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Aboriginal title

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Protests of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, extinguishing aboriginal title to the foreshore and seabeds

Aboriginal title is a common law doctrine that the land rights of indigenous peoples to customary tenure persist after the assumption of sovereignty under settler colonialism. The requirements of proof for the recognition of aboriginal title, the content of aboriginal title, the methods of extinguishing aboriginal title, and the availability of compensation in the case of extinguishment vary significantly by jurisdiction. Nearly all jurisdictions are in agreement that aboriginal title is inalienable, except to The Crown, and that it may be held either individually or collectively.

Aboriginal title was first acknowledged in the early 19th century, in decisions in which indigenous peoples were not a party. Significant aboriginal title litigation resulting in victories for indigenous peoples did not arise until recent decades. The majority of court cases have been litigated in Australia, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United States. Aboriginal title is an important area of comparative law, with many cases being cited as persuasive authority across jurisdictions. Many commentators believe that the doctrine is applicable in all common law legal systems.

Aboriginal title is also referred to as indigenous title, native title (particularly in Australia), original Indian title (particularly in the United States), and customary title (particularly in New Zealand). Aboriginal title jurisprudence is related to indigenous rights, influencing and influenced by non-land issues, such as whether the government owes a fiduciary duty to indigenous peoples. While the judge-made doctrine arises from the law of nations, it has been codified nationally by legislation, treaties, and constitutions.


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