By Atalanta Lloyd-Haynes

Practicing epistemic disobedience that follows the accepted form of the Academy is a tricky path. However, the process is going relatively smoothly – thanks to the patience and encouragement of Mark, Janine, and ‘Brunk’ Allen – who are my mentors and spiritual/emotional ballast, and Leticia – who is a wonderful supervisor in this undergraduate cultural studies research project. I received excellent feedback on the progress report and am feeling on track to produce a piece of work that will meet the requirements of the unit and (more important, well fundamental really) maintain the integrity of Indigenous Knowledge principles.

There is only so much I can put in a four thousand word essay so the focus is narrow, something that makes my pattern-mind feel a bit cramped. “Over-research” is an issue, simply because I can’t help myself and collect and try to read as much as I can. Most of these articles get stored for future adventures – I do have another independent project and an honours project (and hopefully more) up my sleeve as it were.

Colonial Scarification and Cultural Violence

Student: Atalanta Lloyd-Haynes (©2019 Atalanta Lloyd-Haynes), Supervisor: Dr Leticia Anderson, SOY10114-2019-3 Independent Project  Assessment 3: Project progress report


An inquiry into ‘colonial scarification and cultural violence’ seems appropriate at this time of crisis that has seen millions of hectares of Country burn, causing great loss of life and damage to communities.  Amidst the devastation of the current (2019/2020) fire season, humans are considering and reflecting on their ways of being in the world, at least that is how it seems when I scroll the virtual world of Facebook. This brief, independent research project aims to add to the current reflexive movement in Australian society by viewing contemporary landscapes as ‘colonial scarification’, and how this material evidence of colonial processes can make visible the inherent cultural violence of historical and ongoing ‘colonial systems of power’ (Grosfoguel, 2015). The project aims to set the foundation for further scholarship addressing questions of how Australian society may de-link from pervasive neo-colonial, aspirational rhetoric of resource and development sustainability, to enact more respectful ways of living together in Country. Project findings will be presented as a reflective scholarly essay and this document is a report of progress towards completing the final essay.

Research question and rationale

 As a Gomeroi woman living in a New South Wales coastal town, how and why is my relationship with Country fragmented, constrained or obliterated by Australian nation-state governance devices? Put another way, this project is an inquiry into the depth and persistence of cultural violence impacting Country and human relationships with Country (Alvarez, 2019; Galtung, 1990) perpetrated through Australian heritage and environmental legislation, policies and practices. The primary aim of the project is to uncover and critically analyse problematic characteristics of nation-state land and heritage management policy that continue to suppress, hide, erase and re-frame local stories of place (Bhambra, 2014; Kabaila, 2005; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2008) in service of the desires of ‘global coloniality’ (Grosfoguel, 2015). Through critically engaging with colonial wounding and resultant scarification of Country through the plural perspectives of Indigenous Knowledge, border-thinking and de-colonial theoretical frameworks, I hope to present a convincing argument for the necessity of pursuing de-colonial options in the Australian context.

The concept of ‘colonial scarification’ developed from a photo-essay, Scars of colony in the place where the rivers meet the sea (Lloyd-Haynes, 2016, unpublished) and engagement with Caring for Country (Southern Cross University unit, session 3, 2018). Feedback from Borderlands: Identity, culture and belonging (Southern Cross University unit, session 2, 2019) presentation assessment task two and discussions with my Elders, teachers and peers, clarified the need for expanding critical understandings of this concept. Interrogating the culturally violent philosophical roots of global coloniality as it manifests as scarification of Country and humanity (Grosfoguel, 2015; Watson, 2014) is an ambitious goal for a brief undergraduate project. However, by exploring how my personal history (subjectivities and positioning) feeds into a communal cultural history (Cotter, Boyd & Gardiner, 2001, p.1), this inquiry sets a solid foundation for future honours and post-graduate scholarship. This in turn may assist emerging de-colonial projects in making settlement with these scars, thereby precipitating healing for Country and all inhabitants of Country (Watson, 2014; Yunkaporta, 2019).

Methodology and theoretical frameworks

Working from an Indigenous Knowledge paradigm grounded in relationality (Graham, 1999 & 2014; Kwaymullina, 2005; Sheehan, Dunleavy, Cohen & Mitchell, 2010), I am situated firstly as a Gomeroi Woman in Gumbaynggirr Country. Secondly, I am positioned as a middle-aged, female, undergraduate scholar in an Australian university, subject to institutional academic norms that are often contrary to the relational principles of Indigenous Knowledge. This ambiguous positioning requires engagement in border-thinking and application of a multi-logical perspective to make legible to the Academy my understandings of the multi-dimensional cultural violence and eliminatory logic of coloniality embedded in historical and contemporary nation-state policy and practice (Grosfoguel, 2015; Mignolo, 2009 & 2011; Wolfe, 2016).

Arguably, Australian ‘scientific (and social) designs’ are culturally violent in that they are responding primarily to the visions and desires of global capitalism to maintain control over territorial and human resources (Mignolo, 2009, p.9; Sheehan et al., 2010).  De-colonial theory supports unpacking the onto-epistemological assumptions that are foundational to current geo-political and bio-political tools of global coloniality (Grosfoguel, 2015; Mignolo, 2009 & 2011). Expanding the ‘loci of enunciation’ or sources of knowledge (Mignolo, 2009, p.2) is necessary, given the privileged position exerted by dominant epistemes and academic disciplinary rules controlling knowledge production and evaluation, obscuring dominant societal subjectivities by framing these biases and cultural beliefs as ‘detached, neutral and objective’ (Grosfoguel, 2015, p.4; Mignolo, 2009, p.4, Watson, 2014, p.513-514). Disrupting the myth-making inherent in colonial histories and critical engagement with ‘dangerous’ memories opens a path for ‘pluriversal’ identities and interactions (Grosfoguel, p.4; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2008, p.146) that may offer more beneficial ways of living together in Country. Therefore, I have sought out scholarship that represents a diversity perspectives and colonial wounds or experiences of coloniality (Mignolo, 2009).

As an undergraduate student, there are institutional restraints on human subject research and the time-frame for the project is short. Auto-ethnographic and Indigenous critical historiographic approaches (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2008) have been chosen to meet the ethical requirements of cultural studies scholarship to examine how human relationships with Country are constrained and fragmented by the assumed sovereignty of the nation-state. This approach also offers a foundation for considering the potential of Indigenous Knowledge systems to transform how we can respectfully communicate and collaborate across difference and take a ‘decolonial option’ (Mignolo, 2009), congruent with the principles of Indigenous Knowledge scholarship.

The Indigenous knowledge frameworks and principles (Gnibi Elders Principles, 2017; Watson, 2014; Yunkaporta, 2019) grounding this engagement with de-colonial theory and inter-disciplinary scholarship promote the production of a respectful, rigorous and credible reflective essay. Therefore, even within the constraints of an independent project, discussing ideas and theoretical frameworks with Elders, teachers and peers is legitimate and necessary to maintain the integrity of relational Indigenous Knowledge generation processes. Concepts or ideas in the final essay originating from these conversations will be acknowledged as personal communications to ensure there are no breaches of university prescribed ethical norms.

Research process and progress

My approach to the project is an inductive process of interpretive meaning-making to make sense of observed patterns (Kovach, 2009, p.131), comparing my lived experience in Country with NSW government resource management legislation, regulations and associated cadastral mapping from the early 1800s to the present. The primary site of inquiry is the township of Urunga where I live, and more specifically, the colonially-constructed training-wall that fixes the river-mouth of the Bellinger and Kalang rivers in place and forms the entry point of colonial expansion into what is now known as Bellingen Shire.

The bulk of primary research has been completed. Field trips to several sites within Urunga and further afield have been undertaken and documented with photographs and post-field-trip reflections. Systematic searches of National Library of Australia catalogue and local, state and federal government websites were conducted. These searches have resulted in the collection of a large number of published historical survey and cadastral maps, local government planning documents and local histories. To illuminate the layering of history, erasures, overwriting and (de-contextualised) retentions encountered when moving through Country (Kabaila, 2005; Moylan, 2019), this data has been filtered to focus on historical cadastral maps, environment and heritage policies listings and surveys specific to Urunga.

Comparison of field observations, historical mapping and local environmental planning documents reveals layers of colonial scarification over time, many rendered almost invisible by re-development and revegetation of Country, pointing to deep relationships between visibility-invisibility and power, impacting on social relationships, memory and identity (Ireland, 2015, p.4-7).  These critical reflections require expanding. supported by scholarly literature drawn from a range of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, history, law and interdisciplinary works.

As flagged in the learning contract, over-research has been an issue as further scholarly sources have emerged that are appropriate for engagement with the de-colonial aims of the research topic. To manage this issue whilst maximising diversity and pertinence to the topic, I have filtered literature by interrogating the social, political and cultural situatedness of the authors of scholarly sources, a key principle of ethical and rigorous Indigenist research practice (Kwaymullina, Kwaymullina & Butterly, 2013; Dr Mark Lock, pers. comm. 7 January 2020). I am now tasked with integrating my field-work reflections and literature review with a myriad of intersecting government policies and practices, to clearly illustrate how colonial scarification is premised by culturally violent ontologies and epistemologies inimical to life and consider more beneficial pathways.


This document is a report of my work-in-progress. The physical and metaphorical scars of ‘global coloniality’ are omnipresent, appearing so mundane and crucial to our current ways of living in a globalised capitalist society that they are easy to justify and ignore. Indigenous Knowledge generation-transmission and decision-making processes are communal and collective, valuing all perspectives and knowledges, however partial and seemingly disparate (Graham, 2014; Sheehan et al, 2010; Yunkaporta, 2019). This paradigm recognises that resolutions and actions require everyone coming together in a space of epistemic equality, where we all listen to Country and each other. The final essay produced for this project is a small offering towards developing shared meanings and understandings to assist in de-linking from western socio-political constructs (Graham, 1999, 2009 & 2014; Watson 2007, p.15; Yunkaporta, 2019).


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Citation: Lloyd-Haynes, A. (2019). Colonial Scarification and Cultural Violence: Project Progress Report, Cultural Studies Major, Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge Studies at the Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples. Committix Pty Ltd, Newcastle. ©2020 Atalanta Lloyd-Haynes. Published 18 January 2020. Available at:

Atalanta is an intern of the Keewong Research Intern Programme

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