Constructing Law, Space, and their Subjects:
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Royal Proclamation 1763|
From early days in Australia, and in Canada, once settlement by Europeans began to take place in earnest, negative constructions of Aboriginal peoples and their political, legal and social structures began to appear. They were, in tune with speculation on their ultimate fate in a supposedly progressive, civilized world, portrayed as the "noble savage" or as embodying the retarded marks of primitive culture and shiftlessness. Whichever the representation, the message was clear: they could not last in the modern world - disappearance or assimilation was their inevitable fate. From the latter half of the nineteenth century, well into the present, these views were buttressed by the "survival of the fittest claims" of social Darwinism.
For an evocative graphic example, see the following.
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|"The Last of His Race" sketch by Charles M. Russell, 1899.|
The view that Aboriginals had no future was easily converted into the idea that they were dispensible. Especially in Australia, this mindset was used as a rationalization by settlers and some military and police officers for the extermination of Aboriginals particularly when they resisted their dispossession from their traditional lands and the destruction of their culture.
Consider the following sketches by European-Australian artists.
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|"A Deadly Encounter" (1870s)|
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|"Mounted Police and Blacks: A Re-encounter"|
Andrew Markus, "Australian Race Relations" (1994), pp.36-49 excerpted from Heather McRae, Garth Nettheim, Laura Beacroft, Indigenous Legal Issues:Commentary and Materials, 2nd Ed. (Sydney: L.B.C., 1997) p.33
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A somewhat different representation of indigenous folk which reflected the assimilation theory and sought to work it through in practice was that of missionaries. These people, convinced of the malleability of the Aboriginals, who were thus, they believed, open to conversion to Christian precepts and sound secular education, attempted to recast the Aboriginals in the European mold. This process often involved attempts to destroy traditional culture and notions of spiritulity as marks of "savagery" and incompatible with Christian teaching. Sacred and secular education in the European mode and the adoption of European dress and social mores were thought to be important in these strategies of reculturation.
These colonial attitudes were to affect the way in which legal obligations were interpreted by the colonizers. In Canada, official policy remained that Indian lands could only be surrendered through treaties. However, the objective of these treaties on the European side was by the mid-19th century less alliance and common cause, and more the cession of large tracts of land for settlement and exploitation and the removal of the aboriginal peoples to reserves in which they could be controlled and regulated. The so-called Robinson treaties from 1850 provide a model which was followed thereafter across the Prairie west.
|DOCUMENTS|| The Robinson-Superior
with the Ojibewa Indians of Lake Superior, conveying certain lands to the Crown.
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