Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

If You Are Not at the Table, Then You Are Probably on the Menu: Indigenous Peoples' Participatory Status at the United Nations

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

If You Are Not at the Table, Then You Are Probably on the Menu: Indigenous Peoples' Participatory Status at the United Nations

Article excerpt


"All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." (1) Even though self-determination is considered a fundamental right under international law, as more indigenous peoples assert their right to self-determination, divisive views on what self-determination means for indigenous peoples have resulted. (2) Currently, indigenous peoples, either through their own government or on an individual basis, representing indigenous peoples at the United Nations, must be registered and be accredited as either a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) or as a temporary guest. (3) Over the past three years, indigenous peoples' have asked for status that separates themselves from civil society and more properly adheres to their right to self-determination. (4) The United Nations recognizes the need for a status change; however, in order for the international community to respect the rights of indigenous nations, a heightened United Nations status is needed. (5)

This Note explores the implications of a changed status in regards to fundamental human rights and self-determination. (6) Part II examines the history of indigenous peoples at the United Nations; discussing international law that has arisen that directly affects indigenous peoples and the events that led to a call for an increased status. (7) Part III will discuss each of the differing views on what the new status for indigenous peoples should be and the human rights implications for this new status. (8) Part IV of this Note will analyze the need for Member-States to respect indigenous people's rights and roles in international organization and the other implications of a changed status. (9) Lastly, part V will conclude by highlighting the importance of the right of self-determination for all people and the potential platform for prosperity that could occur when these rights are respected via permanent observer status. (10)


A. Indigenous Nation's participation at International Organizations

In 1923, Chief Deskaheh of the Iroquois Confederacy traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to address the League of Nations about the right of indigenous peoples to "live freely on their own lands, practice their own religion and follow their own laws." (11) This was the first attempt by indigenous peoples to assert their right to self-determination and the attempt was largely unsuccessful because all governments refused to meet with him. (12) The journey made by Chief Deskaheh was the earliest involvement of indigenous nations advocating for their rights at International Organizations. (13) After his journey, indigenous peoples began becoming more of a priority in the international system, which eventually led to the creation of conventions and other formal mechanisms within the United Nations. (14)

In 1957, the Convention covering the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries was passed. (15) This was "the first international legal instrument related to indigenous peoples' protection" and the earliest formalized concept of the rights of indigenous peoples. (16) The Convention has since been revised in International Labour Convention Number 169 (ILO No. 169) and came into force in 1991. (17) In 1971, the Economic and Social council authorized the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to perform a study on the "Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations." (18) In 1977, indigenous peoples were formally invited to attend the United Nations in Geneva for the first time. (19) As a result of this and the report of the Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations, led to the establishment when the Sub-commission recommended its creation of a working group of Indigenous Population in 1982. …

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