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date: 22 February 2018

Global Indigenous Rights and Responses

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.

Keywords: indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, human rights, international relations, collective rights


This essay provides an overview of research and related literature regarding global indigenous rights. The primary sources of information about global indigenous rights are studies in international law, United Nations (UN) documents, and the sociohistory of global indigenous rights, which provides the social structural conduciveness for discussions and analyses of rights in general (Pritchard 1998; Wiessner 1999; Grewe 2000; Thornberry 2002; Koskenniemi 2002; Shaw 2003; Anaya 2004; Nielsen 2007; Nickel 2007; Perkins 2007; Koenig 2008; Aaronson and Zimmerman 2007). First, we examine central parts of the history that led to issues of and controversies over indigenous rights, and consider the role of the UN and international law from that history (Bodley 1988; Niezen 2003; García-Alix et al. 2003; Corntassel 2003; Anghie 2005; Manus 2005; Martinez-Novo 2005; Cirkovic 2007). Second, we turn to a world system approach to understand some of the key changes in the global indigenous rights movement, largely relying on the work of Andre Gunder Frank (1969; 1998; Chew and Denemark 1996; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997). Third, we explore crucial responses to indigenous rights from a global perspective on neoliberalism (Werlhof 1997; 2005; Sassen 1998; Mies and Werlhof 2003; Mies 2005), suggesting that the use of world systems and global approaches sheds new light on the seemingly contradictory responses to such rights. Fourth, we conclude with a brief summary and suggested avenues for future research.

According to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, it is estimated that there are more than 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 (Lauderdale 1988; Wilmer 1993). Spread across the world from the Arctic to the South Pacific, they are the descendants – according to a common definition – of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means. Among the indigenous peoples are those of the Americas (for example, the Lakota in the US, the Mayas in Guatemala or the Aymaras in Bolivia), the Inuit and Aleutians of the circumpolar region, the Saami of northern Europe, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia, and the Maori of New Zealand. These and most other indigenous peoples have retained distinct characteristics that are clearly different from those of other segments of the national populations.

Given the diversity of indigenous peoples, an official definition of “indigenous” has not been adopted by any UN-system body. Instead the system has developed a modern understanding of this term based on self-identification as a member of an indigenous people at the individual level and acceptance by the community as their member, historical continuity with precolonial and/or presettler societies, strong links to territories and surrounding natural resources, distinct social, economic or political systems, distinct language, culture and beliefs that form nondominant groups of society and a resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities (see Niezen 2003). According to the UN the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents (also see Meijknecht 2001).

Research on global indigenous rights notes the significant differences between traditional indigenous peoples and modernity, or for the present, peoples who view themselves as modern peoples. Therefore, before we examine the history that led to the existing issues and controversies regarding global indigenous rights, we must first acknowledge those differences (also see Thornberry 2002; Brown 2003; Martinez-Novo 2005; Hall and Nagel 2006; Cirkovic 2007). Indigenous peoples generally think in terms of collective rather than individual rights. This paradigm conflicts with most modern international human rights law, which emphasizes rights of the individual. Because indigenous peoples’ “law” suggests the importance of collective rights, it renders a culture of responsibility and accountability to the collective. Many indigenous law-ways embody ideas and methods of practicing social diversity and responsibility (Snipp 1989). Social responsibility, rather than the modern imposed notion of individual rights by the state, serves as the cornerstone of traditional indigenous law. This stands in stark contrast to contemporary law, which typically focuses on achieving order through hierarchical structures, privilege and conformity (Lauderdale 1997).

Many of the ostensible conflicts between indigenous peoples and modern peoples are more correctly seen as conflicts between indigenous peoples and the creation and expansion of nation-states, or between such peoples defined as non-state actors and state actors (also see Koskenniemi 2002). Hall and Fenelon (2004) note that problems between states and indigenous peoples are as old as the creation of nation-states throughout the world.

Sociohistory of Global Indigenous Rights: An Overview of International Law

In 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution for a Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. The goal of the Second Decade, which began in 2005, is to strengthen international cooperation in order to combat current issues faced by indigenous peoples. This was also the goal of the First Decade, which began in December 1994. Thus, since 1994, the UN has been spearheading international efforts to address indigenous issues. The year 1994 does not, however, mark the intersection of indigenous peoples and international law. As explained in detail below, there is a long history of dialogue and political negotiations with indigenous peoples 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 point, 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 we now refer to collectively as modern international law.

This history begins with the League of Nations. It is important to place the League of Nations into context when discussing indigenous rights because the League represents the interests of colonial powers in controlling indigenous populations and solidifying this control with international legal doctrine and decrees. The League of Nations also constituted an international neocolonial enterprise under the rubric of a global legal order.

The League of Nations was founded in 1919 by colonial powers to establish an international community (Grewe 2000). Due to the absence of the Soviet Union and the United States, the League remained a European organization throughout its life (Shaw 2003). While the League intended to promote international cooperation between nations, it also represented a worldwide attempt to assimilate, indoctrinate, dominate, or colonize populations throughout the world into Western ideology. This part is evident in the League’s intentions to “develop” the less “civilized” populations of the world (Koskenniemi 2002; Anghie 2005).

Article 22 in the Covenant of the League of Nations (1919) concerns the territories of the states that were defeated in World War I. The Article notes that the League’s members not only had the authority to prepare “natives” in these territories for national self-governance, but that the members had a responsibility to undertake this “civilizing mission.” The ostensible goal of the Mandate system under the League was to protect “natives” and promote their development in preparation for self-governance. In reality, the Mandate system represented attempts to construct nations and define sovereignty within the specifications of its members (Anghie 2005). Accordingly, recognition of sovereignty of the peoples in these territories, and determination of their “stage of development,” were shaped by political, social, and economic relations between these populations and their colonizing entities.

The League of Nations under the Mandate system makes it clear that neocolonial management and control of native populations was at the core of its formulation. The League represented an attempt at establishing a hierarchy of societies, where “advanced nations” were given full legal representation, recognition, and power in the structure of the League, and the other “barbarous,” “semi-barbarous,” and “savage” communities were not offered any recognition of their independence in international law (Grewe 2000).

The shift in discourse from the promotion of self-government to a human rights narrative signifies one of the differences between the League of Nations (1919) and the UN (1945) and a change in the international system. However, international law’s identity of being rooted in colonial origins (Anghie 2005), with authorship by Western nations, and its attempt at establishing a global order via a system of Western-conceived nation-states, has not disappeared from the foundations of the UN. The groundwork achieved by the League would be consolidated to formulate the UN (Shaw 2003).

The UN organization was established in 1945 to safeguard the peace of the international community and promote equality of all peoples. The UN Charter referred to the modern state as the main organizing entity and emphasized its new role as a provider of benefits, such as welfare and individual rights to the masses. Making the nation-state the universal actor in all global affairs excluded other societies (tribes, communities), frameworks (outside of the nation-state model), and groups of individuals not complying with the dictates of Western-conceived “international law.” The modern state is characterized by its increased connectivity with the global economy (Grewe 2000), due in part to technological advancements in transportation and communication, which furthered international trade and advanced economic relations, facilitating the supranational union. This new relationship between states and the global economy constituted the foundations of a new worldwide legal community. The underlying principles of this newly formed system enshrined domination for powerful nations at the time, by solidifying their reign as imperial guardians determining the legitimacy of social organizing entities and their members. They provided a juridical structure for powerful nations to have political and economic control over global affairs.

Human Rights and Indigenous Rights in the International Legal Order

The rise of indigenous rights is situated within the framework of international human rights law. Human rights law emerged from the need expressed in the 1945 UN Charter and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect and secure the fundamental freedoms and rights of all humans. These rights were framed within an individualist perspective that did not acknowledge the rights of collectives such as indigenous peoples, or their right to collective or self-determination (see the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). The concept of “self-determination of peoples” was only legitimated by the international community within an institutional formula of a nation-state. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the concept of “self-determination of peoples” is excluded, whereas in the UN Charter it is mentioned twice, but only in the context of nation-states. To wit, peoples who are organized pursuant to the nation-state structure are perceived by the new international community as being entitled to self-determination, while peoples who are organized outside of the nation-state framework are not. At the creation of the UN, its member states still colonially and imperially controlled land, resources, and populations all over the world. Human rights developments presented a challenge by such powers to remain in possession and control populations wanting to secede. For this reason, the beginning stages of the UN and the human rights initiative carefully proceeded down a path that would secure Western domination by promoting universal norms and values that are basically Western conceptions of individual rights in an international legal order, and by restricting membership in the UN organization to communities that adhered to Western-conceived notions of social organizing practices, in other words, the modern nation-state model. Because human rights at this time was limited to the arena of an international legal order of nations, any struggles against egregious crimes experienced by indigenous populations would only be recognized within the framework of Western nation-state institutions.

The recognition of indigenous peoples as distinctive communities with specific struggles in the international legal order first came with the 1957 International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 107 on Living and Working Conditions of Indigenous Populations (Rodriguez-Pinero 2006). The Convention promoted the absorption of indigenous populations into the shared “progress” of the national community of which they are a part and proclaimed that improvement of living and working conditions of indigenous peoples was within the interests of nations.

Convention 107 represented efforts at the assimilation of indigenous peoples. The assimilation was aimed at developing national economies by means of labor opportunities presented by the indigenous populations. Because of ongoing resistance efforts by indigenous populations during this time, Convention 107 sought to integrate indigenous populations into the global economy (Rodriguez-Pinero 2006) by disguising the international juridical instrument as a promulgation of indigenous rights. In reality, more attempts to curb resistance by indigenous populations would be cloaked under such international instruments aimed at assimilating indigenous peoples into the global colonial structures of law and economy. Despite related efforts, Convention 107 at the time was “rejected by Indigenous peoples around the world who called for the adoption of new standards that would recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to exist as separate, distinct peoples” (Gregory 2004).

The next several milestones in the development of indigenous rights include the 1962 Resolution on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources that promoted the sovereignty of states over natural resources. It recognized tribal sovereignty but undercut it in favor of national sovereignty over indigenous lands and natural resources. The mid-1960s brought new Conventions concerned with monitoring procedures of human rights. The 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination condemned all forms of racial discrimination and defined the right to own property both individually and collectively. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966 addressed the right of all peoples to self-determination, and promoted the rights of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights promoted the rights of a people to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development and recognized the unique association of indigenous people with the environment. Even though the Convention’s efforts intended to establish procedures associated with human rights norms, they focused on states’ integration of indigenous peoples into the dominant culture.

From a broad perspective, during this period of time the international legal community faced ever growing pressures to accommodate differences found in diverse cultures throughout the world. The universalism of international law grounded in a particular concept of justice (Ivison et al. 2000) felt the threat of diversity during the early processes of decolonization as colonial states acquired new independent status. New states coming into the system brought with them dynamics of differences in both culture and interests. These differences were often translated by powerful nations as being the result of the “underdeveloped” conditions of new states. With the help of scholarship such as “stage theory” (Rostow 1960; Gerschenkron 1968) the concept of “development” became the catalyst through which powerful states remained in dominant positions (Wilmer 1993; Bodley 1990; 2003). Centering “development” in the international system resulted in widening the gap between new postcolonial states and colonizing states on two levels (cf. Darian-Smith and Fitzpatrick 1999). It was no longer solely in juridical distinctions that the politically advanced world was separated from Third World nations; now economic distinctions separated “developing” nations of the world from the “developed” world. The new tools of assimilation became guised under the discourse of development for indigenous populations.

Increased Attention to Indigenous Rights

A major change in indigenous rights came in the 1980s with attempts by the international community to establish human rights enforcement measures. The UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. The Working Group’s objective was to study the discrimination against indigenous populations and seek ways to promote indigenous peoples’ rights. Continuing the process of strengthening indigenous rights, the 1989 ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples revised the 1957 Convention 107 in order to include the right of indigenous people to self-determination (Rodriguez-Pinero 2006). This legal instrument has been a foundational contribution toward modern indigenous rights. By promoting the ideal of indigenous peoples as distinct communities and maintaining and strengthening their cultural identities, this change is in opposition to previous efforts in international law to establish legal instruments and procedures that facilitate the assimilation of indigenous populations. Convention 169 is proclaimed to be the strongest statement supporting indigenous peoples’ demand for recognition as autonomous societies. Moreover, it directly addresses states’ obligations to protect indigenous peoples’ land and environments.

Increased debate on indigenous issues would reach an all-time high during the 1990s, when topics concerning indigenous peoples would be at the forefront in the international community. The 1992 Declaration on the Rights of People Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities only concerns individual rights and states’ obligations toward minorities, but demonstrates trends in the international arena toward more human rights protection of populations. Then, 1993 was proclaimed by the UN to be the International Year for the World’s Indigenous People. In 1994 it was declared that the decade to 2004 would be the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. This declaration was launched by the UN General Assembly in order to increase the UN’s commitment to promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide. Subsequently, in 1998 the Roundtable on Intellectual Property and Indigenous Peoples was established by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, a specialized agency of the UN). This effort was opposed by many leaders of indigenous populations, who criticized WIPO for attempting to impose an intellectual property rights regime on traditional knowledge.

In 2000 the creation of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established by ECOSOC. The forum consists of 16 independent experts, eight representatives nominated by states and eight representatives nominated by indigenous peoples. The composition of the forum is revolutionary in consisting of non-state representatives. Its purpose is to assist UN agencies that deal with indigenous matters and disseminate information on indigenous issues. Similarly, in 2001 Rodolfo Stavenhagen was appointed as the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People. The purpose of the position was to gather information on violations of human rights of indigenous peoples and formulate recommendations on these violations. The 2004 Task Force on Indigenous Women was established by the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality and reflects growing initiatives that address issues of gender inequalities. The task force functions to address key issues facing indigenous women and to strengthen gender mainstreaming in regard to indigenous women’s roles. As well as beginning the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the year 2005 also saw the introduction of the World Bank’s revised Operational Policy and Bank Procedure on Indigenous Peoples, with the purpose of promoting indigenous development.

Aside from ILO Convention 169 as noted above, another major milestone in indigenous rights came in 1993 when the Working Group on Indigenous Populations began working on the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The draft was approved in 2007, with 143 UN member states voting for it, 11 abstaining, and 4 voting against it (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States). The Declaration proclaims individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, specifically their right to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions. It also calls for development efforts that are aligned with indigenous peoples’ own needs and aspirations and their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, and education.

Though the international system has provided a forum for indigenous people to engage in political debates over issues concerning their relationship to the international community, this forum remains clouded with political controversies over the definition of indigenous identity (Corntassel 2003; Niezen 2003; Martinez-Novo 2005; Green 2007), heritage (Brown 2003), and relations with legal systems (Meijknecht 2001; Eudaily 2004; Champagne et al. 2005; Champagne 2007) that have been used as colonial endeavors in the past (Miller 2006). This is due to the nature of a universal international legal system and the particularisms of a world filled with plural societies (Cirkovic 2007). The history of indigenous rights has continually included a debate over collective rights and/or self-determination of indigenous peoples. This debate is born in the relationship between indigenous peoples and the state and is informed by a long history of colonial and imperial control.

World System Approach: Institutional Analysis and Legitimacy

Indigenous rights programs in the international system of states have been confined to operating within a structure monopolized by powerful states. Increasing measures to improve the rights and protection of indigenous peoples by nongovernmental organizations, nonprofit organizations, and indigenous movements have led to developments outside of an institutional formula addressing the former objective of the international system to assimilate indigenous peoples (Eudaily 2004). New trends of inclusion into the international community have resulted in increased pressure on nation-states to abide by such developments. Most research up to this point on global indigenous rights focuses upon the organizational capacity of nation-states, but does not directly address the issue of why national bureaucracies adopt and sometimes institute such programs (Goodman and Jinks 2003). We extend an institutional approach that views the rationalization of authority and concomitant rights programs as emerging in part from global political, economic, and cultural factors. By examining the interface between national characteristics from a global context, we examine the increasingly worldwide adoption of rights programs. We suggest that a state’s incorporation into intergovernmental organizations and global culture has an impact on the adoption of rights, expenditure on them, and on their enforcement. The relationship between state structures and national programs from a global perspective appears heuristic.

Increasingly, there is evidence of nation-states adopting similar approaches to their inclusion in the world system in terms of constitutional language and welfare programs (Thomas and Lauderdale 1988). That is, as a means to gaining inclusion into the global culture and related political and economic access, nations adopt very similar approaches (and language) in terms of constitutions and welfare. Rather than the diversity of multiculturalism, the evidence suggests homogenization in these areas of adoption, even though expenditure on and enforcement of the programs is an entirely different matter. Recently, there appear to be similar processes in relation to international agencies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). Liang and Lauderdale (2006) examine China’s increasing connections with other nations within the global system and the impact of these global connections on China’s economic development and domestic legal and economic systems. They explicate the forces behind China’s decision to join the WTO and discuss crucial ways in which the Chinese government and legal system have been pressured or have elected to adopt international standards in order for the country to become a key player in the global marketplace.

This approach to understanding indigenous rights also includes the issue of legitimacy. From a broad historical perspective, Zelditch notes that the Greeks were concerned with power, but “by the time of Aristotle’s Politics, however, they also had an empirical theory of political stability in which authority was legitimate only if it was founded on constitutionalism and consent, and stable only if it was legitimate” (2001:4). Zelditch and Walker (1997:315) stress the relevance of power since it is a “fundamental axiom” of important theories of legitimacy. They note that Rousseau used it as a launching pad for his work on the social contract; it was the foundation for Weber’s theory of authority, and Gramsci’s approach to hegemony. Consent is presented as the necessary condition for systems of power and legitimacy and is central to their formation and continuation. While the approach of Zelditch and Walker focuses upon individual rights, we suggest that parts of it can be used for an analysis of collective rights, at least at a theoretical level (Berger and Zelditch 2002).

China and the World-Economy System

Using China as an example again, the World Bank and UN Development Program determined that less than 9 percent of China’s total population are indigenous groups; however, they account for 40 percent of the country’s extremely poor (as noted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD). Development patterns and the inclusion of China into the international system are important to consider. The complexity of China’s engagement is reflected not only domestically but in China’s practices and involvement in the global economic system. Our analysis suggests that China’s development to a large extent has been driven by the expansion of the world-economy system, and the Chinese government’s reaction has been that it has no choice but to “join” in this process of expansion. Yet the Chinese government has tried to pace its integration, manage its domestic transitions, and monitor more precisely its increasing role in the system. All these reactions to globalization are acknowledged by the Chinese government. For example, China’s President Hu Jintao stated in a speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the 2005 Fortune Global Forum held in China:

As China becomes more developed, its cooperation with the other countries and their corporations of various types is bound to increase in scale. China will keep opening up its market, find new ways of using foreign capital, improve on legislations and regulations for encouraging and protecting foreign investors, revamp foreign economic management, step up protection of intellectual property rights, and work still harder to help foreign investors and create an even better environment for trade and economic cooperation between China and the rest of the world.

Despite the challenges, there is no doubt that China has become increasingly integ-rated into the world system, which in general is reflective of many other nations. The Chinese government has gone through a transition from being pulled passively into the system to actively participating in it. China’s decisions to join the WTO and to establish free trade zones in Asia at the beginning of the new century are important examples of its gradual integration and its political strategy.

World-economy theory contends that the capitalist system (mode of production) is a worldwide system, and not the sum of its separate units (Frank 1998). The concept of “world economy” is distinct from the concept of international economy, which is based on the notion of separate “national economies,” with trade among them producing the international economy. The world-economy theoretical perspective assumes that there is a world economic system based on a system-wide division of labor. This world system contains an ongoing, extensive, and relatively complete social division of labor, with an integrated set of production processes. These production processes are related to each other through a world market that has been created and instituted in complex ways. This world-economy is not new to the twentieth century. Rather, it has been in existence in at least part of the globe for centuries if not millennia. Wallerstein (1984) contends that it has existed since the sixteenth century. Frank and Gills (1993) have argued that it existed much earlier, at least 5000 years ago. From a world-economy perspective, it is not the capitalist mode of production that has determined the world economic system; rather the world system established its own rules long before the triumph of capitalism (Frank 1998).

Neoliberalism and Responses

The world economy combined with international standards for nation-states reflects entrance into a universalized system where the legitimacy of states is measured by their similarities in the ways they operate in a global economic system. Indigenous societies contending with and fighting for separate and distinct modes of production and social regulation have legitimacy status under a human rights narrative that only guarantees a respect for diversity in declarations, treaties, and conventions. However, this respect is overseen by “good governance” and “development” initiatives that maintain and enforce a homogeneous space of economic relations. Nevertheless, there are scholars that contend that the rights discourse is effective in providing fundamental freedoms to indigenous peoples.

Williams (1990) opposes legal research that denies the efficacy of a rights discourse. He views the emergence of indigenous peoples’ human rights as an opportunity to witness the effectiveness of rights discourse. He maintains that since the 1970s indigenous peoples around the world have contested the way the international legal system exclusively recognizes state sovereignty and jurisdiction over the terms of their survival. He suggests that challenges posed by indigenous peoples in numerous international human rights forums has led to the emergence of indigenous rights in international legal discourse.

Similarly, Anaya (2004) analyzes the way current developments in human rights programs and initiatives have reshaped the relationship between indigenous peoples and international legal instruments and norms. According to Anaya, today’s inclusion of human rights discourse in the international system has provided an alternative understanding of the demands presented by indigenous movements, specifically with respect to the right to self-determination. The author suggests that changes in international legal procedures and processes have come about as a result of human rights that have altered the framework of international law away from states’ rights to human rights imperatives. As a result, these advancements have provided a better legal forum to help indigenous peoples to survive as distinct communities and have contributed toward a path of self-determination.

Anderson et al. (2006) describe new directions for indigenous peoples made possible by a rights discourse, and these authors suggest that indigenous peoples are now benefiting from their participation and inclusion in this new world system. The authors discuss how business practices in three different indigenous communities (the Inuvialuit, the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Lac La Ronge First Nation) in Canada are conducted within the context of a “social entrepreneurship” model, which they suggest dovetails indigenous practices and beliefs. The authors conceptualize “social entrepreneurship” as a “multidimensional construct involving the expression of virtuous behavior in order to achieve a social mission.” In other words, business profits are used to assist a community and this in turn results in the creation of jobs, the strengthening of social capital, and other financial benefits. The authors emphasize how the three indigenous groups studied identify economic opportunities and create businesses with the purpose of funding social objectives, rather than the money going towards individual/owner wealth. They claim indigenous people’s right to land is important for rebuilding their economies and can also be an effective way for “states to address the socioeconomic circumstances of its indigenous people while at the same time addressing their ‘national aspirations.’” They assert that companies are also beginning to understand the economic benefits that a relationship with indigenous communities can bring. Their overall argument calls for assimilation of indigenous groups into the global capitalist system for the improvement of socioeconomic circumstances, and they identify social entrepreneurship as the model consistent with indigenous ideals. Their last sentence sums up their promotion of social entrepreneurship and the integration of indigenous groups. They state that this form of assimilation is better than the alternative that could arise – armed struggle and violent suppression.

Despite the claims of such scholars, we suggest that larger political, economic and cultural factors diminish such ideal projections. Now, we consider such factors under the rubric of neoliberalism. Blanca Chancoso, a renowned leader of Ecuador’s Kichwa women, who formerly served as one of the directors of the country’s largest indigenous organization, CONAIE, notes that “there is a big difference between living well and those who believe that living well is to live better than someone else. This latter view reflects a competition instead of respect and equality. Yet, ‘living well’ is the exercise of rights, respect, equality, and means a life for everyone” (Chancoso 2008).

The Indigenous Person and the Modern Individual

An ironic story has been circulating concerning the quality of life. We have adapted the story for this essay since it omitted a crucial fact of life now, which is neoliberalism.

A neoliberal consultant was at the pier of a small coastal Mestizo village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The Neoliberal complimented the Mestizo on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mestizo replied, “Only a little while.”

The Neoliberal then asked, “Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

The Mestizo said, “Well, I catch enough to feed my family.”

The Neoliberal then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mestizo fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Anna, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The Neoliberal scoffed, “I am a Stanford graduate and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats so eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to a big city near you, then LA and eventually Beijing where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mestizo fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the Neoliberal replied, “15–20 years.”

“But what then?”

The Neoliberal laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions? Then what?”

The Neoliberal said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Such stories are appealing to most people; however, they often stop short of the whole story. The whole story now includes the role of neoliberalism, where, for example, the indigenous fisherperson finds that the coastal fishing village has been sold to a multinational development company. The company will build a number of resorts, alter the landscape, and sustenance fishing, which was the livelihood of the fisherperson, will become less and less viable and available.

This scenario is not unrealistic. Related development changes already have been unfolding throughout the world. In Tanzania at Lake Victoria in the 1950s, the Nile perch was imported into the lake. The perch, which can grow to the size of a human, has almost destroyed the other species in the lake, and eventually may destroy the lake. The balance of nature understood and practiced by the local people is toppled. The perch are packaged as fillets from the fish “factory,” and shipped to consumers throughout the world. The majority of the local fisherpersons have no related jobs since they have been displaced by the factory. A break from market dogma such as this will be difficult if not impossible.

Neoliberalism, now moving at the pace of globalization with no regard for sacred places or healing ceremonies, is based upon the economic liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and its notion of “free trade” (Frank 1998; Mies 2005). At the center of both old and new economic liberalism is

self-interest and individualism; segregation of ethical principles and economic affairs, in other words, a process of “de-bedding” economy from society; economic rationality as a mere cost-benefit calculation and profit maximization; competition as the essential driving force for growth and progress; specialization and the replacement of a sustenance [usually termed subsistence, sic] economy with profit-oriented foreign trade (“comparative cost advantage”); and the proscription of public (state) interference with market forces.

(Mies 2005:34)

Critiques of Neoliberalism in Light of Indigenous Peoples

A very useful critique of neoliberalism and its connection to all people, but especially indigenous peoples, stems from the work of Claudia von Werlhof and Maria Mies (Werlhof 1997; 2005; Mies and Werlhof 2003; Mies 2005). Werlhof’s recent work (2008) explicates the process by which neoliberalism is couched in the clouds of progress via globalization. The maximization of profit must occur within the shortest possible time, preferably through speculation and “shareholder value.” Global economic interests outweigh extra-economic concerns and related national and community economic considerations, since corporations today often view themselves as beyond both community and nation (Sassen 1998). Multinational corporations increasingly move to the poorest nations (to the South or East from a global perspective) to employ the most inexpensive labor (usually female labor) without union or collective protection (see Werlhof 1991; 2005 for an extensive analysis of the demonic role of patriarchy). And neoliberalism suggests that the common good is contingent on the uncontrolled egoism of the individual and, centrally, the prosperity of multinational corporations. Following Werlhof (2008) and her more recent critique of neoliberalism, we note the following:

  • Comparatively nonprofitable, long-term projects or sustenance projects generally are rejected. Financial capital increasingly determines the markets. Via US President Nixon’s separation of the dollar from the gold standard in 1971, money was “emancipated” from productive capital and now forms its own “fiscal bubble,” multiplying the money volume. Increasingly most people, as well as governments, are in debt. Orwell’s newspeak is resurrected here as financial capital has more and more of the ostensible money, yet cloaks the changes in a conundrum.

  • The means of production have become concentrated in fewer and larger corporations as finance capital controls asset value ever more aggressively. This change has transformed most formerly public and small private services and industries into multinational corporate businesses, resulting in monopolies in all business sectors. The public sector, historically defined as a sector of not-for-profit economy and administration, is reduced and its profitable parts are handed to corporations under the rubric of privatization. As a consequence, essential social services are eroded or disappear.

  • For the most part, people have much less access to the means of production, and dependency on scarce and underpaid work increases. Destruction of the welfare state also erodes the tradition whereby people could rely on the community to provide for them in times of crisis. During the early stages of privatization, services and products appear to be less expensive; however, increasingly the terms of exchange shift and most people have to rely on private services that are often much worse in quality, are much less reliable, and are now more expensive than public services, despite corporate claims to the contrary.

  • The recent reinvention of the “colonization of the world” is informed by the “long sixteenth century,” when the conquest of the Americas, their exploitation and colonial transformation led to the rise and so-called development of Europe. Cultural, traditional and ecological considerations are being abandoned to the method of plundering for profit (see Mann 2005).

  • From an indigenous perspective, the abstract wealth created for accumulation is the destruction of nature as concrete wealth. When such concrete wealth is spent, abstract wealth disappears as well. Abstract wealth is not real wealth, which will become obvious. The result will be a conundrum of wealth, primarily existing virtually or on accounts, leaving a “monoculture” controlled by a few executives of multinational corporations. Diversity will be suffocated or destroyed, with millions of people on the edge of survival. The neoliberal stranglehold also is creating a crisis of spirit that accompanies the material crisis. The annihilation of matter through its transformation into some type of commodity becomes more evident throughout the world.

  • Neoliberal claims that civilization has reached its apex becomes a horific facade, with a human being starving every second in 2009. The claim that capitalism and democracy are symbiotic becomes a myth perpetrated by neoliberalism and its reliance on monetary totalitarianism. There is no place for public space, democratic conventions or community control when corporate order is the only order. The only rights are those of the few executives who control the multinational corporations. Mies and Werlhof (2003) note that global chief executives give themselves the licenses they need, from the “license to plunder” to the “license to kill” (also, see Mies 2005). People who get in their way or challenge their ostensible rights are vilified, criminalized and increasing defined as “terrorists,” or, in the case of deviant governments, as rogue states (Oliverio and Lauderdale 2005; cf. Beck 2008 on social movement perspectives).

  • The logic of neoliberalism enters and transforms politics supposedly to bring injustices to trial. The executors are Western governments, corporate entities such as the International Chamber of Commerce, the European Round Table of Industrialists, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Services Network, the US Coalition of Service Industries, and the post–World War II Bretton Woods institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fond (IMF), and the WTO (which mainly is the continuation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, abolished in 1994). They globalize corporate power, and also accelerate the globalization of neoliberalism. Moreover, neoliberalism strides arrogantly into all levels of education. Good sense or common sense has become business sense.

Currently in higher education, we witness the abolition of free university access, democratic student rights, and jobs with tenure and academic freedom (Lauderdale 2008a). New university fees and authoritarian corporate structures have been introduced, and funding for the humanities is being cut more deeply. Academic evaluation models taken from private business criteria are implemented. Neoliberal absolutism is the order of the day as academic teaching and research is reorganized and redefined in the name of the potential for higher investment and the profitability of the transnational education industry. Without sufficient challenge, good research is redefined as research that brings money from various as well as nefarious sources. Following Mies (2005), neoliberalism and war are two sides of the same coin. And “free” trade, piracy, and war are an inseparable three. War has been projected as “good for the economy” and appears to be its driving force, understood as the “continuation of economy with other means.” War and economy are becoming less distinguishable. Wars about resources such as over oil and water already are being waged. The Gulf and “Middle-East” wars are obvious examples. Militarism again emerges as the “executor of capital accumulation,” potentially everywhere and enduringly. Human rights and rights of sovereignty increasingly are transferred from people, communities and governments to corporations. The result of Bt (transgenic plants that express genes derived from Bacillus thuringensis) cotton cultivation in Gujarat has led to a significant increase in acreage under cotton, a spurt in cotton exports, but a huge demand for child labor, labor without any rights. Rights of children are eroding under the guise of the hi-tech seeds of child labor. The dialectic is in full force in most areas. Many international laws are established that effectively operate from top to bottom and eliminate or erode local and regional communal rights. And most related rights are rendered invalid both retroactively and for the future, for example, the “roll back” and “stand still” clauses in the WTO agreements (Mies and Werlhof 2003).

Neoliberalism has created a new world order that reduces the world’s population to mere entities of consumption and production. Under the guise of “progress” and “development,” multinational corporations have imposed their design of profit over human dignity. (Although propaganda efforts have been launched to claim the benefits of a neoliberal structure where ostensibly increased freedoms and distribution of wealth are just around the corner.) The real detriments from the corporate hand in social, political, and cultural configurations can be seen in the diminishing of public democratic arenas and erasure of spaces for dissent. The neoliberal model is proclaimed to provide increased employment opportunities; however, the only kinds of activities that are available to employers are those geared to increasing productivity and sustaining a market of commodities.

Indigenous Peoples’ Responses to Neoliberalism

Even though indigenous peoples are on the blunt end of the changes, responses to neoliberal practices are underway. Hurwitz (2008) examines the response by indigenous peoples in Peru and Brazil to the Initiative for the Regional Integration of Infrastructure in South America promoted by 12 South American nations and several international finance institutions. The initiative is an attempt to bring “development” to the Amazon basin and includes projects such as highways, dams, pipelines, and ports in order for the area to become an export-oriented and energy extraction site. Hurwitz documents indigenous representatives’ resistance to the development scheme (cf. Fenelon 1998; Fenelon and Hall 2005). Concerns discussed by the indigenous representatives include the Initiative’s potential to lead to ecological destruction of the area, its disregard of the uses of the land by indigenous peoples that are integral to the their cultural way of life, the loss of land rights brought on by the impact of increased migration to the area, and the Initiative’s potential for benefiting only large agricultural interests instead of local populations.

Similarly, Maggio (1998) analyzes legal approaches to meeting the needs and interests of local human communities who utilize biodiversity and inhabit areas important for its conservation. He asserts that effectively addressing these needs is a crucial area for international law concerned with the sustainable development of biological diversity. He suggests directions international law should take to promote recognition of the vital role played by local communities in conserving biodiversity, underlining that including indigenous peoples and local communities in the processes of law will allow for better legal instruments for conserving biodiversity. Manus (2005) examines the rhetoric and applications of international law as it pertains to indigenous peoples’ environmental rights. He maintains the notion that environmental values of indigenous peoples are not merely a distinguishing feature but a key element of their culture. Manus defines the terms self-determination, human rights, and sovereignty in the context of indigenous peoples in order to assess historically the evolution of international law instruments. He concludes that these international law instruments have leaned toward recognizing the cultural significance of the environment for indigenous peoples, but notes that these instruments still fall short of providing substantive legal rights for indigenous peoples to protect their cultural integrity against governmental and private interests. He moves from the rhetorical usage of international instruments to its application by examining international court cases. He concludes that linguistic measures are in place to protect indigenous peoples’ environmental rights; however the pace of the international community’s (dominant culture’s) evolution away from paternalist and assimilationist perspectives is still slow, if not only just beginning.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has resulted in the distribution of poverty to the majority of the world’s population. The gap between rich and poor in all societies is increasing, while social services and public sectors are disappearing. The makeup of neoliberalism necessarily entails developing/creating new techniques, strategies, and procedures of exploitation. The logic that supports these methods has transformed/influenced politics to substantiate such measures and implement mechanisms in law and government that executes their practices. Rights, as a result, have been structured to answer only to a monetary regime, where the reasonableness of actions is licensed to include a cost-benefit analysis, and respect for diversity is limited to words in a legal doctrine/declaration.

Ecocide is still taking place throughout the world despite social movements to stop it. These efforts have failed in large part due to the overarching infiltration by neoliberal frameworks in law and governance that in the past were created to support community and individual initiatives. Instead the absolutism of finance capital has erased multiple dimensions of democratic participation by creating human dependency on private business sectors and devaluing and eradicating public sustenance projects, institutions, and practices. The destruction of natural environments at the behest of large multinational corporations has means to millions of indigenous populations around the world that the “environment” that has sustained them for thousands of years is now vanishing.

The new world order under neoliberal policies, procedures, instruments, projects, and institutions has left the majority of the world’s population living in extremely impoverished conditions, asking, like the Mestizo fisherman, “then what?” What occurs when the world system becomes configured to legalize, sanction, and endorse profit and capital gain over the environmental, social, economic, cultural, and political well-being of all human beings?

The answer to this question is best articulated by Anderson Muutang Urud (1994:103) of the Sarawak Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance in his address to the UN. He stated:

In areas that are logged, the fish, wild animals, and medicinal plants disappear. Many of us are now hungry […] Even when we mark our burial grounds, the logging companies bulldoze through them with no regard for our feelings […] When we complain about the destruction, they sometimes offer us a small sum of money as compensation, but this is an insult to us. How can we accept money that is traded for the bodies of our ancestors? The government says that it is bringing us progress and development, but the only development that we see is the dusty logging roads and relocation camps. This so-called progress means only starvation, dependence, helplessness, and the destruction of our culture and demoralization of our people. The government says it is creating jobs for our people, but these jobs will disappear along with the forest. In ten years the jobs will all be gone, and the forest, which has sustained us for thousand years, will be gone with them. And why do we need jobs? My father and my grandfather did not ask the government for jobs. They were never unemployed. They lived from the land and from the forests. It was a good life. We had such leisure time, and yet we were never hungry or in need. These company jobs take men away from their families and from our communities for months at times. They are breaking apart the vital links which have held our families and our communities together for generations. These jobs bring our people into the consumer economy, for which our people are not prepared […] The world is rushing towards a single culture. We should pause and reflect on the beauty of diversity.


International law is founded largely on the concept of the nation-state and is subject to the ideology underlying the nation-state structure and its notions of power. During the beginning stages of the UN, its voice was proclaimed to be the voice of the entire world. However, it limited participation to established nation-state regimes, and the determination of who counted as a legitimate nation-state regime and who didn’t was left to the discretion of the institution’s members. With the introduction of a human rights discourse and recognition of collective identities, the management of groups wanting to secede or pursue an avenue of self-determination became confined within an international legal order that used instruments to appease groups with promises of protection, while allowing them to remain under a rubric of control via a prescribed form of national organization.

The universality of this worldwide organization of nation-states prompted the promulgation of an array of international standards to be met for nations to be accepted and recognized as “legitimate” in the international community. As a result, economic and political considerations proliferated through the adoption of, expenditure on, and the enforcement of indigenous rights initiatives by nations. These trends were dovetailed into the increased influence of globalization and global financial markets that pushed the international system to adopt universal standards with a neoliberal orientation.

The changes described above placed further assimilatory and imperial pressure on states to adopt dominant culture practices that are harnessed by the international system of states. This institutionalization allowed multinational corporations to play a key role in development efforts. With the emergence of new states in the postcolonial world, possession and management of vital natural resources within the new states were coveted. The “development” initiative enabled multinational corporations to exploit natural resources with the backing of international legal doctrines and powerful nation-states. As the corporate business world grew more global, powerful states exploited natural resources in order to compete in the global market, build military power, and develop their economies. The powerful states initiated the exploitative use of land, resources, and peoples in newly created states by constructing and implementing international economic instruments and programs (such as loan programs and infrastructure initiatives). This process enabled powerful states in the international community to keep new nations in debt and under control. At the same time, multinational corporations turned their attention to the profitable opportunities presented by the relationship between the new international legal order and the implementation of international financial institutions backed by nation-states.

Through the project of achieving development, the global economy by way of neoliberal practices (and competition between states vying for power) shaped the evolution of the international legal order in the late twentieth century. These three elements coalesced to label economically poor populations around the world as underdeveloped, and implement neoliberal economic policies to resolve this problem of “underdevelopment.”

Similarly, the Good Governance initiative, in relation to development, is broad in scope and employed in numerous ways. International financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank have promoted their understandings of good governance, and sought to implement universal standards of governing in order to manage indigenous peoples. Good governance presupposes the creation of a government that will facilitate the standards outlined by the international financial institutions. The good governance initiative proposed by institutions such as the World Bank represents a perfect storm of neoliberal policies and governing procedures that exclude indigenous participation and voice in governing matters.

IFAD, a specialized agency of the UN, has acknowledged the failure of development initiatives that have neither included indigenous peoples in their creation and implementation, nor acknowledged indigenous peoples’ specific condition of marginalization in international debates. IFAD has regarded cognizance of indigenous struggles as crucial to the evolution of the international system and as necessary to improve state actions concerning indigenous people. Currently IFAD reports that

unfortunately, the marginalized conditions of indigenous peoples do not figure prominently in the debates on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs). Indeed, whatever attention indigenous peoples are receiving internationally is the result of their own struggles. In a 2004 ethnic audit of the PRSPs of 14 countries, the International Labor Organization found that – despite an extremely high incidence of poverty among indigenous peoples – these national progress reports proposed few, if any, remedial actions. Moreover, with few exceptions, indigenous peoples had not been included in the PSRP consultation process. There is also concern that indigenous peoples may be left out of MDG efforts in some countries unless their particular situations are adequately taken into account.

Diversity is vital for sustainable development, according to IFAD. However, with numerous factors such as financial markets and initiatives ostensibly for good governance adhering to neoliberal policies, nation-states have rarely adopted and implemented inclusive procedures for indigenous peoples.

The melting pot ideology of modern nation-states suggests to citizens that they should minimize diversity or homogenize it whenever possible. Yet, from an indigenous perspective, Deloria notes that “if all things are related the unity of creation demands that each life form contribute its intended contribution. Any violation of another entity’s right to existence in and of itself is a violation of the nature of creation and a degradation of religious reality itself” (1992:199).

The care for and examination of nature provide lessons that demonstrate the relevance and importance of diversity. Indigenous people usually view themselves as part of nature, as another animal, in opposition to modernity’s view of the environment as being external. Moreover most traditional indigenous peoples are familiar with living a sustenance-based life (often termed subsistence-based), rather than relying on the global marketplace. Many indigenous peoples focus on place in contrast to the modern emphases on pace and space. Unlike modern people, indigenous peoples often use sacred places for healing ceremonies, usually outside rather than inside churches, synagogues, or mosques. The idea of development rarely resonates with indigenous peoples, while it is a common notion to modern people, who often understand development as a secular, temporally linear project. Social movements and organizations such as the Center for Intercultural Dialogs and Exchanges, Cultural Survival, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, the World Wildlife Federation, and the Indigenous Environmental Network engage in struggles against injustice and for nature (Gray and Lauderdale 2007). Such struggles include indigenous peoples from Peru, Indonesia, and Ghana, who currently are protesting the pollution and scarred land resulting from gold-mining. Other environmental struggles include the protests against oil contamination by the Mapuche in Argentina; the plight of the indigenous peoples of Brazil concerning the problems of the rubber workers experienced by the followers of the late Chico Mendes; the fight against deforestation in the Congo Basin and Eritrea; the response to uranium poisoning in the Jharkand Belt in Bihar, India; the responses to copper-mining spills experienced by the Marinduque Islanders in the Philippines; and the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform and Via Campesina, which now has millions of members defending the rights of sustenance and resisting food corporations seeking to privatize the food system across the world. One of the most interesting features of indigenous peoples is their substantive reliance on the interrelatedness of nature.

Oren Lyons described the crossroads of the international legal system, nature, and indigenous people in his address to the UN.

Five hundred years ago, you came to our pristine lands of great forests, rolling plains, and crystal clear lakes, streams, and waters. Since then we have suffered in your quest for god, for glory, for gold. But we have survived. Can we survive another five hundred years of “sustainable development”? I don’t think so. Not with the definition of sustainable used today – I don’t think so. So reality and the natural law will prevail; the law of seed and regeneration. We can still alter our course […] We must join hands with the rest of creation and speak of common sense, responsibility, brotherhood, and peace. We must understand that the law is the seed, and only as true partners can we survive. (1994:31)

Today’s call for, and acceptance of, global diversity and its role in sustaining natural environments is indeed limited when it is bounded by the constraints of modern nation-states and neoliberalism, which often view diversity and rights outside the nation-state model as deviance if they do not conform to the modern norms and definitions of the dominant culture (Lauderdale 2003). As Oren Lyons continues to remind us, “development” efforts will not maintain global diversity if they remain unpartnered by the participation of indigenous peoples. However, such partnerships continue to be difficult; for example, in early 2008, indigenous peoples’ representatives to the United Nations formally withdrew from the Working Group on Protected Areas of the Convention on Biological Diversity. They protested their exclusion from crucial meetings by wearing symbolic gags and holding up protest signs. The Indigenous Women’s’ Biodiversity Network warned that the exclusion of indigenous peoples not only endangered the democratic processes in the UN but also ignored the fact that the General Assembly had just approved the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007.

Our work here suggests that presently 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 (Cirkovic 2007; Lauderdale 2008b). For meaningful change to occur, it will be necessary to listen to people who are deeply connected with indigenous peoples, such as Gustavo Esteva (2005; also see Esteva and Prakash 1998). He has noted that indigenous peoples typically are linked by mutual obligations, not by rights, and for indigenous peoples, real democracy implies the language of freedom, not the language of rights. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples approved in 2007 by 143 UN member states remains a provocative promise. The Declaration proclaims individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples – specifically, their right to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions. It also calls for “development” efforts that are aligned with indigenous peoples’ own needs and aspirations and their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, and education. Now, we await research on the expenditure and enforcement following such declarations.


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