Widgets Magazine


Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration is a remarkable achievement of the global human rights movement. And yet it remains a relatively unknown document outside of indigenous rights activism.

Like many in the Stanford community, I was unaware that the U.S. indigenous nations — or American Indians — by virtue of their dual citizenship are the only communities in the U.S. population who exist as distinct polities with their own systems of governance while remaining a part of our state political system. I did not know until I volunteered at a human rights forum that indigenous political institutions offer a very different way of making legal and political decisions, based on consent and decentralized democracy.

These topics, for the most part, remain outside of the current curriculum at Stanford Online High School (OHS), even though indigenous political practices reveal unique features of the American rule of law. Neither do these topics get enough attention at the Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute, even though indigenous rights are a pioneering development in the contemporary global governance, given that the UNDRIP supports indigenous self-determination. I wonder how we could reform this and offer my modest contribution in that area.

The making of the Declaration goes back to 1982, when indigenous leaders for the first time in history were allowed to join the U.N. as participants in the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations, created to construct a document that would protect the rights of indigenous populations. After a quarter-century of drafting and content-negotiating, the Declaration was finally adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 13, 2007.

The efforts surrounding the UNDRIP implementation bring forth inspiring evidence of the growing significance of indigenous rights. In Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador, the norms of UNDRIP are reflected in the states’ constitutions. The governments of Uganda, Gabon and Namibia granted communities who self-identified as indigenous peoples special status under laws supporting provision of the UNDRIP. The Declaration also has influenced the work of the national courts in Canada; in several Latin American states, including Mexico, Chile, Guatemala, Colombia and Belize; and even in states notorious for their human rights abuses, such as Botswana and Russia.

Over the past 10 years, the national and regional judges of these states have appealed to the norms of the UNDRIP in cases concerning the rights of indigenous people to lands and natural resources. Argentina paid a compensation of $53,000 to every indigenous girl subjugated to abuse and discrimination based on her indigenous identity, while the Kenyan government recognized the rights of indigenous Endorois to their ancestral lands, marking the first case in African history of granting an indigenous group its right to traditional territory. In the United States, the UNDRIP was endorsed in 2010, influencing transformation of tribal governance, for example in the cases of the Navajo and the Cherokee, and providing those communities with new instruments of supporting tribal sovereignty. Similar developments are happening in Canada, whose government endorsed the Declaration in 2016.

The UNDRIP has also influenced unprecedented changes to the U.N. system. The network of intergovernmental agencies supporting indigenous issues has grown from little over a dozen in 2007 to more than 40 today. Developments today focus on strengthening indigenous political presence at the U.N., where dialogue between indigenous politicians and the members of the international community aims to create the means for indigenous participation in all U.N. meetings that directly affect indigenous communities.

The Declaration signifies a great victory of international indigenous advocacy. Yet on a larger scope, the Declaration impacts contemporary state and global governance and should be studied widely. Its support of indigenous rights is practically possible only within a larger framework of multicultural democracy and depends on the inclusion of other communities currently marginalized because of their ethnicity, gender, class or culture.

— Louis Gosart


Louis is a student at Stanford Online High School. Contact him at loubloo2 ‘at’ gmail.com.