A man performs an Aboriginal

Indigenous Australian definition


A statement on Aboriginality and Indigeneity by Indigenous Australian staff members here at the Museum.

We frequently encounter various opinions and thoughts about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the public, whether it’s at work or during our everyday lives. One comment is whether we are “true” or “authentic” Indigenous Australians.

Many people still believe it’s about blood percentages, using terms based in Western scientific tradition such as “half-caste” and “quadroon”. Some have even expressed the view that if we are not at least half-Aboriginal we have no authority to speak, create, live or identify as Indigenous people. This is not true.

Considering Aboriginality in that way is highly offensive to Indigenous Australians who identify as such: it is one-dimensional and does not take into account significant social and historical factors which impact on the Indigenous peoples of Australia, including assimilation policies which aimed to breed us out of existence and destroy our connections to culture.

How can you quantify or calculate how Aboriginal someone is, or for that matter Australian, Chinese or New Zealander? If they are “only ½” Aboriginal, what part of them is “Aboriginal”? It just doesn’t work like that. Our Aboriginality makes up our whole being, it courses through our veins all throughout our bodies; it’s wired in our psyche.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not define their Aboriginality by skin colour or percentage of blood. Our identities are complex and diverse across Australia, and encompass many aspects and contexts that ultimately make up who we are. This may include connections to place/country, language groups, family relationships, cultural beliefs, value systems and Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Indigenous Australians developed a working definition which was then adopted by the Australian Government, to define an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person as:

  1. A person who has Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent; who also
  2. Identifies as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person; and
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