So, what does giving land back actually mean and look like?

This is only an opinion piece; it is important to recognise the diversity of Indigenous peoples, teachings, governance and lived experiences, and how these can contribute to different opinions on this issue.


As Indigenous people, Country is our home, Mother, and caregiver. Country is where our sacred sites are, where our ceremonies are held, and where our ancestors once walked. From the beginning of the British invasion, settlers understood that in order to access the lands to generate wealth and power, they would need to destroy the relationship between Indigenous people and the land. To destroy the relationship, settlers used violent and strategic tactics such as assimilation, dispossession, and genocide. Specific examples include the spreading of diseases, starvation, and forced relocation onto missions, stations, and reserves where their lives were controlled. In addition, assimilation policies that sought to ‘breed’ out Aboriginal people and the forced removal of children from their families were acts of elimination that allowed for settlers to vacate Aboriginal land and render it as their own. Settlers used, and continue to use, systematic tactics that aim to destroy the relationship we have with our sacred lands.

White Australians believe that ‘land back’ means physically giving it back. However, giving land back means that First Nations people have full autonomy, are able to care for Country, and are the final decision-makers surrounding their land. Settler colonialism twists this notion to make non-Indigenous Australians believe that ownership of land is physical when in reality, it is spiritual and cultural. We have a responsibility as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, whose ancestors cared for Country for 65,000+ years, to continue this caring.

There are people in power who will do anything to avoid having a frank discussion on land and water sovereignty. When they hear the words ‘land back,’ they offer alternatives such as more government representation, one singular voice in Parliament to represent all Indigenous peoples or good old consultation. However, we are currently trying all those things, and it still isn't working because people are not listening.

If we look at this year's NAIDOC theme, Healing Country, for example, it is complex and multifaceted. It is both sacred and spiritual, meaning that to heal Country means healing ourselves, ancestors, and cultures. However, the theme was exploited by white institutions, businesses, and organisations who used the theme for their own gain and to perform fake allyship. Take Santos, for example, Australia's second-largest independent oil and gas producer. During NAIDOC week, Santos tweeted about the theme, emphasising how they focus on “reckoning, protecting and maintaining all aspects of culture and heritage for all Australians” even though they destroy Indigenous land. Currently, Santos is ignoring Indigenous people and is trying to mine on Gamilaraay lands in Narrabri, where land and waterways will be destroyed. The Morrison government showed how they're healing Country by handing $21 million to an oil and gas corporation which, instead of healing Country, actually destroys waterways, land, and culture. So, while Indigenous people and our allies discussed how to heal Country, the settler-colonial government and mining companies were actively seeking out ways to destroy Country.

For us to effectively heal Country, we need land back. We cannot heal our Mother when we don't have the opportunity to do so, especially when Country is being exploited for profit, not healing. The government selling stolen land to mining companies is not healing Country. Country can only be healed with Indigenous law and ways of governance. Telling us to heal Country while our Mother is being exploited is like shackling our ankles and wrists together and telling us to jump. Giving land back means that we can stop our environment from being destroyed and exploited. Notably, giving land back means that Indigenous sovereignty is fully implemented to protect, sustain, and strengthen Country.

Considering all this, non-Indigenous people need to understand that land back is about much more than land. Land back is about Indigenous people protesting and fighting against colonialism, and its institutions and structures that oppress our people. It's about fighting for the right we have to our relationship with Country. Importantly, it's about caring for Country as our ancestors once did and continuing our culture.

In order to progressively move forward, non-Indigenous people need to work on their relationship and reaction to giving land back. Every time Indigenous people take steps toward land back, we are pushed two steps back. The amount of times I've seen and heard non-Indigenous people react in panic, anger, guilt, or straight-up ignorance around giving land back is ridiculous. Their willingness to stick to the narrative that Australia wasn't built on violence and that Indigenous people didn't fight back allows for them to maintain ownership of Indigenous lands. Importantly, Australia's settler-colonial state has been created to resist Indigenous relationships to land. Colonial governments are afraid of the relationship that Indigenous people have with the land as it creates questions around the legitimacy of power and may lead to their wealth and systems being dismantled. In addition, the individual reactions to land back reflect colonial-based systems that have been intentionally embedded to resist and destroy Indigenous relationships to land.

So, to the non-Indigenous people reading this ​​– take the time to decolonise your mindset and unlearn the narratives that settler-colonial governments, media, and the education system have taught you. Here are some ways you can begin to decolonise and be a better ally:

  • We all live on Aboriginal land, so find out whose land you live and work on. When you’re travelling to different parts of Australia, research whose land you’re on and acknowledge their continuous connection to Country.

  • Follow Indigenous people on social media who discuss this topic and other issues facing our people. Here are some to get you started:

    • Gamilaraaynextgeneration on Instagram

    • Gudhigudhi_ on Instagram

    • Ancestress on Instagram

    • Endlessyarning on Instagram

    • Yilinhi88 on Instagram

    • Boeknows89 on Instagram

    • Blakbusiness on Instagram

    • Offically_underrated on TikTok

    • on TikTok

    • Sari_ella_thaiday on TikTok

  • Research the Native Title Act and its limitations.

  • Learn the truth of our history and research moments where Indigenous people have fought back against colonialism. There is an excellent podcast called Frontier War Stories that discusses Aboriginal resistance during invasion.

  • Listen to First Nations voices and amplify them. It is important that you stand alongside us as we fight for land back.

These are only a few simple steps that you can take to help First Nations people within the country you live in. Although you may not currently fully understand, please take the time to listen, learn, and decolonise your mindset. Lastly, just a friendly reminder to end on – you're on Aboriginal land, so please respect it.

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