Thank you to Rev Dr Wayne Sanderson for drawing our attention to the following:
This is an edited version of Rowan Williams’s (former Archbishop of Canterbury) contribution to the collection Statements from the Soul: The Moral Case for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, edited by Shireen Morris and Damien Freeman, and published by La Trobe University Press.
The issues discussed in Statements from the Soul are not just about political rights. Properly understood, they are about some fundamental principles to do with how human beings think about and feel about their environment. Colonialism takes it for granted that land and all that goes with it — wildlife, natural resources — is a bundle of objects that can be owned. If no one is claiming to own it, or if someone else judges that a current owner is managing it inadequately, it can legitimately be appropriated.
Hence the terra nullius argument was regularly deployed in the early days of imperial expansion and was heard well into the twentieth century: there may be inhabitants around, but they obviously have no interest in the land as an asset and so cannot be said to count as proprietors. And once again, in the early days of modern colonialism, you can find a significant moral philosopher like John Locke arguing for appropriation on the grounds that, even if there are long-established populations in evidence, these existing inhabitants are not competent to be stewards of their own environment.
For the rest of this article go to: Religion and Ethics