Indigenous peoples round the world have suffered centuries of violence and repression as a result of colonialism and colonization. Demands for recognition of the civil and political rights of indigenous peoples, and for respect for their cultures, only became a prominent political issue in the 1960s and 1970s, when other social movements provided inspiration, and changing social and political attitudes enabled indigenous peoples to be heard. The indigenous cause also benefited from the globalization of protest and the institutional possibilities offered by the United Nations. The World Council of Indigenous Peoples was created in 1975 and succeeded in getting recognition of their special rights from the UN Human Rights Commission, and 1993 was designated the UN Year of Indigenous Peoples. The UN General Assembly adopted the ‘Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ in 2007 – the governments of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all voted against it, arguing it went too far. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization based at the Hague has also offered support to indigenous struggles. Survival International, based in London, campaigns for tribal peoples’ rights globally, and their website provides a guide to today’s struggles, see: http://www.survivalinternational.org.
Indigenous movements have campaigned for changes in the public recognition of their history – for example the abolition of ‘Columbus Day’ in the United States. They have also demanded cultural rights, including changes in the way their artefacts and history are presented in museums, respect for sacred sites and return of sacred objects. At a political level indigenous peoples have demonstrated for basic civil and political rights, protesting against economic, social and political discrimination. In Australia Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders still did not have the right to vote in all elections until the mid-1960s; in 1972 the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up outside the Commonwealth parliament to symbolize the fact that Aborigines were effectively foreigners in their own country.
In several countries indigenous peoples, often suffering from extreme poverty and social discrimination, as well as loss of their traditions and identity, began in the 1970s to reject the goal of assimilation into mainstream society, and to give priority to demands for land and political and economic autonomy within it. In Canada the Inuit gained the self-governing territory of Nunavit in 1999; other aboriginal groups were granted autonomy (within the framework of the Canadian Constitution), or devolution under Treaty Land Entitlement to members of the Cree Nation living on reserves, who may be able to acquire additional territory. In Australia the creation of the Australian and Torres Straits Islanders Commission in 1989 was a contentious and much more limited gesture towards indigenous autonomy. In the USA the lands and status of Native Americans rest on numerous treaties (frequently broken by the Federal Government) and on later Congressional laws. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act did attempt to halt privatization of communal lands and promote self-government, but did not restore lost land. The legal rights of tribal groups have increased since the evolution from the 1960s of both protest and resistance and legal action.
The semi-nomadic Saami living in northern Scandinavia and parts of Russia were politically mobilized in the 1970s, when the Norwegian government launched a project to build a dam and hydroelectric power station, which would encroach on the pastures for reindeer, central to the Saami lifestyle. The Saami occupied the site and began a protest fast outside the Norwegian parliament. Despite only partial success, in reducing rather than ending the dam project, the Saami went on to demand educational and political autonomy and achieved separate parliaments in Norway, Finland and Sweden, which cooperate across boundaries in a Saami Parliamentary Council created in 2000.
Although political and cultural claims have been extremely important, indigenous peoples have also been, and are increasingly, engaged in bitter struggles to preserve their local livelihood and environment from national governments and multinational corporations seeking to exploit their natural resources and use their land. Occasionally indigenous people may be divided over the possible economic advantages of mining or other projects, as against preservation of their natural and cultural milieu. But the general picture is one in which the global economy and giant corporations within it pose a fundamental threat to indigenous survival.
Resistance to economic exploitation often involves forms of nonviolent (or sometimes violent) forms of defiance or obstruction, which may be accompanied by political advocacy or use of the courts by the protesters or national and international supporters. Campaigning for political change by indigenous minorities has included important symbolic demon-strations, such as the Native American protest caravan in 1972, and forms of disobedience, such as ‘freedom rides’ against segregation in New South Wales in 1965. But it has often focused on petitions, lobbying and rallies. An important stage in the campaign by Australian Aborigines was a referendum in 1967 on whether to include Aborigines in the census, when both Aborigines and white supporters campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote. Resort to the courts has also been very important as means of claiming rights to land: in Canada it has led to constitutional entrenchment of entitlement to land in 1982, and in Australia to the Mabo Judgment in the High Court in 1992, which based Aboriginal entitlement on continuing connection to land and waters before and after white settlement to the present. The Maoris in New Zealand campaigned in the 1960s and 1970s for official legal recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 between Maori chiefs and the British Crown, and subsequently largely ignored. In 1975 the Treaty of Waitingi Act was passed and set up a tribunal to examine complaints, but its limited powers led to disillusion among Maoris (and there are additional problems arising from discrepancies between the Maori and English versions of the original treaty).
Where indigenous groups form a significant proportion of the whole population, it may be possible for them to achieve a government supportive of their goals through elections, as has happened in Bolivia with the election of Morales. In Latin America indigenous goals are very closely linked to resistance to the ideology and practice of neo-liberal globalization and the international economic treaties and institutions that enshrine these doctrines, and remove restrictions on multinationals. In Bolivia the election of Morales was preceded by the 2003 national rebellion, opposing gas exports and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which toppled the President (Guide to Civil Resistance, vol. 1, E.IV. 3.b).