Archive | December 2012

The Role of Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights, and the Goal of Respect for All Human Beings, Part I

What does the word diversity mean to most people? What does it mean to you? You’d probably find as many answers to that question as you would people in every part of the inhabitable planet.  One easy way to answer the question is to look at natural, biological systems all around us.  Depending on where one lives there is incredible diversity among the many life forms with whom we co-habit this globe.  This also means that there amazing differentiation co-existing with amazing similarities.


Among human beings, the same can be said.  There is a kaleidoscope of diversity among cultures, skin tones, languages, art, religious systems, nationalities, and individual personalities.  In the natural systems that we interact with, there is a dynamic, ever changing interdependency and symbiosis.  The cycles of life and death move relentlessly and ever so gently and sometimes with savage destruction, as life continue its precious dance across the lands and seas of our planet.

 There seems to be one major difference between us and the natural ecosphere: one species of flower never seems to actively go to war against another one in order to destroy it, to wipe out every trace of its existence, in genocidal rage for future generations to come.  Regrettably, we can’t make this statement about the human species.  Perhaps boiling this down to a very simple truism, the only way that humans seem to be able to co-exist in harmony and productivity is for each people group to respect the other’s complete right to exist within its own frame of reference and culture. It’s in this way that each people group may learn to respect the other, and each may share its unique proclivities with all, so that life may be enhanced at all levels. Everyone then will have more resources available, and begin to lesson warfare, hoarding, and competition.

 In 1948, the United Nations passed a resolution that resulted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This declaration consisted of a written formulation of human rights that all persons on the planet inherently possess–simply by being human. This body of writing was written in the historical context of post-World War II, where the genocide of the Jewish people had reached the epicenter of gigantic, inhumane proportions.  Six million Jews were exterminated along with many other sub-groups that were deemed weak and “less than” by the German Reich: gypsies, gays and lesbians (and most probably transgendered and bisexual people), people of other religious groups, as well as those with physical or mental disabilities.   After the war ended, the world wanted to insure that this would never happen again, there was great motivation by people of the world to bring into existence a document to protect the human rights of all people.  Perhaps another way of saying this is that the UDHR was a document to preserve and protect the diversity of all peoples who live in the world.

 However, one main problem with the formulation of the UDHR was that one of the largest groups of the human race—Indigenous Peoples—were not consulted on the document and ratification of the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples..  Indigenous peoples are the “first peoples” who lived in the land prior to the land being colonized by European or other nations.  The perspective of the UDHR document was primarily a Western one, and thus the human rights of Indigenous Peoples weren’t really addressed in the fullest sense of the meaning of universal human rights. 

 Eventually this was recognized by the United Nations as a pressing issue that would need to be addressed.  Forums, discussions and a final draft that began twenty years prior to an actual ratified document was written into existence through consensus; this time, however with the inclusion of the people whose rights were being codified in the document (sounds pretty natural and logical, right?).  On June 29, 2006 the document called the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in the United Nations.  Interestingly enough, four nations voted against it: the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand  (all very European and very Anglo-Saxon).  Does this mean that these basically, majority, white nations don’t care about Indigenous Peoples’ human rights?  Not necessarily.

 © Christopher Bear-Beam December 27 2012