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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Landscape and Frameworks for Reconciliation


In the present world, the term indigenous people is used to refer to those communities that have stuck to the ancient traditional customs. Each of these community practices unique traditions, and over time, they have continued to carry out their cultural activities. In determining their physical and cultural survival as people, ancestral lands, water are of paramount salience (Hartley, 1995). The present government and global bodies, such as the United Nations organization, acknowledge their existence and culture.

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Understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identities

Australia is one of the countries globally with groups that have practiced their practices to the present day. There are two such distinct cultural groups in Australia, namely the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Hartley, 1995). Though they form the main two indigenous groups, they are greatly diversified by various aspects such as the language The best description used to delineate a member of the group states that “A person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives.” (Jones, 2017). However, identification alone is not adequate for one to be a member, as some laws and customs are used to fully determine one individual’s membership as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The Torres Strait Islander people, on the other hand, identify themselves using their island name, that means ‘the outsiders’. Therefore, the definition and identity of an Aboriginal person are based on three concepts: be of Aboriginal descent, identify as an Aboriginal, or be welcomed as an Aboriginal in the society of residence (Hartley, 1995). The communities have historically resided on mainland Australia, Tasmania, and the Offshore Islands. These communities have built their identity through family life.

According to the groups, the term family does not mean the married couple and their children, but a vast extended family linked by blood ties, including cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. The continuation of families is through marriage based on new relationships achieved through various state and national gatherings (Rose, 1995). As per the two groups, childbearing and rearing are crucial aspects of the community’s social structure. For that reason, the groups have maintained their traditional ways of child care based on the culture, beliefs, and understanding of the practice.

The Significance of Country and Belonging

According to the Aboriginal people, the word country refers to the lands, seas, and waterways connected to them. It also encompasses the aspects of the law, place, spiritual beliefs, custom, language, and identity. As per the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the land was defined as the living environment that supports and is supported by the people and culture and not just soil and rocks (Hartley, 1995, p. 56). All aspects of existence, including culture, law, family, identity, and language, relate to the land.

The Aboriginal sense of belonging is derived from their ontological relationship to their country and land. From that connection, the people of Aboriginals have great value for their land and sense of belonging. To best describe their love of the country’s land, it is quoted that, “Land is very important to Aboriginal people with the common belief of, we do not own the land, the land owns us.” (Attwood and Haskins, 2017). This makes the country to be of significance to all the members. Some of the factors making it more significant include the spiritual connection. The Aboriginal people value the connection to the extent of not leaving their country, and if they go, they always come back. They believe that it is an ancestral land that gives the communities a feeling that they are protecting the ancestral spirits (Briggs, 1948). As per the Aboriginals, the country’s land is a source of healing as it invokes serenity.

Owning and belonging to a country provides the freedom of laws, values, and beliefs. If the country’s ownership is controlled by other bodies, like colonizers, such liberties are withdrawn. A sense of belonging provides the opportunity of develop self-esteem and self-reliance as well as the society. Belonging to a country allows individual and group economic growth through activities such as farming. The sense of belonging gives one a profound feeling of attachment. The sentiment is associated with achievements and social status (Attwood and Haskins, 2017). The country’s significance is also evident in society, as it provides the community with a moral code for its social institutions and patterns of activity.

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Relationships and Aspects of Kinship

The traditional society and family strength and associations among the Aboriginals were established on kinships. The kinship system worked on the equivalence of same-gender siblings (Hartley, 1995). The principal argued that if two children of the same sex are similar. In such a case, a daughter of one could have more mothers. Therefore, in an extended family, the cousins were regarded as brothers and sisters, as they are classified under the relationship terms of kinship. Among these indigenous groups of Australia, individual names were not used. Instead, people were addressed as per kinship ties. For instance, a person is referred to as some’s son or daughter. In the case of a deceased person, their names were cleared from the community for some time, and that is why some languages used the vocabulary that meant no name to identify someone.

Politically, there were no well-established leadership positions and offices. Though there were influential individuals in the society, their power did not influence the leadership of the community. Instead, the kinship concept was used to maintain peace and harmony by resolving any conflict (Hartley, 1995). An offense committed by the group member was judged by the group and punishment administered by specific individuals because of the kinship role they played.

The paramountcy of kinship is best demonstrated in the marriage rites and process. Kinships are used to determine the person one marries. Depending on the group marriages stipulated rules, the best marriage partner was the cross-cousin who should be a daughter or son of either their mother’s or father’s sister (Rose, 1995). To promote the kinship regulations, the groups made it a fundamental element in the education system of the Aboriginals. The children were enlightened on how to behave as per the kinship ties.

Through the education system, the children were taught morals and how best to promote their moral growth. Upon nearing puberty, they were prepared for adulthood roles, such as behaving and maintaining a marriage and providing for their families. According to the groups, for one to join adulthood, a symbolic reenactment of death was necessary. The rites of initiation provided the opportunity for discipline and training (Couzens, 2014). The primary forms of initiation were circumcision and subincision that involved incisura of the urethra.


The Aboriginals form the indigenous group of Australia that has retained most of its ancient practices to date. Though their ancestral land is on mainland Australia, they also occupy the island and ocean offshore. Their value for the country, which in their language they call land, is of great essence. They believe it is their spiritual duty to protect the land. Their orderly manner is promoted by the kinship system that embraces the paramountcy of society.


Attwood, B. and Haskins, V., 2017. The good country: the Djadja Wurrung, the settlers and the protectors. Pp 13-20. Monash University Publisher.

Briggs, C., 1948. The journey of the Boonwurrung: Stories with Boonwurrung Language, pp. 18-30. Victoria Aboriginal Corporation for Languages.

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Couzens, V., 2014 Nyernila listen continuously: Aboriginal Creation Stories of Victoria. Pp. 48-68. Creative Victoria.

Hartley, R., 1995. Families, values and change: setting the scene. Families and cultural diversity in Australia, pp.48-68. Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Jones, E.E., 2017. The Case for the Australian Aboriginals in Central and Northern Australia (1930). In Documenting First Wave Feminisms (pp. 97-101). University of Toronto Press.

Rose, D. B., 1995. Nourishing terrains: Australian Aboriginal views of landscape and wilderness, PP 35-47. Australian Heritage Commission.

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