The Imperative of Indigeneity: Indigenous Human Rights and their Limits

Abstract

The legal and normative openness of human rights allows for the integration of new subjects, arenas, violators, and protectors of human rights. Indigenous movements manage to use this flexibility and implement their claims within the human rights system. Yet, indigenous rights cause manifold discussions and ambiguities, all of which are related to the question of the concept of indigeneity. In spite of the endeavor for pragmatic and flexible approaches, scopes and implications of concepts of indigeneity need to be dealt with. This paper discusses both scope and implications, starting from hegemonic criteria for a working definition of indigeneity. It shows how indigenous identity is inextricably linked to its non-indigenous other. Subsequently, indigenous human rights entail specific repercussions in indigeneity being a resource and an imperative. Those repercussions stem from indigeneity being simultaneously a source and target of indigenous human rights claims and from the self-referential duplication of the right to indigeneity for indigenes, respectively. The provided tools for an analysis of the ambiguities of indigenous human rights (without simply dismissing them) contribute to their further and more just development, implementation, and monitoring.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This broad debate is paradigmatically represented in Shapiro and Kymlicka 1997; Cowan et al. 2001; Eisenberg and Spinner-Halev 2005.

  2. 2.

    Thornberry 2002; Xanthaki 2007; Holder and Corntassel 2002; Anaya 2009b among others argue in favor of compatibility. Others like Kulchyski and Peter 2013 seriously doubt that. This article adheres to the common understanding of indigenous rights as human rights, which is also reflected in the main international documents.

  3. 3.

    See, for example, Corntassel and Primeau 1998; Gledhill 1997; Moore 2005; Peroff 1997; Xanthaki 2007; Niezen 2003; Kymlicka 2001.

  4. 4.

    See also e.g. Guenther 2006: 18f; Cowan 2006: 20f; Earle 2007; Clifford 1997: 154ff.; Coombe 1993: 268f; Robbins and Stamatopoulou 2004; Fortun et al. 2010; Barnard 2006; Weaver 2001.

  5. 5.

    Note that this approach is not necessarily reflected in legal practice. Domestic implementation of indigenous rights and assessments of indigeneity vary. The inter-American human rights protection system provides an example of the ambiguity of a strong indigenous rights implementation, which includes extensive rights to self-determination as well as methods as questionable as blood quantum measurements (Weaver 2001: 248; Peroff 1997).

  6. 6.

    Cf. IFAD n.y.; DESA/UNPFII 2009; Hall and Patrinos 2012; Stephens et al. 2005.

  7. 7.

    The term (international) indigenous movement throughout the paper refers to a transnational, loosely connected, dynamic, and fluid network, comprising of indigenous and non-governmental organizations and representatives.

  8. 8.

    Here, the third criterion of being identified and recognized as indigenous, additionally to a self-identification as indigenous, comes into play (cf. e.g. Hodgson 2009; Igoe 2006; Hathaway 2010; Siddle 2003; Sylvain 2002).

  9. 9.

    For a thorough discussion of this aspect, see Mende 2016.

  10. 10.

    Indeed, this is a common claim made in the UNPFII. Certain states may recognize indigenous rights per se, but if they do not recognize the existence of indigenous groups as their stakeholders, indigenous rights are nothing more than an empty signifier.

  11. 11.

    See also Calhoun 1994; Jenkins 2008: 47ff.

  12. 12.

    For similar accounts, cf. Li 2014; Shah 2010; Geschiere 2005; Kuper 2003.

  13. 13.

    Also, its simple enumeration of highly different mechanisms of inequality may reproduce those very inequalities, e.g., by putting women’s social and cultural vulnerability on one level with children’s physical and psychological vulnerability (cf. Okin 1989: 139).

  14. 14.

    After her nuanced and sophisticated development of different reasons for the Commission’s blind spots, her conclusion reduces these blind spots surprisingly simple to the “result of the liberal legal ideology” (Marchetti 2008: 169).

  15. 15.

    The notion that an indigenous gender complementarity is not unanimously emancipatory shows up when Zion connects “strictures against birth control and contraceptive devices” with it (Zion 1992: 199). For differences between indigenous communities and for discussions of the compatibility and the contradictions between indigeneity and feminism, see Bell 1992; Eisenberg 2003; Hernández Castillo 2010; Richards 2005; Suzack et al. 2010, among others.

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Mende, J. The Imperative of Indigeneity: Indigenous Human Rights and their Limits. Hum Rights Rev 16, 221–238 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-015-0371-5

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Keywords

  • Indigenous rights
  • Human rights
  • Identity
  • Culture
  • Essentialism
  • Group rights