The Multiculturalism of Fear

By Jacob T. Levy | Go to book overview
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6 Incorporating Indigenous Law


If a history of cruelty, a legacy of violence and injustice, is important to our evaluation of cultural rights-claims, there can be few better claimants to special consideration than indigenous peoples. Until the horrors of the twentieth century, there was probably nothing with which to compare the vast scale and scope of the mistreatment inflicted on the original inhabitants of the Americas and other colonized lands. While sometimes there is anachronism involved in the moral judgement of long-ago actions, this is not the case here. The cruelty and injustice were recognized as such by its contemporaries, ranging from Bartolomé de Las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria in the sixteenth century to Kant and Montesquieu in the eighteenth, and beyond. 1

Not all indigenous peoples have been treated with the same savagery; whatever the complaints of Scandinavia's Sami peoples, they do not include the enslavement and genocide practiced in the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Violent expropriation of lands has been all too common around the world, however, almost whenever indigenous peoples have come into contact with expanding modern states and empires. In the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa, but also in Siberia, northeastern India and western Myanmar (Burma), Scandinavia, and Taiwan, the refusal to recognize the legitimacy of indigenous land claims has been central to the violent histories of contact between indigenous and other cultures. And the refusal to recognize land claims was often part and parcel of a refusal to recognize indigenous law in general.


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