The Metaphysics of Indigenous Ownership: Why Indigenous Ownership is Incomparable to Western Conceptions of Property Value

  • Garrick Small
  • John Sheehan
Part of the Research Issues in Real Estate book series (RIRE, volume 10)


The notion of property is fundamentally different between modern culture and indigenous people. In practice, modernity posits property as a set of material rights that are notionally comparable to other material values. Indigenous people perceive property only partially in these terms and place greater emphasis on origins and obligations of property within an understanding of community that is alien to modern culture.

If property is recognized to consist of both material and non-material values, then it cannot be adequately valued in commercial terms alone. The Australian experience in assessing compensation for the extinguishment of indigenous ownership has been less than satisfactory with few resolutions and many of those negotiated in secret. Conclusions from this experience provide insights into the nature of the dilemma posed by attempting to render indigenous interests in land into modern commercial terms.

The recognition of the metaphysical foundation of the respective systems of property goes some distance toward understanding the difficulties involved in the valuation of indigenous interests. The solution probably lies outside the attempt to transfer ownership when the real need is merely use.


Indigenous People Indigenous Culture Fair Market Native Title Metaphysical Foundation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TechnologySydney, Broadway, NSWAustralia

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