This article was published September 25, 2020 in collaboration with The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, The Guardian Australia, High Country News, and the Texas Observer. It was co-authored by Lorena Allam, Leilani Rania Ganser, Kalen Goodluck, Brittany Guyot and Anna V. Smith. Illustration by Marty Two Bulls Jr.
On Sept. 13, 2007, despite opposition from Australia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP, the culmination of more than 25 years of work at the U.N., articulated the individual and collective rights held by Indigenous communities and proposed protections for those rights.
“By adopting the Declaration, we are also taking another major step forward towards the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all,” Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, the General Assembly president at the time, said. “Even with this progress, Indigenous peoples still face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations,” she cautioned. “They are often dragged into conflicts and land disputes that threaten their way of life and very survival, and suffer from a lack of access to health care and education.”
Prior to UNDRIP, the International Labour Organisation’s adoption of Convention 169, a legally binding framework for countries with Indigenous populations, acknowledged and codified the rights of Indigenous peoples. That framework has been used successfully to safeguard Indigenous resources and territory. However, only 23 countries have adopted the convention, leaving gaping holes in enforcement and protection of human rights globally. There has been some progress since the passage of these protections; countries previously opposed to the text have reversed course and adopted the legislation. But where ILO-Convention 169 can be legally binding, the UNDRIP is a nonbinding document that sets standards but does not provide tools to address rights violations.
More than a decade after its passage, Al Khalifa’s warning remains pertinent; Indigenous Peoples continue to face violence, discrimination, and human rights violations. Across the globe, there are nearly 476 million Indigenous people. We live in more than 90 countries, speak more than 4,000 different languages. We occupy almost 22 percent of the planet’s land surface. But across the globe, a constellation of corporations, special interest organizations, politicians, lobbyists, and hate groups work to limit or eliminate said rights for Indigenous people. Those efforts are nothing new.
For modern states, especially those born from colonial projects like the United States and Australia, nationhood and anti-Indigenous sentiments have always been intertwined. But to date, there has been no concerted effort to understand just how deep these ideologies go or how they manifest. In part, this is because anti-Indigenous sentiments are cultural and political features, not systemic flaws or errors. The CHamoru of Guam, for instance, continue to fight for independence—a recommendation made by the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization in the 1960s. Those efforts, however, have been curtailed by legal actions brought by U.S. citizens who refuse to allow the colony to be independent, and find support in Supreme Court opinions that refer to the CHamoru as an alien race, unable to govern themselves.
Anti-Indigenous ideologies challenge bedrock human rights through a number of means. Relying on stereotypes, for instance, is a common tactic in almost every country: Indigenous communities are seen as lawless or corrupt and incapable of managing land, water, wildlife or infrastructure—roles that anti-Indigenous activists and fellow travelers argue should be taken on by the state or corporations instead of Indigenous communities. Those same arguments are often extended to the adoption of Indigenous children, access to health care, and payment of taxes. In all cases, anti-Indigenous individuals and organizations argue that Indigenous people are incapable of managing their own affairs by engaging with racist dog whistles and established stereotypes to undermine rights to land, resources, language, and culture.
But the staying power of anti-Indigeneity is also due to a lack of education or understanding of Indigenous rights or relationships. A common thread utilized by purveyors of anti-Indigenous sentiments includes championing ideas of “equality,” that Indigenous peoples should not receive “special rights” and that all citizens should be equal before the law—an attack designed to undermine legal agreements, constructive arrangements, treaty rights, and government-to-government relationships with Indigenous communities and tribal nations—compelling arguments to individuals that have no understanding of why treaty rights or legal agreements exist in the first place.
Anti-Indigenous sentiments and ideologies take on a number of different shapes. In their most extreme forms, anti-Indigenous hate groups express clear intentions to assimilate or eliminate Indigenous people. On the opposite end of the spectrum, non-Indigenous individuals and organizations with environmental or even social justice track records often wade into anti-Indigenous rhetoric to wield litigation or win political fights. Globally, purveyors of anti-Indigenous ideologies work to undermine established rights by relying on a variety of doctrines and practices that find root in scientifically false, racist, and legally invalid arguments.
The core of anti-Indigeneity is in opposition to self-determination, political and cultural autonomy, and the right to maintain, use and protect traditional territories and resources. But from clear hate groups to fellow travelers and opportunists, there is little to no scrutiny of anti-Indigenous ideologies anywhere on the planet. This collection of reportage from across three countries and in collaboration with five institutions describes just a few of the ways in which anti-Indigeneity infiltrates our governments, agencies and lives.
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