Monday, May 9, 2011


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Written by: Marcia Mikulak - Associate Professor, UND 11-5-2010 ©

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the only human rights document drafted with the participation of the peoples it seeks to serve; Indigenous peoples of the world. The document specifically outlines the self-identified needs Indigenous peoples deem fundamental: “ our right of self-determination, our right to own and control our lands, territories and resources, our right to free, prior and informed consent, among others” and is a response to”... the cries and complaints brought by indigenous peoples before the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP)” A majority of 144 member states voted in favor of indigenous human rights, while 4 member states voted against them (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States). Eleven member states abstained (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Samoa, and Ukraine).

(Watch UN video on the WGIP - cut and paste this link into your browser -

Since its adoption, Australia and New Zealand have reversed their positions and now endorse the Declaration. Colombia and Samoa have also reversed their positions and indicated their support for the Declaration. In March 2010, the Government of Canada announced it would take steps to endorse the UN Declaration. In April 2010, the United States has indicated that it will review its position regarding the declaration.

President of the UN General Assembly Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa stated in 2007:

"“even with this progress, indigenous peoples still face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations. They are often dragged into conflicts and land disputes that threaten their way of life and very survival; and, suffer from a lack of access to health care and education.”
Indigenous people are defined as:

…those which having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.
Indigenous Peoples worldwide number between:
• 300-500 million
• Embody and nurture 80% of the world’s cultural and biological diversity, and
• Occupy 20% of the world’s land surface.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world are very diverse:

• They live in nearly all the countries on all the continents of the world
• Form a spectrum of humanity, ranging from traditional hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers to legal scholars
• In some countries, Indigenous Peoples form the majority of the population; others comprise small minorities.
• Indigenous Peoples are concerned with preserving land, protecting language, and promoting culture, and ensuring their place in the world as viable, active, social actors involved in the decisions affecting all peoples in this globalized world.
• Some Indigenous Peoples strive to preserve traditional ways of life, while others seek greater participation in the current state structures.
• Like all cultures and civilizations, Indigenous Peoples are always adjusting and adapting to changes in the world.
• Indigenous Peoples recognize their common plight and work for their self-determination (The right to the formation of a cohesive national group (“peoples”) living in a territory, and to choose for themselves a form of political and legal organization for that territory), based on their respect for the earth.
• Despite such extensive diversity in Indigenous communities throughout the world all Indigenous Peoples have one thing in common:
• They all share a history of injustice. Indigenous Peoples have been killed, tortured and enslaved.
• In many cases, they have been the victims of genocide.
• They have been denied the right to participate in governing processes of the current state systems.
• Conquest and colonization have attempted to steal their dignity and identity as indigenous peoples, as well as the fundamental right of self-determination (The right of a cohesive national group (“peoples”) living in a territory to choose for themselves a form of political and legal organization for that territory.)

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