This Discussion Paper arises from a concern that the current contributions of anthropology in the Australian native title arena are often unnecessarily confined to the production of expert reports and other materials, in accordance with legal briefs and criteria established under native title law. It argues for a broadening of the focus of anthropological work in the native title arena from roles as independent experts, to include a ‘mirror image’ of that concerned with the proof of native title. In addition to constructing legally-driven expert accounts of the present in terms of the traditions of the past as is required to prove native title, this ‘mirror image’ anthropology would be explicitly concerned with contemporary processes such as Aboriginal engagement with the wider society, development, and transformation as well as with cultural continuities. The paper provides conceptual tools for this broader anthropological focus, including the practical significance of the concept of the ‘intercultural’ in challenging essentialised constructions of Aboriginal traditions, laws, and customs in the native title arena.
This broader practice would challenge anthropologists’ own constructions of the nature of their contributions in the native title arena, and the representations and expectations of them by others. It would involve anthropologists working in multidisciplinary teams; in collaboration with Aboriginal people, developing institutions and strategies to transform Aboriginal people’s social, economic and political circumstances. The paper addresses two contexts of such a native title anthropology—the development of native title agreements, and the management of native title related decision-making and dispute management among Aboriginal people.