For decades, anthropologists working in the Northern Territory have prepared written materials, including genealogies. These materials form evidence in land claim and Native Title proceedings, as well as the basis for standard research and consultation work of land council anthropologists. Increasingly, traditional owners and Native Title holders, aware of the significance attached to anthropological documents, are utilising genealogical material within negotiations over land ownership. This paper discusses the growing trend among the Arrernte in Central Australia to assert and attempt to validate connection to land through the use of genealogies.
Over the past few years, there has been a notable increase in disputes over competing claims that purport to be ‘proven’ by reference to genealogical records. In incidents involving disputes over land ownership, genealogies are being used as a new form of objectified authority. The use of these materials raises many questions about the production, interpretation, ownership and application of genealogical information. This paper attempts to address some of the implications ensuing from the distribution of genealogical information in a modern context, drawing on field experience to highlight some of the complex dynamics and challenges that result. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Central Land Council.