Confirmation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage

The following is intended as a guide only. Guidelines and procedures may vary from region to region.

AIATSIS is not able to comment on, prove nor provide confirmation of anyone's Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Heritage.

Your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage is something that is personal and you do not need a ‘letter of confirmation’ to identify as an Indigenous person. However you may be asked to provide a confirmation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander form or letter when applying for Indigenous-specific services or programs such as:

  • Grants (such as Indigenous housing loans, research and study grants)
  • University courses (with specific positions for Indigenous students)
  • Centrelink and housing assistance (Indigenous-specific)
  • Employment (Indigenous identified positions)
  • School programs for Indigenous students

There are three criteria for confirmation of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage that are usually accepted by government agencies and community organisations. They are: 

  1. being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
  2. identifying as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  3. being accepted as such by the community in which you live, or formerly lived

Why is it so involved?

These services and programs are intended to address the social, health and educational issues that Indigenous people often face as the result of past removal policies and inadequate educational, employment and health services. Requesting proof of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage from applicants helps to make sure that this intention is honoured.

How do I obtain proof of my Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage?

Perhaps you have a certificate that traces your family to a particular Aboriginal station or reserve? Perhaps you have oral history stories that link to an area or person or even a photograph? Whatever your situation, you will need to link to your Indigenous community organisation for assistance. If you have been displaced from your heritage, you can research and take your evidence to the Indigenous community organisation closest to you. You will be invited to explain your heritage to their committee. 

Step 1 – Gather as much information about your family history and heritage as possible

When applying for a letter of proof of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage through an Indigenous organisation, you are likely to be requested to explain your heritage to their committee. For this reason it is often useful to gather as much information about your family history as you can before you contact them. This is particularly important if you or your ancestors have been displaced from your heritage.

Examples of useful information include birth, death and marriage certificates that trace your family to a particular Aboriginal station or reserve, oral history stories and even photographs.

Step 2 – Contact an Indigenous organisation

A 'letter of confirmation' is usually obtained from an incorporated Indigenous organisation and must be stamped with their common seal. It is useful to contact an organisation where your family is from, if possible, as someone in the community might know of or remember your family.

An Indigenous organisation in the area where you live may also be able to provide you with this confirmation. For instance, if you live in Canberra and your family is from the Canberra region, you could contact the Ngunnawal Land Council in Queanbeyan. If you live in Canberra but your family is from elsewhere, you would contact the Land Council in the area your family came from or were known in.

To find the contact details of a Land Council or other Indigenous community organisation, try searching the Yellow Pages.  Type ‘Aboriginal’ in the WHAT box and the place name in WHERE. In the print version of the Yellow Pages, look under ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Associations and Organisations’.

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