In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indigenous Criminology

  • Introduction
  • Colonialism and Historical Context
  • Indigenous-Informed Theoretical and Conceptual Perspectives on Crime and Social Harm
  • Indigenous Critique of Criminology and Crime Control
  • Indigenous Approaches to Social Harm
  • Indigenous Peoples and State Crimes
  • Indigenous Experiences of Policing
  • Indigenous Peoples, Penalty, and Punishment
  • Indigenous Women and Crime Control

Criminology Indigenous Criminology
Juan Tauri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0317


After centuries of colonization and ongoing subjugation by governments of all political persuasions, the contemporary situation of Indigenous peoples in settler-colonial jurisdictions is highlighted by profound social, political, and economic hardship and marginalization. One area of social policy and practice where this subjugation is most profound is the relationship between Indigenous communities and the criminal justice system. Since the early 1990s Indigenous scholars and our critical non-Indigenous allies have exposed the ongoing marginalization of Indigenous peoples by both the agents and the agencies of crime control as well as, at times, criminologists who routinely support their activities. Over this period a significant and distinct Indigenous-centered critical scholarship has developed, producing a lexicon that challenges conventional analysis and representations of Indigenous life-worlds. It is also a body of work that privileges Indigenous epistemologies and experiences of crime, social harm, and (neo)colonial governance. The lexicon has grown to such an extent that it is now possible to speak of a distinctly Indigenous criminology, an approach to social harm that touches on a wide range of topics that exposes the depth and character of Indigenous people’s engagement with settler-colonial criminal justice. Thus far, scholars whose work falls into the broad category of Indigenous criminology have provided us with critical insight into a range of empirical issues related to Indigenous peoples experience of colonial crime control, including policing of our communities; the impact of penal policies, most especially the use of prison; and our experiences of state crime, especially genocide. A body of material is growing highlighting Indigenous peoples historical and contemporary responses to crime and social harm and critiquing academic criminology and its support for the (neo)colonial state. The bibliographic material that follows has been selected to offer a gateway into the developing field of Indigenous criminology, one that is both academic and, by necessity, political.

Colonialism and Historical Context

A significant focus of much of Indigenous criminological material highlights the impact of colonial crime control on Indigenous peoples during the colonial era, as in Bull 2004, Finnane and McGuire 2001, and Ward 1995, and/or the centrality of colonialism to understanding Indigenous peoples’ contemporary relationship with criminal justice, as seen in Behrendt 2003, Cunneen and Porter 2016, Ford 2010, and Pommerscheim 1995. Green 1998 and Vieille 2012 provide overviews of the historical practice of justice by Indigenous peoples, and Williams 2001 provides an overview of the historical development of crime control policies and interventions and their impact on Indigenous peoples.

  • Behrendt, Larissa. 2003. Achieving social justice: Indigenous rights and Australia’s future. Annandale, Australia: Federation Press.

    With a focus on centering the colonial project as an explanatory tool, Behrendt seeks to inject critical Aboriginal perspectives into debates in Australia regarding the inequities of the justice systems and legal processes in this jurisdiction.

  • Bull, Simone. 2004. “The land of murder, cannibalism, and all kinds of atrocious crimes?” Māori and crime in New Zealand, 1853–1919. British Journal of Criminology 44.4: 496–519.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azh029

    Bull offers a nuanced longitudinal profile of Maori offending from 1853 to 1919 and a detailed analysis of the use by the state of crime control policies as a key project in the criminalization and social control of Maori during the colonial era.

  • Cunneen, Chris, and Amanda Porter. 2016. Indigenous peoples and criminal justice in Australia. In The Palgrave handbook of Australian and New Zealand criminology, crime and justice. Edited by Antje Deckert and Rick Sarre, 667–682. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    The authors contextualize crime and criminal justice within Australian colonial history. In this work, they cover key crime control processes that have disproportionately affected Indigenous peoples, such as over-policing, lack of access to justice in the neoliberal context, incarceration, and deaths in custody, which are mapped and analyzed.

  • Finnane, Mark, and John McGuire. 2001. The use of punishment and exile: Aborigines in colonial Australia. Punishment and Society 3.2: 279–298.

    DOI: 10.1177/14624740122228339

    Finnane and McGuire’s article details the ways in which regimes of punishment played a significant role in the dispossession and subjugation of Aboriginal peoples during the colonial era.

  • Ford, Lisa. 2010. Settler sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous people in America and Australia, 1788–1836. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv1smjszh

    Ford’s book offers a detailed historical analysis of the development of colonial legal systems in Australia and the United States, employing case studies to demonstrate the impact this activity had on Indigenous peoples.

  • Green, Ross. 1998. Justice in Aboriginal communities: Sentencing alternatives. Saskatoon, SK: Purich.

    Green maps the historical evolution of the Canadian criminal justice system and the values upon which it is based. He then contrasts those values with Aboriginal concepts and practices of justice and responses to social harm.

  • Pommerscheim, Frank. 1995. Braid of feathers: American Indian law and contemporary tribal life. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Taking as its starting point the cultural, spiritual, and physical nature of the reservation, Braid of Feathers traces the development of Indian law (in the American context) from the 1770s to the present. Pommersheim considers the meaning of justice from the Indigenous point of view and offers a detailed analysis of the tribal courts, stressing the importance of language, narrative, and story.

  • Vieille, Stephanie. 2012. Maori customary law: A relational approach to justice. International Indigenous Policy Journal 3.1: 1–18.

    DOI: 10.18584/iipj.2012.3.1.4

    This paper examines the philosophy of justice embodied in Maori traditional mechanisms and approaches to social justice. The author contends that the Maori approach adopts a holistic and relational lens, which requires that justice be seen in the context of relationships and crimes dealt with in terms of the relationships they have affected.

  • Ward, Alan. 1995. A show of justice: Racial amalgamation in 19th century New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland Univ. Press.

    First published in 1974, A Show of Justice remains the essential and definitive text on official justice legislation and policies toward the Māori people in the 19th century to reveal colonial governance.

  • Williams, Charlotte. 2001. The too hard basket: Māori and the criminal justice system since 1980. Wellington, New Zealand: Institute of Policy Studies.

    This book examines the history of Maori and criminal justice interactions since 1980 from the perspective of government policy and management.

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