Keynote – Why relations?

This webinar is the first in the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration's 2021 Critical Public Conversations series: Exploring Indigenous Settler Relations

As the founders and co-directors of the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration we have made a deliberate choice to focus on relationships and relationality as a site of enquiry. Elsewhere, we have argued that ‘creating more just relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Australian state is one of the most profound and important challenges this country faces’ (Nakata & Maddison, 2020). Our approach to framing this challenge as a field of research draws from the structuralism of both settler colonial studies and decolonial studies / critical race theory. These fields posit that the ongoing injustice in relationships between Indigenous peoples and settler societies is perpetuated by the structures of colonialism and racism. This is undoubtedly true, and it is important to map and contest those structures, recognising that it is Indigenous people’s ongoing resistance that most often makes these structures visible. At the same time, however, much mainstream scholarship focuses on the lives and bodies of Indigenous peoples, drawing attention away from the structures that perpetuate injustice.

By contrast, our approach centres relationality as a way of decentering disciplinary authority to know Indigenous peoples. Focusing on relations and relationality is expansive. Indigenous settler relations are inevitable and everywhere – in every part of the continent, in every school, hospital, prison and university, in every discipline. Focusing on relationality reveals and denaturalises the structures of colonialism and racism and opens a productive space for transformative scholarship and engagement. This approach is not without risk, however, as relations are not always among equals. A critical and reflexive approach to Indigenous-settler relations then, becomes a practice of exploring these expansive sites of potential transformation while also considering whether the very relation itself is part of the problem.


Associate Professor Sana Nakata, Associate Dean, Indigenous, Faculty of Arts and co-director of the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration, the University of Melbourne.

Professor Sarah Maddison, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Arts and co-director of the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration, the University of Melbourne.

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