Aboriginal history

Defining Aboriginal identity

The definition proposed and since used by the Federal Government as their working definition in state legislation and by the High Court, should be the only acceptable definition of Aboriginality.

This definition is a three-part definition requiring all three parts to be established for Aboriginality to be recognised:

  1. Descent (the individual can prove that a parent is of Aboriginal descent
  2. Self-identification (the individual identifies as an Aboriginal person
  3. Community recognition (the individual is accepted as such by the Aboriginal community in which they lives.

This definition was approved by the NACCHO Board in November 2007.

It is important to note that:

  • Not all Aboriginal people will identify when asked, for a variety of reasons.
  • You may come across people who are members of the Stolen Generations who may not have close connection to family/community but who may identify as being an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person from either Victoria or interstate.
  • There will be times when an individual is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent and chooses not to self-identify. This is their individual right and their decision should be respected.
  • Questioning a person’s Aboriginality due to their skin colour is offensive.
  • Many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples have mixed ancestry which does not make them any less Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
  • Aboriginality has more to do with a person’s upbringing and life experiences, including how their culture has been represented, than the way a person looks.
  • In today’s society Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples identify with each other by asking, “Who’s your family?” and “Where you from?”.
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples express their connection to the land in terms of where their from rather than the land, hence the term Cultural Identity.

An individual’s cultural identity is shaped by many factors. Beliefs and values held by family and by the community help to shape cultural identity from birth. Cultural identity is dynamic, its complexity changes over time and is influenced by groups that people form close ties with in society. Cultural identity is often based on cultural heritage, religion, place of birth and language spoken. For Aboriginal people cultural identity is complexly linked to the land and family (Ganesharajah 2009). Although many Aboriginal people may not live in their traditional homeland they will still identify and be connected to their culture.

A positive cultural identity assists Aboriginal children and young people to deal with racism, to navigate the dominant culture and helps to ease the inherent trauma of being a minority group in their own country. Accessible cultural practice can also reduce the negative impacts of colonisation. Overall cultural identification and recognition of homelands/traditional country is strong for Victorian Aboriginal peoples, with a large proportion identifying with a clan, tribal or language group and recognising an area as homelands or traditional country.

Sourced from the State of Victoria’s Children 2009 – Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria