Indigenous Peoples

The term “indigenous peoples” refers to ethnic groups who are native to a land or region and share a distinct cultural identity based on their spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies. Indigenous peoples often share common experiences, such as a history of colonization; displacement and resettlement; loss of culture; impoverishment, criminalization and discrimination.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a statement of principles aimed at eliminating human rights violations against the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples. Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNDRIP is not legally binding on the countries that have signed it. Rather, it reflects the aspirations of the countries that have signed it and provides guidance as to how to make the world a better place for indigenous peoples.

UNDRIP was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 September 2007. It received 144 affirmative votes, with 11 Member States abstaining from voting and four negative votes. The negative votes belonged to Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Canada stated at the time that the UNDRIP was incompatible with the Constitution and legal framework of Canada. However, Canada eventually adopted the UNDRIP on 13 November 2010, stating that it will interpret the principles in a manner consistent with the Canadian legal framework.

Some of the key protections endorsed by UNDRIP include rights of indigenous peoples to:

  • enjoy all human rights under international law and to be free from any kind of discrimination
  • practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs
  • not be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture
  • not be forcibly removed or relocated from their lands.

States must consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples and obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing laws or administrative measures that may affect them.

Even though the UNDRIP is not legally binding on states, it is still very important for indigenous peoples and all global citizens. The United Nations is composed of different countries, but what happens if the government of your country does not speak for – or does not listen to – your people? Consider, for example, the First Nations of Canada who are trying to get the Canadian Government to recognize and respect their rights. Canada is represented at the UN, but what about the First Nations communities who are not? The UNDRIP recognizes the rights of indigenous groups who are not represented at the UN in order to ensure that they are not discriminated against and to compel governments to remedy past injustices against indigenous peoples to greatest degree possible.