Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law: Raw Law, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law

Raw Law, 1st Edition

By Irene Watson


188 pages

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This work is the first to assess the legality and impact of colonisation from the viewpoint of Aboriginal law, rather than from that of the dominant Western legal tradition. It begins by outlining the Aboriginal legal system as it is embedded in Aboriginal people’s complex relationship with their ancestral lands. This is Raw Law: a natural system of obligations and benefits, flowing from an Aboriginal ontology. This book places Raw Law at the centre of an analysis of colonisation – thereby decentring the usual analytical tendency to privilege the dominant structures and concepts of Western law. From the perspective of Aboriginal law, colonisation was a violation of the code of political and social conduct embodied in Raw Law. Its effects were damaging. It forced Aboriginal peoples to violate their own principles of natural responsibility to self, community, country and future existence. But this book is not simply a work of mourning. Most profoundly, it is a celebration of the resilience of Aboriginal ways, and a call for these to be recognised as central in discussions of colonial and postcolonial legality.

Written by an experienced legal practitioner, scholar and political activist, AboriginalPeoples, Colonialism and International Law: Raw Law will be of interest to students and researchers of Indigenous Peoples Rights, International Law and Critical Legal Theory.


"The book is well written, clear in its purposes and through its style conveys an image of a world that was (nearly) lost. It is fascinating reading for all those who feel that there is an enormous gap between western-type (post)colonial thinking and its law and the law and cosmovision that once governed the life of what came to be called indigenous peoples."

Andr?e Hoekema, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law

"The great strength of Raw Law is that it puts Aboriginal law at the centre, and on the inside. It explains concepts that are foreign to colonial law, and yet which must be understood for there to be any hope of a common future for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians." Associate Professor Alexander Reilly, University of Adelaide

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction, Chapter 2 Kaldowinyeri, Chapter 3 Raw Law, Song, Ceremony, Ruwe, Chapter 4 Naked: the coming of the cloth, Chapter 5 Who’s your Mob? - How are you related?, Chapter 6 Dressed to Kill, Chapter 7 Indigenous Ways: a Future

About the Author

Irene Watson is a Professor of Law at the University of South Australia and has published extensively on the impact of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples as subject/objects in international law. She is currently working on the Australian Research Council project 'Indigenous Knowledges: Law, Society and the State'.

About the Series

Indigenous Peoples and the Law

The colonial modalities which resulted in the pillaging of the ‘New World’ involved wholesale dispossession, genocidal violence and exploitation of their original inhabitants. It was not, however, until the latter part of the twentieth century that Indigenous peoples attained some degree of legal recognition. This book series focuses upon the manner in which Indigenous peoples’ experiences of law have been transformed from an oppressive system of denying rights to a site of contestation and the articulation of various forms of self-governance. Encouraging a range of theoretical, political and ethical perspectives on Indigenous peoples and the law, this book series aims to provide a comprehensive survey of the experience of Indigenous peoples and their changing relationship with national and international juridical frameworks.  

The series will include both monographs and edited collections pursuing variety a of perspectives – including, but not limited to, a concern with:

  • Law as a mechanism of power/knowledge: that is, the discursive and biopolitical strategies of Conquest, Settlement, and Empire – with a  particular interest in how the juridical was deployed to validate land appropriation in the ‘New World’ and European colonies. This might include consideration of the influence of the writings of Vattel, Blackstone, Sepulveda, Vittoria, las Casas and others in framing Indigenous populations and their lands as supposedly amenable to colonization.
  • The role of law in authorising oppression, dispossession and genocide in the colonial period, and how such juridical moments continue to shape relations between Indigenous peoples and the State. This might include consideration of: specific governmental policies and legislation that allowed for forced removal of Indigenous children; appropriation of Indigenous lands; the imposition of regimes of control through government reserves and missions; and/or the role of treaties in providing legal justification for the dispossession of Indigenous peoples.
  • Contemporary issues that confront Indigenous peoples in their dealings with law in the global present. This might include consideration of: disputes relating to resource extraction; access to justice and over-representation in the criminal justice system; cultural heritage and intellectual property claims; the recognition of Indigenous laws; land rights; the belated recognition of Indigenous rights in both ‘new’ constitutions and in international law; and/or sovereignty.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal for the series, please contact:

Mark Harris

The University of British Columbia

[email protected]


Colin Perrin


2 Park Square

Milton Park



OX14 4RN

[email protected]

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Australia & New Zealand
HISTORY / Civilization