Summary and Keywords
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates that there are over 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Dialogue and political negotiations with indigenous peoples has a long history that began at least a half a millennium ago when the notion of an inter-national” community and the concept of the nation-state became dominant. Since that time, the concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, rule of law, and human rights have led to the establishment of the frameworks and structures of organization that are now referred to collectively as modern international law. But unlike most modern international human rights law, which emphasizes rights of the individual, indigenous peoples generally think in terms of collective rather than individual rights. Because indigenous peoples’ “law” suggests the importance of collective rights, it renders a culture of responsibility and accountability to the collective. At present, international indigenous rights are a type of superficial bandage, giving the appearance of propriety to the crisis faced by the hegemonic “international system of states.” Therefore, indigenous rights standards propagated by organizations such as the UN currently are largely symbolic. However, they could potentially lead to real change if they are coupled with widespread acknowledgment of the fact that diverse societies exist throughout the world with different forms of social organization and diverse conceptions of law.
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