Indigenous Rights: A Forum Ten Years After the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Friday, October 13, 2017

Program in Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS)

The University of Texas at Austin

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: 2007-2017

On September 13, 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It did so after over two decades of negotiation between representatives of Indigenous Peoples and state governments. It was approved with 143 votes in favor, 11 abstentions, and four votes against. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States were responsible for the negative votes, although governments of each country have since voiced support for the Declaration. 

The 46 articles of the UNDRIP recognize a wide range of rights of Indigenous Peoples. In matters of governance, the Declaration recognizes the right to self-determination; the right to autonomy or self-government; the right of Indigenous Peoples to their lands, territories and resources; and the maintenance of political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions that form parts of Indigenous life.

 Of great importance, the UNDRIP calls upon states to obtain through consultation and cooperation the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples for activities of any kind that have an impact on their lands, territories, or other resources. This requirement strengthens the principle of consultation, which had been included in another highly influential 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) of the International Labour Organization.

The Declaration also affirms rights that are critical to the cultural permanence of Indigenous forms of life and knowledge: the practice of spiritual traditions and the revitalization and transmission of languages, cultural traditions, health practices, and knowledge systems. It also recognizes the rights of native communities to their own media and to have access to media in general.

Indigenous Rights: Ten Years Later

The UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration in 2007 was the culmination of decades of work among Indigenous Peoples. It also represented a number of compromises with states. Many Indigenous Peoples, even while celebrating the adoption of the Declaration, see it as yet another step and tool in the historical endeavor to dismantle the legacies of discriminatory, racist, and colonial regimes and practices.

As a decade has passed since the signing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is time to reflect on its historical significance for Indigenous Peoples.

 Some of the key questions we wish to consider are the following: To what extent has the Declaration been a useful tool for improving Indigenous life, particularly in strengthening the principles and practices of “self-determination”?  How does the deployment of new forms of colonial violence undermine the advancement of Indigenous rights? What are the critical limits of the very notion of “Indigenous rights” in the face of new forms of assimilation, such as neoliberal multicultural recognition regimes as embraced by both nation-states and extractivist corporations? How have Indigenous communities used the discourse of Indigenous rights in actual local contexts? What kinds of new conversations have emerged among native communities and leaders in the past ten years? What might be beyond the horizon of “rights” for Native American and Indigenous Peoples?