chapter  11
18 Pages

Confounded by recognition: the apology, the High Court and the Aboriginal Embassy in Australia


In postcolonial states reconciliation processes can be understood as attempts to redress historical injustices arising from misrecognition. Reconciliation begins, or rather an appreciation of the need for it arises, with the acknowledgement of the denigration of the identity of Indigenous peoples. It is only when past practices are negatively re-evaluated in light of contemporary norms – norms based upon and a new appreciation of the value of Indigenous culture – that postcolonial states are drawn towards making symbolic and material reparations for historical mistreatment. In this context, reparations serve the dual function of making amends for the past and restoring trust in the institutions of the state. By initiating a process of reconciliation, the postcolonial state undertakes to do whatever can still reasonably be done to restore dignity to the victims of injustice. At the same time, it seeks to restore legitimacy to its own institutions by disavowing the racial or ethnocentric assumptions that led to discrimination in the past. To the extent that these belated acts of recognition help to heal the past away, reconciliation provides a new beginning for the postcolonial state, the true measure of which is the degree of unity evident in the population.