Article 3 (part 1): Aboriginal Political Status by Virtue of Self-Determination

Self-determination is this interesting ideal that a country can decide its statehood and form its own government. While on a micro-level self determinations is a means where a person controls what happens in their life. Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states the following about self-determination.

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The fact Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia has never been ceded means that Aboriginal people make up a sovereign body. This sovereignty has been acknowledged by the High Court of Australia when the historic Mabo decision was handed down. This, according to Australian law, now meant that Aboriginal people had the rights to Native Title and Land Rights (To read more about the Mabo decision you can read my blog: 3 Life Lessons Mabo Taught Me).

Aboriginal People Are Free to Determine Their Political Status

Before we can define what this means for Aboriginal peoples in Australia, we must first understand what this means in reference to the UNDRIP. Under International Law, ‘Political Status’ refers to three main categories which are:

1. Independent countries e.g.: FranceCanada

2. Internal independent countries which are under the protection of another country in matters of defense and foreign affairs, e.g.: Netherlands Antilles, the Faroe IslandsBritish Virgin Islands etc.

3. Colonies and other dependent political units e.g. Puerto Rico.

There are, furthermore, several unrecognized countries and independence, secessionist, autonomy and nationalist movements throughout the world. See list of unrecognized countries.

– Wikipedia – Political Status

Knowing these internationally regarded Political Status definitions brings about a peculiar question. If Aboriginal people have the right to self-determine their political status, does this political status apply to the people itself or must it apply to a country in terms of its physical territory?

Is land ownership tied with self-determination of political status? If so, this puts Australia in a rather unusual position because of it’s land ownership and sovereignty sitting somewhere in the grey area.

The British Crown claimed sovereignty and ownership of Australia by means of Terra Nullius, a Latin word meaning “land belonging to nobody”.

Contextually, there are two definitions of Terra Nullius.

The expression terra nullius, literally translates as ‘land belonging to nobody’. It comes from the Latin terra for earth or land, and nullius being no one or nobody. The expression is used however in two contexts and can be seen to have two meanings:

i. A land where there is no sovereign (law, social order), and

ii. A land where there is no recognisable tenure in land.


If the Mabo decision in the High Court of Australia, threw out the claim of Terra Nullius proclaiming:

the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands”


Is it not a far stretch to know that the remaining lands of Australia who where occupied with between half to one million Aboriginal people, were in fact illegally occupied by the Crown? That the claim of sovereignty and ownership are as false as its claim of Terra Nullius?

Then take into account the 1967 Referrendum that put this question forward to the Australian voting population:

Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population’?

Parliament of Australia website

The proposed law was the “Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal) 1967”. The referendums landslide ‘YES’ vote meant that the Australian Government had the power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal people in Australia and it also meant that Aboriginal people could be counted in the national census.

With this being said, who has the right to determine the political status of Aboriginal people as a collective (or Australia) seeing as sovereignty, ownership and custodianship are sitting in the grey area?

With this knowledge, what are your thoughts on Aboriginal people in Australia and their right to self-determine their political status? Pop your comment in the comment section below.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples UNDRIP Article 3 Aboriginal Political status self-determination

I know this blog didn’t address the entirety of Article 3. It turns out there is so much complexity, information to share, context to give and unpacking to do, that I’ve decided to break it up into shorter digestible blogs. The next blog will be released soon. It will be titled “Article 3 (part 2): Aboriginal Economic Development by Virtue of Self-determination”. To make sure you don’t miss it when it’s published, be sure to click the follow button at the bottom of your screen. And if you’re keen to have these conversations or have these dialogues on social media, please join me on Facebook as it’s the platform I’m most prevalent in.

I look forward to those conversations.

Until next time, much love, joy and peace to you.

Read more on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (plus PDF)

Read more on the 1967 Referendum here

Read “TERRA NULLIUS, THE HIGH COURT AND SURVEYORS” A discussion of the High Court decision regarding customary land tenure in Australia. By C. L. Ogleby

Read my blog on Eddie Marbo and the Mabo decision here

Read my blog on Vincent Lingiari & the Wave Hill Walk Off that sparked the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement in Australia

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