Indigenous peoples are those communities, groups, or nations often referred to as tribal peoples or First peoples which inhabited lands later colonized by others. They are prevalent throughout the world and represent more than 400 million persons. Their worldviews and practices connect them socially, economically, and spiritually to certain natural environments or bioregional locations crucial to their identity and survival as distinct peoples (Twiss 2004).
Although found in diverse areas of the world, indigenous peoples have been subjected to a similar history of oppression involving military conquest bordering on genocide, dispossession from and exploitation of their lands, forced relocation, deprivation of their traditional means of subsistence and livelihood, removal of their children and denial of traditional cultural education, interference with their religious practices, discrimination in the dominant surrounding society, and marginalization in political processes (Twiss 2004). Theirs is a history of systematic destruction and oppression.
Given this history, what has changed recently to call attention to indigenous rights? Twiss argues that processes of globalization-from-above — namely, collaboration between state actors and agents of capital formation such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank — have instituted policies and procedures that have so accelerated the destruction of these people that their seemingly imminent annihilation is impossible to ignore. Simultaneously, processes of globalization-from-below — including communications, information, and travel technologies, and NGOs assisted by these technologies — have made it possible for indigenous peoples to come together and develop strategies of resistance (Twiss 2004; see also Ewen 1994).
Indigenous peoples have articulated, in one voice, the claim that they have collective human interests and rights to preservation and self-determination as enumerated in the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These collective rights claims have, however, aroused consternation in the international community as the concept of group rights runs against the prevailing individualistic orientation of accepted human rights norms.
For further information on indigenous rights, please refer to the Climate Changethe worldwide rise in temperatures that has been blamed for severe weather in many parts of the world. and Indigenous People news analysis, as well as Ask the Experts: Dr. Susan Aaronson on Trade and Human Rights.