Self-determination versus the determination of self: A critical reading of the colonial ethics inherent to the united nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples

Journal of Global Ethics 3 (3):359 – 379 (2007)
Abstract
The United Nations' (UN) adoption of a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is intended to mark a fundamental ethical turn in the relationships between indigenous peoples and the community of sovereign states. This moment is the result of decades of discussion and negotiation, largely revolving around states' discomfort with notion of indigenous self-determination. Member states of the UN have feared that an ethic of indigenous self-determination would undermine the principles of state sovereignty on which the UN is itself grounded. However, such fears are the result of very poor understandings of the ethical principles under which the relations between indigenous peoples and nation-states already have been formed under centuries of European colonialism. The principle of self-determination embraced in this Declaration does not diverge from colonial norms; it entrenches these norms as international policy. Without doubt, indigenous peoples are more likely to benefit than suffer from states' observance of the Articles within this Declaration. Reducing the challenge of indigenous peoples' rights to the notion of self-determination set out in this document, though, misses an extraordinarily important opportunity to critically investigate the ethic of rights that has produced an opposition between nation-states and indigenous peoples to begin with. A true turn in the ethics of this relationship would see not simply the institution of a right to self-determination but, rather, indigenous peoples' right to first determine the nature of self for themselves.
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