Indigenous People's Movements, Governments & International Politics

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  • 0:01 Indigenous People Defined
  • 1:36 Indigenous People's Movement
  • 3:33 Role of UN & Government
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

The Age of Discovery introduced European explorers to new worlds to settle. These lands really weren't new - they were already inhabited, but that didn't matter. In this lesson, you'll learn about indigenous people's movements and their relation to international politics.

Indigenous People Defined

Imagine that you are member of a group of people whose ancestors have lived in the same land since time immemorial. Then one day, another group of people came ashore. They were far more technologically advanced than your ancestors and decided to make your ancestral home theirs. The newcomers took the land and imposed their laws and culture upon your ancestors. The newcomers effectively supplanted your people, who now have little to no political power and are often subjected to legal inequality and violations of recognized human rights.

While there is not a universally recognized definition of indigenous people, according to the United Nations, they can be identified by seven characteristics:

  • Indigenous people self-identify as indigenous, such as a Native American self-identifying as a member of the Lakota Tribe.
  • The group can trace their society back to pre-colonial times.
  • The group has a strong connection to a defined geographic territory and natural resources, such as traditional hunting and fishing grounds.
  • The group maintains a culture, language, and belief system that is distinct from that of the dominant society's culture, language, and belief system.
  • The group maintains a political, social or economic system that is also distinct from the one maintained by the dominant society.
  • The group is a non-dominant group of a society.
  • The group desires to maintain its ancestral culture and environment as a distinct people. In other words, it does not wish to be assimilated into the dominant culture.

Indigenous People's Movement

The Indigenous People's Movement is a political movement by indigenous groups seeking formal international recognition and legal protection. Why is this important? As we discussed earlier, a key characteristic of indigenous people is the group's desire to maintain its distinct culture and legal existence as a social group separate from the dominant group. Globalization has intensified the threat to the integrity of indigenous peoples as outside cultures, politics, and economic activities push into heretofore remote areas, such as the rainforests of Latin America and Southeast Asia. These movements generally seek to secure legal recognition of indigenous peoples as a distinct social group; protection of recognized indigenous land; and recognition of the right of indigenous peoples to practice their culture, traditions, and beliefs.

Strategies employed by the Indigenous People's Movement include bringing legal actions; running public awareness campaigns; and forming strategic partnerships with governments, intergovernmental organizations (such as the United Nations), nongovernmental organizations, and corporations to advance their cause. According to the First Peoples Worldwide organization, the strategies have paid off with significant gains including:

  • Acknowledgement of cultural rights, including access to sites sacred to indigenous peoples, such as tribal burial grounds
  • Legal recognition as a people
  • Economic development policies that are more favorable to the rights and claims of indigenous people
  • Winning equal legal treatment of traditional real property ownership with registered land rights
  • Obtaining the right to informed consent before any commercial actives are undertaken on recognized indigenous territories

It's important to note that obtaining rights is only half of the battle of the movement. In some countries, a major challenge is enforcing the laws that protect indigenous rights.

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