INTRODUCTORY ESSAY: “On what terms can we speak?” Refusal, resurgence and climate justice

Tony Birch


Australia, along with nations and communities across the globe, faces the difficult task of formulating genuine responses to climate change. Indigenous people in Australia are at the forefront of the issue, both as communities majorly impacted on by climate change, and the custodians of knowledge, scientific and philosophical, able to assist other communities in working towards the health and protection of country. Indigenous communities also have historical relationships with mining companies responsible for the mining of fossil fuels, and face a decision of allowing or refusing mining on traditional land, which may result in a material loss for these communities, while producing a long-term benefit on behalf of the planet. Future relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia will determine the success of initiatives in combating climate change. For this to occur, productive and equitable relationships will need to move beyond the symbolic gesture, beyond a form of recognition that does little more than maintain existing colonial relationships. In recent years, Indigenous scholars, particularly from North America, have articulated ‘the politics of refusal’ as a strategy of empowering Indigenous people and protecting country. In doing so, important questions arise: Can we afford to refuse acts of engagement with ‘outsiders’ that may benefit country? Or is the act of refusal a necessary step that may confront colonial society with the reality that it is colonialism itself that refuses change?


recognition; refusal, protection of country

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