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DISENTANGLING THE SOURCES AND NATURE OF INDIGENOUS RIGHTS: A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF COMMON LAW JURISPRUDENCE

  • Arif Bulkan (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

The ‘indigenous renaissance’ of the last few decades continues to generate copious litigation around the Commonwealth. While courts frequently invoke common principles, it would be going too far to say that a unified jurisprudence exists. Moreover, modern jurisprudence in this area is arguably inconsistent and frequently discriminatory, which means that borrowing across jurisdictions should proceed cautiously, mindful of localized nuances and limitations. This article argues that any suggestion that the common law as it has evolved in any particular jurisdiction should be emulated as a model indigenous rights theory must be rigorously scrutinized, for indiscriminate application of doctrines could lead to discordant outcomes.

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1 Gilbert J, ‘Historical Indigenous Peoples’ Land Claims: A Comparative and International Approach to the Common Law Doctrine on Indigenous Title’ (2007) 56 ICLQ 584.

2 ibid 590.

3 Mabo v Queensland (No. 2) (1992) 107 ALR 1.

4 Delgamuukw v British Columbia [1997] 3 SCR 1010.

5 Gilbert (n 1) 584–5.

6 ibid 593.

7 ibid 594.

8 From Cooper v Stuart (1889) App Cas 286 to Milirrpum v Nabalco Party Ltd (1971) 17 Fed LR 141.

9 Calder v AG of British Columbia (1973) 34 DLR (3d) 145.

10 See, eg, Mickenberg N, ‘Aboriginal Rights in Canada and the United States’ (1971) 9 Osgoode HallLJ 119; Kelly D, ‘Indian Title: The Rights of American Natives in Lands They Have Occupied since Time Immemorial’ (1975) 75 ColumLRev 655; Slattery B, Ancestral Lands, Alien Laws: Judicial Perspectives on Aboriginal Title (University of Saskatchewan Native Law Centre, 1983) 1738.

11 Namely Johnson v M'Intosh 21 US (8 Wheat) 543 (1823), Cherokee Nation v Georgia 5 Pet 1(1831) and Worcester v Georgia 6 Pet 515 (1832).

12 Johnson (n 11) 573.

13 ibid 576.

14 ibid 603.

15 Victoria F De, De Indis et De Ivre Belli Relectiones (Ernest Nys ed, rep, Oceana Publications 1964) 123; Grotius Hugo, Mare Liberum (Richard Hakluyt trans, Liberty Fund 2004) 14.

16 JT Juricek, ‘English Claims in North America to 1660: A Study in Legal Constitutional History’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Chicago 1970) 186–200.

17 Johnson (n 11) 579.

18 ibid 573.

19 ibid 577.

20 See, eg, Lengel JH, ‘The Role of International Law in the Development of Constitutional Jurisprudence in the Supreme Court: The Marshall Court and American Indians’ (1999) XLIII AJLH 117, 127 and Abinanti A., ‘A Letter to Justice O'Connor’ (2004) 1 IPJLCR 1.

21 Trelease A, Indian Affairs in Colonial New York: The Seventeenth Century (Cornell University Press 1960) and White GE, History of the Supreme Court of the United States: The Marshall Court and Cultural Change, 1815–35 (Macmillan Publishing Company 1988) 736–7.

22 Johnson (n 11) 577.

23 Cramer v US 261 US 219 (1923); US v Shoshone Tribes 304 US 111 (1937); US v Alcea Band of Tillamooks 329 US 40 (1946).

24 Tee-Hit-Ton v US 348 US 272 (1954).

25 Mickenberg (n 10).

26 K McNeil, Common Law Aboriginal Title (Clarendon Press 1989) 244–67.

27 Worcester (n 11) 542–3.

28 Mickenberg (n 10).

29 Slattery B, ‘Understanding Aboriginal Rights’ (1987) 66 CanBarRev 737. Note that the descriptions ‘imperial constitutional law’ and ‘British colonial law’ are used interchangeably here.

30 MD Walters, ‘The Continuity of Aboriginal Customs and Government under British Imperial Constitutional Law as Applied in Colonial Canada, 1760–1860’ (PhD thesis, University of Oxford 1995) 21–4.

31 Slattery B, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and Imperial Claims’ (1991) 29 Osgoode Hall LJ 702 and generally Webber J, ‘Relations of Force and Relations of Justice: The Emergence of Normative Community between Colonists and Aboriginal Peoples’ (1995) 33 OsgoodeHallLJ 623.

32 Slattery, Understanding (n 29) 737–8.

33 R v Symonds [1840–1932] NZPCC 387.

34 ibid 388.

35 St Catharines Milling and Lumber Co. v The Queen [1887] 13 SCR 577, 608–17 and R v Côté [1996] 3 SCR 139; Traces of Marshall's reasoning are also evident in Guerin v Canada [1984] 2 SCR 335 and Calder (n 9).

36 These are all jurisdictions relied on by Gilbert as evidencing instances of the application of ‘aboriginal or/and native title doctrine’: (n 1) 585.

37 MD Walters, ‘The “Golden Thread” of Continuity: Aboriginal Customs at Common Law and Under the Constitution Act, 1982’ (1998–99) 44 McGillLJ 721–2 and RL Barsh, ‘Indigenous Rights and the Lex Loci in British Imperial Law’ in K Wilkins (ed), Advancing Aboriginal Claims: Visions/Strategies/Directions (Purich 2004) 92.

38 One of the best accounts of this period is contained in Williams Robert, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest (Oxford University Press 1990).

39 Victoria (n 15) 123.

40 M van Gelderen, ‘Vitoria, Grotius and Human Rights: The Early Experience of Colonialism in Spanish and Dutch Political Thought’ in W Schmale (ed), Human Rights and Cultural Diversity (Keip Publishing 1993) 215, 218 and 221; MF Lindley, The Acquisition and Government of Backward Territory in International Law (Negro Universities Press 1969) 12–17.

41 B Slattery, The Land Rights of Indigenous Canadian Peoples, as Affected by the Crown's Acquisition of their Territory (D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford 1979); Hookey J, ‘The Gove Land Rights Case: A Judicial Dispensation for the Taking of Aboriginal Lands in Australia?’ (1972–73) 5 Fed L Rev 88–9, and see Walters, Golden Thread (n 37) 722–9, where he identifies four justifications based on principle, as distinct from mere precedent, for the application of continuity principles.

42 Calvin's Case (1608) 7 Co R 1, 19b.

43 Blankard v Galdy (1703) 2 Salk 411, 91 ER 356; Lyons v East India Co. (1836) 12 ER 782; Kielley v Carson (1843) 4 Moo PC 63, 13 ER 225.

44 1 Bl Comm 104–5.

45 Jackson VC, ‘Constitutional Law and Transnational Comparisons: The Youngstown Decision and American Exceptionalism’ (2006) 30 HarvJL&PubPoly 191.

46 Young EA, ‘Foreign Law and the Denominator Problem’ (2005) 119 HarvLR 151.

47 Gilbert (n 1) 589.

48 ibid 590.

49 Delgamuukw (n 4) 1082.

50 McNeil, Common Law Aboriginal Title (n 26) 198–204.

51 Gilbert (n 1) 591 (emphasis added).

52 Slattery, Ancestral Lands (n 10).

53 Joravarsingji v Secretary of State for India (1924) LR 51 IA 357; Secretary of State for India v Kamachee Boye Sahaba (1859) 7 Moo IA 476; 15 ER 9; Cook v Sprigg [1899] AC 572; and Secretary of State for India v Bai Rajbai (1915) LR 42 IA 229.

54 In Thomas v A-G of Guyana GY 2009 HC 7 (HC of Guyana, 30 April 2009), Chang CJ held that since neither Imperial power (the Dutch or the British) gave ‘de jure recognition’ to any system of indigenous customary law, no customary rights or interests exist in the present.

55 For a penetrating discussion of the Indian cases see McNeil, Common Law Aboriginal Title (n 26) 165–71.

56 ibid chap 7.

57 Côté (n 35) 172–3.

58 See also G Lester and G Parker, ‘Land Rights: The Australian Aborigines Have Lost a Legal Battle, But…’ (1973)

11 AltaLRev 196.

59 K McNeil, ‘A Question of Title: Has the Common Law Been Misapplied to Dispossess the Aboriginals?’ (1990) 16 MonashLRev 107 (emphasis added).

60 Guerin (n 35).

61 Côté (n 35).

62 Mabo (n 3) per Toohey J [99]–[120].

63 Delgamuukw (n 4) 1082.

64 This at least is how these principles have been applied in Australia: Yorta Yorta v Victoria (2002) 194 ALR 538.

65 Milirrpum (n 8).

66 See notes 90 to 96 and accompanying text.

67 As to the dangers of doing so in countries where the common law is applicable, see Slattery B, ‘The Metamorphosis of Aboriginal Title’ (2006) 85 CanBarRev 269.

68 For a discussion of indigenous conceptions of land see Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v Nicaragua (Ser C) No. 79 (Inter-Amer Ct HR 31 Aug 2001); and Christie G, ‘Delgamuukw and the Protection of Aboriginal Land Interests’ [2000–01] 32 OttawaLRev 89 (note 5 and works cited therein).

69 E de Vattel, The Law of Nations (Chitty trans, Sweet and Maxwell 1834) Book I [77]–[81].

70 R v Marshall and R v Bernard [2005] 2 SCR 220, 245.

71 ibid 246; but this was not a wholly accurate summary of Lamer's dicta on the point—see Delgamuukw (n 4) [149].

72 Marshall and Bernard (n 70) 247.

73 For detailed critiques of this decision see McNeil K, ‘Aboriginal Title and the Supreme Court: What's happening?’ (2006) 69 Saskatchewan Law Review 293–305, Chartrand P, ‘Marshall and Bernard: Return of the Native’ (2006) 55 UNBLJ 135 and Slattery, Metamorphosis (n 66) 279–86.

74 Gilbert (n 1) 592–4.

75 [1996] 2 SCR 507.

76 Gilbert (n 1) 591–2.

77 Fejo v Northern Territory (1998) 156 ALR 721.

78 ibid 739.

79 Per Gleeson CJ and Gaudron, McHugh, Gummow, Hayne and Callinan JJ, ibid 739.

80 ibid 757.

81 Attorney General for the Isle of Man v Mylchreest (1879) 4 App Cas 294; and for a detailed account of the common law on this issue see McNeil K, ‘Racial Discrimination and Unilateral Extinguishment of Native Title’ (1996) 1 AILR 192–6.

82 In Mabo Brennan J described native title as a proprietary right: (n 3) 36.

83 Mabo (n 3) 84; Likewise, in Canada Aboriginal title has been described as a ‘right to the land itself’, per Lamer CJ in Delgamuukw (n 4) [140].

84 Mabo (n 3) 153; Note, there is even a passage in the judgment of Brennan J (48) that can be construed in support of this position.

85 R v Sparrow [1990] 1 SCR 1075.

86 Van der Peet (n 75).

87 Barsh RL and Henderson JY, ‘The Supreme Court's Van der Peet Trilogy: Naïve Imperialism and Ropes of Sand’ (1996–97) 42 McGillLJ 993. See also Borrows J and Rotman L, ‘The Sui Generis Nature of Aboriginal Rights: Does it make a Difference?’ (1997–98) 36 AltaLRev 9 and McNeil K., ‘Aboriginal Title and Aboriginal Rights: What's the Connection?’ (1997–98) 36 AltaLRev 117.

88 Van der Peet (n 75); Marshall and Bernard (n 70); NTC Smokehouse v The Queen [1996] 2 SCR 672, and cf cases where individual rights are claimed and the stakes are lower, as in Adams v The Queen [1996] 3 SCR 101 or Côté (n 35).

89 Mabo (n 3) 41.

90 Bartlett R, Native Title in Australia (2nd edn, LexisNexis Butterworths 2004) 143–6; in Canada see Delgamuukw (n 4) 1097–1100.

91 Yorta Yorta (n 64) 553.

92 ibid 552.

93 Mykyta S, ‘Losing Sight of the Big Picture: The Narrowing of Native Title in Australia’ (2004–05) 36 OttawaLRev 11 1.

94 Mabo (n 3) 42; This ruling has been reinforced by the Federal Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), section 223(1) of which defines ‘native title’ by reference to traditional laws and customs of Australian Aboriginal peoples. This provision has been strictly construed by the Australian High Court as requiring primary focus on those laws and customs: Western Australia v Ward (2002) 191 ALR 16–17 and Yorta Yorta (n 63) 549.

95 Aurelio Cal et al v Attorney-General of Belize (2007) 71 WIR 110.

96 Stuckey M, ‘Not by Discovery But by Conquest: The Use of History and the Meaning of “Justice” in Australian Native Title Cases’ (2005) 34 CLWR 24; For a critique of the trial judge's approach, and a more detailed discussion of the complexities of the requirement related to traditional laws and customs and how this has bedevilled Australian jurisprudence, see K McNeil, ‘The Relevance of Traditional Laws and Customs to the Existence and Content of Native Title at Common Law’ in K McNeil (ed), Emerging Justice?: Essays on Indigenous Rights in Canada and Australia (University of Saskatchewan Native Law Centre 2001) 416; see also Bartlett R, ‘An Obsession With Traditional Laws and Customs Creates Difficulty Establishing Native Title Claims in the South: Yorta Yorta’ (2003) 31 UWA L Rev 35 and Reilly A, ‘The Ghost of Truganini: Use of Historical Evidence as Proof of Native Title’ (2000) 28 FLRev 462–4.

97 Anker K, ‘Law in the Present Tense: Tradition and Cultural Continuity in Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v Victoria’ (2004) 28 MelbLRev 1, 17.

98 C Zuni Cruz, ‘Law of the Land – Recognition and Resurgence in Indigenous Law and Justice Systems’ in BJ Richardson, S Imai and K McNeil (eds), Indigenous Peoples and the Law: Comparative and Critical Perspectives (Hart Publishing 2009) 319.

99 Mykyta (n 93) 121–2.

100 Stuckey (n 96) 28.

101 Anker (n 97) 26.

102 Gilbert (n 1) 592.

103 In none of the cases from any of the jurisdictions discussed here is there any doubt that indigenous rights to land (if they exist in the first place) may be statutorily abrogated. As the discussion in this section shows, what contention there is exists in relation to the required standard to successfully achieve such abrogation.

104 (n 11) 588.

105 U.S. v Santa Fe Pacific Railroad 314 US 339 (1941) and Sobhuza II v Miller [1926] AC 518, 525; See also Lysyk K, ‘The Indian Title Question in Canada: An Appraisal in the Light of Calder’ (1973) 51 CanBarRev 475–6 and Bartlett R, ‘The Aboriginal Land Which May be Claimed at Common Law: Implications of Mabo’ (1992) 22 UWA L Rev 294.

106 Entick v Carrington (1765) 19 State Tr 1029, 1060; I Bl Comm 129–39; A-G v DeKeyser Royal Hotel [1920] AC 508; and see K McNeil, ‘Aboriginal Title as a Constitutionally Protected Property Right’ in Owen Lippert (ed), Beyond the Nass Valley: National Implications of the Supreme Court's Delgamuukw Decision (The Fraser Institute 2000) 56.

107 See, for example, Chippewas of Sarnia Band v Attorney-General of Canada [2001] 1 CNLR 56, which sanctioned what McNeil has dubbed ‘extinguishment by judicial discretion’: K McNeil, ‘Extinguishment of Aboriginal Title in Canada: Treaties, Legislation and Judicial Discretion’ (2001–02) 33 OttawaLRev 301.

108 Mabo (n 3) 46.

109 ibid 50.

110 In Australia land grants were initially made by Prerogative grant, and it was not until 1842 that the management and sale of land was first brought under statutory control: Wik Peoples v Queensland (1996) 141 ALR 129, 171.

111 As Brennan J himself did: (n 3) at 36.

112 A-G v Nissan [1970] AC 179, 213 (Lord Reid).

113 Magna Carta, 1215, 17 John, cl. 39; See also 1 Bl Comm 134–5; Main v Stark [1890] App Cas 384; Slattery (n 29) 748.

114 Santa Fe (n 105).

115 ibid 346.

116 ibid 354.

117 In Canada see Calder (n 9) 210 and Sparrow (n 85); in Australia see Mabo (n 3) 46; in New Zealand see A-G v Ngati Apa [2003] 3 NZLR 643 [113], [148] and [185]; and in Belize see Cal (n 95) [89] and [92].

118 Smokehouse (n 88) 712.

119 Delgamuukw v British Columbia (1993) 104 DLR (4th) 470, 523 (McFarlane J).

120 In Gladstone v The Queen [1996] 2 SCR 723 Lamer CJC offered unhelpfully at 750: ‘While to extinguish an aboriginal right the Crown does not, perhaps, have to use language which refers expressly to its extinguishment of aboriginal rights, it must demonstrate more than that, in the past, the exercise of an aboriginal right has been subject to a regulatory scheme.’

121 Mabo (n 3) 46 (Brennan J).

122 ibid.

123 ibid 49.

124 ibid 51.

125 Oyekan v Adele [1957] 2 All ER 785, 788. See also Amodu Tijani v Southern Nigeria [1921] 2 AC 399; Sunmonu v Disu Raphael [1927] AC 881; Bakare Ajakaiye [1929] AC 881; Oshodi v Dakolo [1930] AC 667.

126 Per Deane and Gaudron JJ, (n 3) 67.

127 A.G. of Quebec v A.G. of Canada [1921] 1 AC 401 at 408; Canadian Pacific Ltd. v Paul [1988] 2 SCR 654, 677; Delgamuukw (n 4) 1081–2.

128 Mabo (n 3) 62–4.

129 In Re Southern Rhodesia [1919] AC 211, when finding against the survival of native rights, Lord Sumner for the Privy Council infamously categorized aboriginal peoples according to Western conceptions of development, which in turn determined whether their rights could be recognized.

130 Mabo (n 3) 67.

131 For a succinct account of this aspect of Australia's history see M Cocker, Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold (Grove Press 1988) 115–84.

132 (n 3) 83.

133 McNeil, Racial Discrimination (n 81); N Pearson, ‘204 Years of Invisible Title’ in MA Stephenson and S Ratnapala (eds), Mabo: A Judicial Revolution (University of Queensland Press 1993) 75; L Strelein, ‘Conceptualising Native Title’ [2001] 23 SydLR 95; M Tehan, ‘A Hope Disillusioned, An Opportunity Lost? Reflections on Common Law Native Title and Ten Years of the Native Title Act’ (2003) 27 MelbLRev 523.

134 Wik (n 110).

135 Ward (n 94).

136 ibid 170–95.

137 For a valuable exploration of this issue see Schiveley GR, ‘Negotiation and Native Title: Why Common Law Courts are not Proper Fora for Determining Native Land Title Issues’ [2000] 33 VandJTransnatlL 427.

138 (n 117).

139 DV Williams, ‘Customary Rights and Crown Claims: Calder and Aboriginal Title in Aotearoa New Zealand’ in H Foster, H Raven and J Webber (eds), Let Right Be Done: Aboriginal Title, the Calder Case, and the Future of Indigenous Rights (UBC Press 2007) 171.

140 Bulkan A, ‘From Instrument of Empire to Vehicle for Change: The Potential of Emerging International Standards for Indigenous Peoples of the Commonwealth Caribbean’ (2011) 37 CLB 468.

141 In the US it has been advanced as a reason explaining the patently erroneous decision in Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v US 348 US 272 (1955), see Mickenberg (n 10); as regards Australia Kent McNeil has suggested that pragmatism could account for the misapplication of the common law in relation to the principles of extinguishment crafted by the High Court: ‘The Vulnerability of Indigenous Rights in Australia and Canada’ (2004) 42 OsgoodeHallLJ 297–301; and in relation to Canada see Donovan BrianThe Evolution and Present Status of Common Law Aboriginal Title in Canada: The Law's Crooked Path and the Hollow Promise of Delgamuukw’ (2001) 35 UBCLRev 43.

142 Burke J, ‘The Cherokee Cases: A Study in Law, Politics and Morality’ (1968–69) 21 StanLRev 500.

143 Bernard Ominayak v Canada, HRC, 38th Sess, UN Doc CCPR/C/38/D/167/1984 (26 March 1990), para 33; see also C Charters, ‘Indigenous Peoples and International Law and Policy’ in Richardson et al (n 98) 178.

144 Barelli M, ‘The Role of Soft Law in the International Legal System: The Case of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ (2009) 58 ICLQ 969.

145 Anaya J, Indigenous Peoples in International Law (OUP 2004) 66.

146 ibid 69.

147 ibid. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that international standards are not uniform. Combined with the proliferation of international instruments and doubts as to which one prevails, identifying exactly the scope of those obligations is no straightforward task: Charters (n 143) 165–6.

148 Notable among them are the Human Rights Committee and the CERD (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) Committee.

149 See, e.g. CERD Committee, Decision 1(66): New Zealand Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 (11 March 2005), para 7; CERD Committee, Concluding Observations: Guyana (4 April 2006) CERD/C/GUY/CO/14.

150 CERD Committee, Decision 1(68): United States of America (11 April 2006).

151 Cal (n 95) [118]–[34].

152 See, eg, Mary and Carrie Dann v US Case No. 11.140 (IACHR 15 Oct 2001); Yakye Axa Indigenous Community v Paraguay Series C no 125 (Inter-Am Ct HR 17 Jun 2005); Moiwana Village v Suriname Series C no 145 (Inter-Am Ct HR 8 Feb 2006); Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous Community v Paraguay Series C no 146 (Inter-Am Ct HR 29 Mar 2006); and Saramaka Peoples v Suriname Series C no 172 (Inter-Am Ct HR 28 Nov 2007).

153 BJ Richardson, S Imai and K McNeil, ‘Indigenous Peoples and the Law–Historical, Comparative and Contextual Issues’ in Indigenous Peoples and the Law (n 98) 11–12.

154 Alvarado LJ, ‘Prospects and Challenges in the Implementation of Indigenous Peoples' Human Rights in International Law: Lessons from the Case of Awas Tingni v Nicaragua’ (2007) 24 ArizJIntl&CompL 609.

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