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Indigenous People Issues of Definition

Indigenous People Issues of Definition

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Published by: GrupoComunidades on Jun 18, 2009
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International Journal of Cultural Property
Número y/o Volúmen:
N° 8
 Nombre Artículo:
Indigenous Peoples: issues of definition
 Autor Artículo:
SANDERS, Douglas
4 - 13
8 páginas
Cambridge University Press
Professor Douglas SandersFaculty of Law, University of British ColumbiaJanuary 26, 1999The progress that has been made by "indigenous peoples" in international fora has been aided bythe political perception that this category of claimants is limited and in some respects unique, andthat such claims can properly and safely be treated as a special case. Although the imprecision ofthe category and the expanding array of groups involved in the "indigenous peoples movement"could eventually threaten this perceptionand provoke more sustained demands for precision,such a transformation has not yet occurred.
For the last thirty years "indigenous peoples" have become more and more a focus ofinternational attention. This attention began with a focus on the Americas, where the indigenousstatus of the Indian, Inuit and Aleut peoples could not be doubted.
But western commentators,non-governmental organisations and intergovernmental bodies have applied the terminology farbeyond the Americas. In reaction certain states, most notably China and India, have sought adefinition which would make it clear that the populations they refer to as "tribals" or "minoritynationalities" are not "indigenous peoples."The category has been accepted by states outside the Americas. There was never any questionthat Australia and New Zealand had indigenous minorities. The governments of Norway, Swedenand Finland came to accept that the Saami were indigenous. This constituted recognition by anindigenous majority of the indigenous status of a minority within the state, a somewhat differentsituation than in the Americas. The Soviet Union denied it had "indigenous peoples," but began tomove from that position in the years before its collapse. The Russian Federation recognises the"small nations of the north" as indigenous peoples. In Asia the governments of Malaysia, thePhilippines, Singapore and Taiwan refer to certain peoples as indigenous.The United Nations has consistently treated indigenous peoples as a special case, separate fromother cultural or racial minorities. Possibly the "tribals" and "minority nationalities" should be seenas cultural minorities, not indigenous peoples. A distinction between "indigenous peoples" andcultural minorities is drawn by all states in the Americas and Australasia. The traditions withuniform approaches to indigenous peoples and other cultural minorities are the nationalitiespolicies of the former Soviet Union and China. The Russian Federation has moved away from thislinkage. China has not.
International Labor Organisation activity on indigenous peoples began with the co-ordination ofthe Andean Indian Programme in the 1950s.
ILO Convention 107 of 1957 spoke of both"indigenous" and "tribal" people. One part of the 1957 Convention referred to individuals who are...regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited thecountry, or ageographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest orcolonisation...
The Convention was revised in 1989 as Convention 169. The new text has an independentdefinition of indigenous peoples:(b) peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descentfrom the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country
belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundariesand who, irrespective of theirlegal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic,cultural and political institutions.
The ILO has regularly suggested to the United Nations that it refer to both "indigenous" and"tribal" peoples in its work, following the usage of the ILO. The United Nations has continued touse "indigenous" alone. The state parties to the ILO conventions are not limited tothe Americas.Three Asian states, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, are parties to Convention 107.
International concern developed in the 1960s over the situation of Indians in the Amazonian andforest interior of South America. The concern led to the formation of two leading non-governmental organisations, Survival International, based in London, and the International WorkGroup for Indigenous Affairs, based in Copenhagen. International indigenous organisationsbegan in the mid-1970s, with the formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and theInternational Indian Treaty Council, initiated by indigenous peoples in Canada and the UnitedStates.
The international support organisations and the international indigenous organisationsdid not confine their concerns to the Americas and Australasia. All saw the tribal or minority national peoples in Africa, Asia and northern Europe as entitled to consideration as indigenous.
 The Study on the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations, by SpecialRapporteur Jose R. Martinez Cobo, authorised in 1972 and reporting to the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in 1983, developed animportant "working definition" of the category:379. Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuitywith pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, considerthemselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or partsof them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve,develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, asthe basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns,social institutions and legal systems.380. This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reachinginto the present, of one or more of the following factors:a. Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;b. Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;c. Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribalsystem, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, life-style,etc.);d. Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual meansof communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual general ornormal language);e. Residence in certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;f. Other relevant factors.381. On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenouspopulations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and isrecognizedand accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group).
The report alsostresses the "right of indigenous peoples themselves to define what and who isindigenous..."

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