• Indigenous people are now in the aftermath of a "colonial landscape": Bronwyn Carlson. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
We need to change the way we speak about Aboriginal identity in order to help people find their way home, says Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Wollongong, Dr Bronwyn Carlson.
Laura Murphy-Oates

The Point
29 Mar 2016 - 8:23 AM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2016 - 8:25 AM

The question of who counts as Aboriginal today is something Dr Bronwyn Carlson has been researching for many years, but as she admitted on The Point with Stan Grant on Monday night - there are no easy answers.

“It is a very sensitive issue, and that’s largely to do with the historical nature of defining Aboriginality,” she said.

“If we look at past records, past research, documents and legislation we can see that there are multiple ways that Aboriginal identity has been defined by other people and generally non-Indigenous people.”

Indigenous people are now in the aftermath of a "colonial landscape", redefining identity on their own terms, she believes.

Bronwyn Carlson: Who counts as Aboriginal today?
COMMENT | Contemporary struggles around Indigenous identity have emerged in the shadow of colonialism and occur primarily around questions of ‘who’ is Indigenous and ‘what’ are the characteristics that support and confirm any legitimate claim to ‘be’ an Indigenous person, writes author Bronwyn Carlson.

Dr Carlson’s recently published book, 'The Politics of Identity: Who Counts as Aboriginal Today?', explores the complexity of contemporary Indigenous identity drawing on a range of historical and research literature, interviews and surveys.

“The people I interviewed as part of my research were people who had a dislocated past for one reason or another and it could be that they were stolen generation or it could be that their families hid that knowledge for safety reason and as a strategy of survival and it could be that they’ve just found out recently,” she said.

She told Stan Grant that the concept of Aboriginal identity has been intertwined with government services and programs in the public’s perception, to the detriment of Aboriginal people.

“I think that we need to start having conversation about what is Aboriginal identity, but really divorce that from services or programs. Take away the monetary aspect of people’s identity and say 'well what does it mean to be an Aboriginal person in contemporary Australia?'”

“We’re only scared when it comes to resources and having access to identified positions, but for a lot of people it’s not about that, it’s about finding out who they are it’s about their identity,” she said.

“There’s lots of dislocations so how do we support people to find a way home. I mean are we really scared that there are too many of us?”

Bronwyn Carlson is an Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Wollongong.  Her book The Politics of Identity: Who Counts as Aboriginal Today?, is published by Aboriginal Studies Press.