Indigenizing Self-Determination at the United Nations: Reparative Progress in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In: Journal of the History of International Law / Revue d'histoire du droit international
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  • 1 Senior Lecturer, History Programme, Division of the Humanities, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

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Abstract

When the United Nations General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, it introduced into the international legal lexicon a new dimension to the concept of self-determination. The declaration emphasizes indigenous peoples’ distinctive rights to land, culture, language, and collective identity. It does not propose political independence or sovereign statehood, instead insisting on indigenous peoples’ equal rights of citizenship within existing nation-states. The distinct dimension of self-determination that the declaration introduces is one that speaks of indigenous peoples’ particular colonial histories of dispossession and the restoration of their rights and identities in the present, but without disrupting the political continuity of the states that surround them. It is reparative rather than revolutionary. In this article, I examine the construction and contestation of an indigenous right to self-determination both in relation to earlier definitions, and among and between the peoples and states who drafted the declaration.

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