Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

By Patrick Thornberry | Go to book overview

1

We are still here

My people have been here since time began. I know how the world began, and I know how the world will end. 1


Identities and names

A great flow of contemporary discussion and debate has made an international public increasingly aware of the presence of peoples described as indigenous, who appear to exist in every inhabited region of the globe. Some names associated with the term `indigenous' are familiar to a wide public: the Australian Aborigines, the Crees, the Guarani, the Igorot and Inuit, the Jumma and the Kuna, the Maasai, the Maori, the Mapuche and the Maya, the Mbuti (Pygmies), Miskitos and Mohawk, the Navajo, the San/Basarwa (Bushmen) of the Kalahari, the Saami, Sioux, Tuareg and Yanomami. 2 Knowledge of names may be matched by a rougher knowledge that the peoples are nomadic, sedentary, hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, surviving in tough environments - rainforests and deserts, the High Andes and the High Arctic. In some cases, a mode of society is built into the name, so the Jumma people derive from `Jum', which means `shifting cultivation'. 3 The names of most will perhaps be known only to a restricted or élite `public' of administrators, anthropologists, environmentalists, geographers, historians, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of many stripes, philanthropists, sociologists, writers. In some cases we have learned, or ought to have learned, to call the peoples by the names that they prefer; to avoid `Eskimo' and say `Inuit'. 4 Using the `old' names in the descriptive vocabulary of our own cultures can signify dismissive or patronising ethnocentric

____________________
1
Umatilla leader Armand Minthorn, cited in Tri-City Herald, 16 October 1999.
2
See J. Burger et al., The Gaia Atlas of First Peoples. A Future for the Indigenous World (London, Gaia Books Ltd., 1991).
3
Intervention of Rev. P. Bhikkhu, Commission Drafting Group, 18-29 October 1999 (on file with author).
4
`Inuit' means `people'; `Eskimo' comes from the Algonkian word meaning `he eats it raw'.

-12-

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