Urban indigenous invisibility in the neoliberal age

A/Prof. Deirdre Howard-wagner


In the era of neoliberal urbanism, many longstanding indigenous organisations in the cities of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America face new challenges. There are those whose prime locality in the city has come under threat because it has become a ‘problem’ zone within the city, such as the Vancouver Friendship Centre, which is located on East Hastings Street ‘in the heart of Vancouver’s inner-city neighbourhood’. Others have been pushed out of prime city localities by encroaching gentrification, such as the American Indian Centre in Chicago, which operated out of the former Masonic temple near Ashland and Wilson avenues for 50 years. The highly successful Awabakal Aboriginal Co-operative (Awabakal Co-op) in the Australian south-eastern coastal city of Newcastle is an exception. It has managed to maintain its place in a central locality on the thoroughfare of the inner-city harbourfront suburb of Wickham in the reclaimed industrial dockland area. It has occupied this locality for over thirty years. The city has renewed and gentrified around it.

The paper explores how city spaces of the 21st Century operate as sites of ongoing social struggle, returning to invisibility in the present moment. Invisibility concerns how today the success of urban indigenous development is hidden in plain sight, but it also involves a form of reclaiming of Aboriginal culture and a re-territorialisation of land within the city, which challenge ‘“hegemonic constructions of place and identity” that restrict Aboriginal peoples to land outside of urban spaces’ (Howard and Proulx 2011: 5). It makes visible the localised, situated struggle that involves indigenous peoples’ active engagement in exercising their right to the city through the reconstruction and decolonisation of urban spaces and a redefining of the relationships that structures the politics of urban self-determination in Newcastle. The paper discusses the such issues in a critical way by drawing on the various conceptual tools such as thinking around settler colonialism in cities, public spaces and prefigurative urban arrangements, commodified Indigenous knowledges and histories in the context of neoliberal cities and race, racialisation and whiteness in cities.


Associate Professor Deirdre Howard-Wagner

Senior Fellow

Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University


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