Jessica Black

Native Title
Summer 2018

The one expectation I had of my experience as an Aurora intern was to begin to resolve the question that had been raised over my first four years at University regarding the value and legitimacy of Anthropology in relation to Indigenous affairs. After my initial Aurora placement at CAEPR I determined that there are ways in which Anthropology provides unique insights to Indigenous research. However, these unique insights are often found through Indigenous lead research projects or co-authored papers with at least one Indigenous writer so that the essential and relevant perspectives are being amplified. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience two work places from my initial application to the Aurora Internship Program and found that moving from CAEPR to the Northern land Council (NLC) allowed me to explore the theoretical dilemmas with anthropology and Indigenous affairs and then move through to NLC with some level of confidence of my understanding of the ways to approach anthropology in order to counteract its potential limitations.  Whilst working at NLC for 6 weeks from mid-March to late April I was able to begin to comprehend the complementary practical skills that Anthropology can provide to the field of Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs).

The Northern Land Council and the work of NTRBs is a particularly unique environment. Walking into the organisation it was discussed within my first meeting with the head of the Anthropology department that there are unique ‘tensions’ within the building. I was initially intrigued by the idea that the manager would share this with the incoming intern however, after being there for 6 weeks his statement began to clarify. I believe it was never meant as criticism and it is definitely not an aspect of the work that I would critique either. I found that conversely the ‘tension’ is only a testament to everyone’s dedication to the work they complete and most importantly the people they complete it for. I learnt quickly that navigating everyone’s opinions and perspectives is a key skill to have at NLC. Plainly diplomacy is an invaluable skill to take with me in to the future as well. Yet more importantly it allowed me to realise what a privilege it was to contribute to this work and be trusted with the responsibility of helping to represent a range of countryman all across the NT.

The task I was given to complete lay in the intersection between the legal process of native title claims and the anthropological research essential to these claims.  I completed preliminary research regarding a key figure and his knowledge of his and others country, including history, traditions, and site knowledge. My task was to trawl through the Land Council Records locating all information NLC already had stored that related and gave any indication of this notable man’s knowledge. I then noted these sources in an annotated bibliography with an associated site reference which would be given to the project team to begin to comprehend how they were going to approach an evidence preservation process. This task involved so many essential practical skills. In particular site references are a key resource for all anthropologists at NLC. There are specific details that must be included within a site reference, that I was not previously aware of, that ensured that my knowledge of the intricacies of the culture of the Indigenous group this man associated with grew ever so slightly. It was then simply fascinating to be able to read some of this man’s knowledge of his country as it is so diverse and far-reaching. I was then also given the task of engaging with the consultant anthropologist as there was a proposed plan to meet with the man to gain his informed consent to participate in the project. This allowed me improve my ability to communicate clearly and accurately and ensure that everyone involved in the project was up to date. Simply there were countless opportunities I was given to expand my understanding of the work completed at NLC. Almost everyone in the anthropology department made a concerted effort to ensure that I was constantly occupied with challenging and rewarding tasks. At some point the Legal department got wind that I also studied law and therefore also involved me with phone meetings with the barrister who was going to be conducting the evidence preservation process. The legal department also took me on country at Timber Creek to attend a claimants meeting. This experience was amazing and absolutely crystallised in my mind why everyone at NLC is so passionate about their work. I flew out in a 6 seater charter plane to the meeting with a few members of the native title legal team. Obviously this experience was extraordinary and challenging in itself (as I have a small fear of flying) and still the meeting stood out as the highlight of the day. I was there as the note-taker of the meeting and it was such an amazing opportunity to experience the reality of native title claims and to identify the role in pursuing, managing and maintaining native title claims whilst ensuring the Timber Creek claimants maintain their autonomy over their land and the process of reclaiming it. Every task I completed at NLC was invaluable to my studies from navigating the office dynamic to preparing my set of notes for the barrister and consultant anthropologists and everything, especially, everything in between.

I’m so grateful to everyone at NLC and Aurora more broadly. AT NLC my supervisors were so dedicated to guiding me through the world of NLC. Each anthropologist’s approach to their work is somewhat unique to them, however, both of my supervisors had such fierce and committed attitudes to how they could best represent the communities they were working for. Everyone at NLC was able to present a unique perspective on their work and careers more broadly. A few gave me some pretty excellent career advice and it was pretty fascinating to see what shape some of their careers had taken prior to working at NLC. (I would thoroughly recommend asking as many people as possible about their resume to date – everyone I spoke to has had such colourful and rewarding careers)

My experience with the Aurora Internships team generally has been remarkable. I began this process with almost no concept of even my role as a non-Indigenous anthropology and law student who was concerned with the state of Indigenous affair. Now that is still the lingering question, however, in the sense that my place will and should be an ongoing reality that I need to consider. However, the way in which I should begin to direct my concern is imminently clearer and the avenues I can take are crystal clear. I feel so immensely privileged to have experienced two extremely diverse and phenomenal workplaces before I’m even in my final year of university. I have learnt so many practical, theoretical and ideological lessons whilst completing my Aurora internships and I already am certain that these last six months will be the most rewarding academic experience of my entire 6-year degree.