Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

By Patrick Thornberry | Go to book overview

2

Who is indigenous?:
Concept, definition, process

`When I use a word', Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less'. 1

The previous chapter presented raw statistics which claim to account for an indigenous world. The variability of data suggests that further effort is needed to appraise the underlying concepts through a legal/conceptual lens. The draft Declaration does not define the subjects of its concern. The WGIP `floated' along for years without undertaking a serious examination of the scope of its developing standards, with the definition proposed by Sub-Commission Special Rapporteur Martinez-Cobo functioning as a vague gatekeeper - the WGIP performs its tasks `bearing in mind' his report. 2 Despite embracing sundry groups from all continents, 3 the Working Group was stirred by the arrival in the 1990s of representatives of the Boers and Rehoboth Basters, claiming to be indigenous. 4 `Regular' attenders were unhappy about the new presence. The arrivals made definition appear more pressing. 5 The politics

____________________
1
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), ch. 6.
2
The study was already underway at the time of the first session of the WGIP in 1982 but had not been completed - E/CN.4/Sub.2/1982/33, para. 1; see D. Sanders, `The legacy of Deskaheh: indigenous peoples as international actors', in Cohen (ed.), Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples, p. 75.
3
This was not necessarily true of indigenous `umbrella' organisations such as the World Council on Indigenous Peoples, which was slow to accept members from Asia and the Pacific; B. Kingsbury, `The applicability of the international concept of “indigenous peoples” in Asia', in Bauer and Bell, East Asian Challenge, pp. 336-77, p. 358.
4
See the paragraph on the Basters in the entry for Namibia in Minority Rights Group (ed.), World Directory of Minorities (London, Minority Rights Group, 1997), p. 504.
5
The Chairperson/Rapporteur of the WGIP, M. Daes, made important contributions to the debate: see Note on Criteria which might be Applied when Considering the Concept of Indigenous People, E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/1995/3, 21 June 1995; Working Paper on the Concept of `Indigenous People', E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/1996/2, 10 June 1996; Supplementary Working Paper on the Concept of `Indigenous Peoples', E/CN.4/ Sub.2/AC.4/1997/2, 16 June 1997.

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