Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

By Patrick Thornberry | Go to book overview

17

Indigenous peoples and
the discourses of human rights:
a reflective narrative

The system of human rights is not closed. It is theoretically possible that forms of closure of normative categories will in time descend on indigenous groups, disabling the groups (normatively) from accessing minority rights, just as minorities are not encouraged to access indigenous rights. Such an outcome is not certain, and appears improbable in the present state of international law and relations. Closing off categories is also dubious morally and practically for indigenous groups; it would deny commonality with other vulnerable groups, other tortures, other sufferings and reduce complex questions of identity to a single track. The `parallel universe' aspect of some indigenous activism (`no law but our law), or what Brownlie refers to as `the total preservation syndrome' does not resonate in the echo-chamber of human rights. 1 While a little ethnocentrism may do everyone good, 2 exclusively ethnocentric approaches to rights seem implausible paths to the future. The existing decentred normative structures of human rights allow for thought, calculation and action on what kind of society, what world we wish to inhabit, and on what kind of people we are. Indigenous groups have vigorously utilised existing structures, while continuing to agitate for a more focused legal regime. The exposition of rights avenues in previous chapters has sought to report on human rights in the context of international law, respecting the integrity of the various instruments examined and the domains of discourse they incorporate. Chapters have appraised the texts holistically,

____________________
1
Brownlie, Treaties and Indigenous Peoples, p. 74: Brownlie refers here to a notion that if other normative standards conflict with `indigenous norms', the non- indigenous norms must (simply?) give way.
2
Instilling loyalty to nation, State, locality, etc. See discussion in C. Geertz, Available Light (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2000); ch. IV (the uses of diversity), on (p. 73) the temptations of `relax-and-enjoy-it' ethnocentrism, warning (p. 74) against `easy surrender to the comforts of merely being ourselves'.

-406-

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