First Nations interpreters cannot be neutral and should not be invisible


  • Dima Rusho Monash University


First Nations languages, legal interpreting, impartiality, neutrality, visibility.


In this article I explore the challenges faced by First Nations language interpreters working in Australia’s justice system in relation to the explicit requirement of impartiality/neutrality and the implicit expectation of invisibility in their day-to-day work. I interrogate the notion of (in)visibility and explore its potential to contribute to the marginalisation of First Nations interpreters in legal settings and beyond. In particular, I focus on the relationship between impartiality/ neutrality and the visibility of First Nations interpreters. I argue that while impartiality is a stance that can be consciously adopted by professional interpreters, complete neutrality is an impossible and unfair requirement given how neutrality can be impacted by kinship relations, historical racial politics, community expectations, and the power differentials inherent to the justice system. The data analysed are drawn from fieldwork conducted between 2018 and 2019 in the Katherine region of Australia’s Northern Territory. The data include field notes, court observations, as well as interviews with First Nations language interpreters, legal professionals, and judicial officers.