Friday, February 25, 2011

Rights of the Indigenous

There appears to be no one agreed-upon definition of an indigenous people. Typically, however, it can be said that indigenous peoples are individuals who have historically been associated with a specific area before the area was colonized or became a nation state, and may have languages, traditions, and cultural differences from that of the state. Indigenous people all around the world  have sought recognition of their identities, ways of life, and rights of use of their traditional lands in the past and present times.

Indigenous peoples face many challenges in the modern world. Very frequently their lands are overridden by more dominant colonizers. Rather than seeing the natives as cohorts, most colonists, during the era of European expansion and imperialism, saw native peoples as savages in need of control and domination. This led to the justification of expansion and even the acceptance of slavery.

In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This document emphasizes the right of indigenous peoples to maintain their institutions and to be protected against oppression, hatred, marginalization, and exploitation. Some powerful countries have been opposed to this document, stating that no country should accept the notion of creating "different classes of citizens". While this does sound like a statement that is difficult with which to disagree, does this not somewhat ignore historic reality? This is not to say that some indigenous peoples have no recognized rights anywhere, because this is simply untrue. Some areas of the world do give the rights of the larger society to those indigenous to the region, but these areas are in the minority.

My question is this/questions are these: Were different classes of citizens not created upon original colonization when indigenous peoples were treated as second-class citizens and cleared out of their homesteads?  Is the statement of those countries opposed to the document made in ignorance? It seems to me as though these countries see indigenous people as humanoids, rather than actual human beings. Is there any validity in the claims of the opposed countries?

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