A Handbook of Contemporary Research
Edited by Matthew Rimmer
Chapter 18: Indigenous cultural heritage in Australia: the control of living heritages
The common way to commence any discussion of Australian Indigenous cultures is to emphasise that they are the oldest living cultures in the world. From discussions of archaeological material in museums, to corporate community engagement by banks, the survival of Australian Aboriginal cultures is celebrated with some relief. In centuries past the demise of Australia’s original inhabitants was thought to be inevitable, but against the odds, Indigenous Australians and their cultures have survived. So now a nation with a troubled history and uneasy conscience celebrates Indigenous culture, while still struggling with the significant disparities in economic well-being, health and life expectancy that exist between Indigenous Australians and the wider community. We now speak of the living cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians, and it is that concept of a living heritage that will be analysed in this chapter in the context of the protections granted by law. One of the unifying elements throughout this book is Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007. Article 31 requires States, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, to take effective measures to recognise and protect their rights to ‘maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage’. It is significant for the following discussion that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 includes the rights to develop and control cultural heritage, as well as maintain and protect it.
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