Terra Nullius: It’s time to change the history books


Supposedly, Aotearoa New Zealand was discovered by Abel Tasman in 1642, but how can you discover a country when people are already there? Even though indigenous rights have come a long way since the overt oppression during the colonial ‘age of discovery’, it is evident that important systemic factors have yet to change let alone be meaningfully addressed.

The doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ (a land without people/a land belonging to no one) has remained the constituent sub-conscious cultural norm in which the Western-Modern world perceives indigenous people groups as uncivilized, barbaric, subhuman, a political problem, and in need of parental-esque intervention from the civilized world. The international law of terra nullius is arguably still in use, maybe not in full political flight but definitely in the social systemic norms that continue to paint human history in a mono-cultural western worldview and that continue to justify the exploitative actions taken by the new colonial powers (big multi-nationals).

It’s time to change the history books, to retell the world in the plethora of human cultures and to affirm the status and grievances of indigenous people groups.  Like the Mabo case in the 1990’s, international law needs to be challenged to move beyond tokenism and towards indigenous sovereignty and reconciliation; hopefully money, land and resources don’t get in the way.



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