La Bestia as Transpacific Phenomenon: Indigenous Peoples’ Camps, Violence, Biopolitics, and Agamben’s State of Exception

  • Victoria Grieves-WilliamsEmail author
Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)


This chapter establishes a transpacific epistemological connection through the exploration of often surprising parallels that exist between Indigenous peoples of Australia and those of Mexico and Central America. An insider, Indigenous knowledge’s framework for understanding and theorising the phenomenon, recognised and named by the people themselves as la Bestia, reveals the redundancy of modernist, neo-liberal interpretations of Indigenous disadvantage. Indigenous people in the settler colonial states of Mexico and Australia are caught by forces beyond their immediate control, overwhelming push factors, that see them abandon contexts within their ancestral country where they are no longer sustained physically and spiritually, to seek a life elsewhere. In both locations across the Pacific this process has seen the lives of many Indigenous people lived out precariously in “camps”; this phenomenon is a reflection of the nature of the modern democratic states that have developed on their lands. This is best described as living in a state of exception, following the theory of Giorgio Agamben.



I am indebted to several people in the development of this chapter, including the reviewers whose advice helped immensely. The collegial relationships I have enjoyed with scholars of the global South including Dr Vek Lewis who first introduced me to Mexico; Dr Fernanda Penaloza and Rachel Evans who assisted me to chart a course through valuable and complex comparative Indigenous research; Regrette Etcetera who has been a source of intellectual support and advice; Dr Genner LLanes Ortiz who introduced me to the depth of Indigenous cultures in Mexico in our wide-ranging conversations; Dr Sarah Walsh and Dr Fernanda Penaloza the editors of this volume whose encouragement has brought chapter to fruition. Lastly, I am grateful for the intellectual reach, activism and survival of all my relations.


  1. Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Agamben, Giorgio. 2008. Beyond Human Rights. Open, Vol. 15: Social Engineering 90–95.Google Scholar
  3. AHRC: The Australian Human Rights Commission. 1997. Bringing Them Home: The ‘Stolen Children’ Report. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  4. Amnesty International. 2010. Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico. Accessed February 12, 2014.
  5. Blake, Thom. 2001. A Dumping Ground: The History of Cherbourg Settlement 1900–1940. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bropho, Robert. 1980. Fringedweller. Chippendale, NSW: Alternative Publishing Co-operative and the Aboriginal Arts Board, Australia Council.Google Scholar
  7. Cathcart, Michael. 2004. Daisy Bates. Rewind, ABC TV. Accessed January 24, 2004.
  8. Connell, Raewyn. 2007. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Sciences. Chatswood, NSW: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  9. Davis Hurst, Patricia. 1996. Sunrise Station. Taree: Sunbird Publications.Google Scholar
  10. de Costa, Ravi. 2006. A Higher Authority: Indigenous Transnationalism and Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.Google Scholar
  11. Deleuze, Giles, and Felix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  12. Gilbert, Kevin. 1977. Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert. Sydney: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  13. Grieves, Victoria. 2003. Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History: A View from the Other Side. Labour History 85: 194–199.;dn=200312645;res=IELAPA. ISSN: 0023-6942. Accessed January 25, 2014.
  14. Grieves, Victoria. 2009. Aboriginal Spirituality: Aboriginal Philosophy, The Basis of Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing, Discussion Paper No. 9, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH), Darwin (2009), ISBN 978–0–7340–4102–9.
  15. Grieves, Victoria. 2017a. A New Sovereign Republic: Living History in the Present. Griffith Review 60: First things First. Accessed January 20, 2019.
  16. Grieves, Victoria. 2017b. The Seven Pillars of Aboriginal Exception to the Australian State: Camps, Refugees, Bio-Politics and the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). In “And There’ll be NO Dancing.” Perspectives on Policies Impacting Indigenous Australians Since 2007, ed. Elisabeth Baehr and Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Guerrero, Gilberto Lastras. 2013. Los migrantes desnudan el sistema neoliberal: Solalinde. Homozapping. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  18. Karvelas, Patricia. 2011. More Offensive Than ‘Sex with a Horse’: Larissa Behrendt’s Twitter Slur Against Bess Price. The Australian, National Affairs. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  19. Lewis, Vek. 2013. Thinking Figurations Otherwise: Reframing Dominant Knowledges on Sex/Gender Variance in Latin America. In Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Aren Aizura and Susan Stryker. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Long, Retta Dixon. 1937. In the Way of His Steps. Sydney: Aborigines Inland Mission.Google Scholar
  21. Mander, Jerry, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (eds.). 2006. Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Globalization. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.Google Scholar
  22. Maynard, John. 2007. Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  23. Mbembe, Achille. 2003. Necropolitics. Public Culture 15 (1): 11–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mignolo, Walter. 2012. The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World. An interview with Weihua We. Also published in Marxism and Reality 4, Beijing, July 2012, 110–120. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  25. Mignolo, Walter. 2014. Coloniality Is Far from Over, Its All Over. Vuvuzela. Accessed January 25, 2014.
  26. Miskin, Maayana. 2010. Yad Vashem to Honor Indigenous Australian Who Protested Nazis. Israel National News. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  27. Moh, Catherina. 2013. Deadly Mexico Train Derailment Blamed on Stolen Nails. BBC News Latin America and Caribbean, August 26, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2014.
  28. Namaste, Viviane. 2005. Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press.Google Scholar
  29. Nicolacopoulos, Toula, and George Vassilacopoulos. 2014. Indigenous Sovereignty and the Being of the Occupier: Manifesto for a Philosophy of Origins. Melbourne: e-Press.Google Scholar
  30. Penhaul, Karl. 2010. La odisea hacia el sueno americano en el ‘tren de la muerte’. CNN México. Accessed January 25, 2014.
  31. Ramírez, Rodolfo Casillas. 2007. Una vida discreta, fugaz y anónima: los centroamericanos transmigrantes en México. Mexico City: Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos.Google Scholar
  32. Regrette Etcetera. 2013. An Australian Freelance Artist, Performer and Intellectual Working Outside the Academy and Who Introduced Me to the Work of Georgio Agamben. Regrette’s Performance Work Is Known for Its Context/Politic-Specific, Textual, Transgressive Qualities.Google Scholar
  33. Saldivar, Emiko. 2014. ‘It’s Not Race, It’s Culture’: Untangling Racial Politics in Mexico. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 9 (1): 89–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sanson, Basil. 1980. The Camp at Wallaby Cross: Aboriginal Fringe-Dwellers in Darwin. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  35. SBS Insight. 2012. “Aboriginal or Not” Transcript. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  36. Shannon, Geordan Dickinson. 2016. Refugees in Their Own Land: How Indigenous People Are Still Homeless in Modern Australia. The Conversation. Accessed June 20, 2017.
  37. Tangentyere Council. 2008. Report. Experiences and Opinions of Alice Springs Town Camp Residents of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. Audrey McCormack, Vanessa Davis, Dianne Impu, Tiara Foster, Denise Foster and Gillian Shaw for Tangentyere Council. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  38. United Nations entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). 2013. Violence and Femicide in Mexico: Characteristics, Trends and New Expressions in the States of Mexico. 1985–2010. Teresa Incháustegui Romero; Ma. de la Paz López Barajas y Carlos Echarri C et al. for UN Women. Accessed July 2017.
  39. WGAR News. 2012. Aboriginal and Church Leaders Oppose the NT Intervention Extension Legislation. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  40. Wharton, Wayne. 2012. Highlights from Speech at the Inaugural Sovereignty and Land Rights Conference. Accessed January 20, 2014.
  41. Yescas, Carlos. 2010. Hidden in Plain Sight: Indigenous Migrants Their Movements and Their Challenges. Migrant Information Source. Accessed June 20, 2017.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneyCamperdownAustralia

Personalised recommendations