You are here

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).

Introduction

This section focuses primarily on four countries in which European colonization led to indigenous peoples losing their lands and way of life (and in some cases their almost total destruction): Australia, New Zealand and Canada and the USA. In all four there have been vigorous campaigns for indigenous rights since the 1960s. Some Native American organizations span the USA and Canada, and the US Civil Rights Movement as well as its subsequent Black Power phase, influenced indigenous groups both in North America and in New Zealand and Australia. This section also briefly covers the struggle of the only European indigenous people, the Saami, in northern Scandinavia.
For an overview of the political and legal position of indigenous peoples within these countries and comparative assessments see:

(235). Chesterman, John ; Galligan, Brian, Citizens Without Rights, [1997], Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 288

On Australia. It includes some references to protests.

(236). Dyck, Noel, Indigenous Peoples and the Nation State: ‘Fourth World’ Politics in Canada, Australia and Norway, St John’s Nfld, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1985, pp. 263

(237). Fleras, Augie ; Elliott, Jean Leonard, The Nations Within, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 267

Covers Canada, New Zealand and the USA.

(238). Ivanitz, Michele, Democracy and Indigenous Self-Determination, In Carter, April ; Stokes, Geoffrey , Democratic Theory Today: Challenges for the 21st Century Cambridge, Polity, , 2002, pp. 121-148

Compares Australia and Canada

(239). Macklem, Patrick, Distributing Sovereignty: Indian Nations and Equality of Peoples, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 45, issue 5 (May), 1993, pp. 1311-1367

Compares Canada and USA from a legal perspective.

(240). Bennett, Scott, Aborigines and Political Power, Sydney NSW, Allen and Unwin, 1989, pp. 167

General analysis, includes some references to protest.

(242). Mandle, W. F., Going It Alone: Australia’s National Identity in the Twentieth Century, Ringwood VIC, Penguin, 1980

Chapter on ‘Donald Macleod and Australia’s Aboriginal Problem’, pp. 174-89 covers Pilbara strike and Pindan movement of late 1940s.

(243). Read, Peter, Charles Perkins: A Biography, Melbourne VIC, Penguin, 2001, pp. 392

Perkins has been one of the leading activists in New South Wales and his role in leading protests is described in some detail.

See also:

Verity Burgmann, Power and Protest: Movements for Change in Australian Society, (217 - A. 6. Nonviolent Action and Social Movements), Chapter 1 ‘Black Movement, White Stubborness’ covers land occupations, freedom rides, ‘black power’ and the tent embassy.
(244). Hazelhurst, Kayleen M., Political Expression and Ethnicity: Statecraft and Mobilization in the Maori World, Westport CT, Praeger, 1993, pp. 222

Includes information on demonstrations, but focus on the Mana Motukhake political party founded at beginning of 1980s which contested several elections and by-elections in that decade.

(245). Poata-Smith, Evan Te Ahu, The Evolution of Contemporary Maori Protest, In Spoonley, Paul ; Macpherson, Cluny ; Pearce, David , Nga Patai: Racism and Ethnic Relations in Aotearoa Palmerston N.Z., Dunmore Press, , 1996, pp. 97-116

Account by Maori activist and academic which covers links to other movements, ‘brown power’, the Maori Land Rights movement of 1975-84, cultural campaigns, claims to the Waitangi Tribunal and responses by the Labour Government.

(246). Walker, Ranginui, Ka Whawhai Tonu Motu: Struggle Without End, [1990], Auckland N.Z., Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 334

History of the Maori, including resistance to white occupation in 19th century: chapters 11-12 cover recent political protest, for example to protect land and fishing rights, and other forms of political activism.

(247). Williams, David V., Seeking Justice for the Historical Claims of Indigenous People in Aotearoa New Zealand, In Ghal, Yash ; Cotterell, Jill , Marginalised Communities and Access to Justice London, Routledge, , 2010,

(248). Boldt, Menno ; Long, Anthony ; Bear, Leroy Little, The Quest for Justice, Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1988, pp. 406

Over 20 contributions from a wide range of aboriginal peoples and organizations, academics and government representatives, discussing land rights and other contentious issues in an historical, legal and political framework, and from regional and international perspectives.

(249). Cooper, Karen Cody, Spirited Encounters: American Indians Protest Museum Policies and Practices, Walnut Creek CA, Alta Mira Press, 2007, pp. 224

Covers cultural protests relating to presentation in museums, returning sacred objects and naming of national days in both USA and Canada. Includes discussion of call by Lubicon Lake Band of Cree in Northern Alberta for a boycott of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Canada over land claim and related boycott of exhibition on Canada’s First People.

(250). Robertson, Heather, Reservations are for Indians, [1970], 2nd edition with new preface, Toronto, James Lewis and Samuel, 1991, pp. 303

Account of life on four reservations, the impact of government and emergence of new more radical leaders. Includes material on a protest march and ‘drink-in’ in 1960s.

(251). Shadian, Jessica M., The Politics of Arctic Sovereignty: Oil, Ice and Inuit Government, New York, Routledge, 2013, pp. 272

A political history of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

The primary focus of this sub-section is on political protest and legal claims, but for a guide to the legal rights of Native Americans see Pever, The Rights of Indians and Tribes: The Basic ACLU Guide to Indian Tribal Rights (254 - B.1.d. USA) , below. One notable victory was achieved by the Navajo in September 2014, when the Obama Administration agreed to pay $554 million in compensation for federal government mismanagement of Navajo resources for nearly 60 years, settling a lawsuit filed in 2006.

(252). Cohen, Fay G., Treaties on Trial: The Continuing Controversy over Northwest Indian Fishing Rights, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1986, pp. 229

Includes protest ‘fish-ins’

(253). Deloria Jr, Vine Jr, Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An American Indian Declaration of Independence, Austin TX, University of Texas Press, 1985, pp. 296

Covers developing activism in the 1960s, the protest caravan of 1972 culminating in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and site occupations, including the 71 day occupation and siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973.

(254). Pever, Stephen L., The Rights of Indians and Tribes: The Basic ACLU Guide to Indian Tribal Rights, [1985], 4th edn. (first edition of this American Civil Liberties Union Guide published 1985 and 2nd 1992 by Southern Illinois University Press)., New York, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 540

(255). Schragg, James L., Report from Wounded Knee, In Hare; Blumberg, Liberation without Violence: A Third Party Approach (206 - A. 5. Nonviolent Intervention and Accompaniment), London, Rex Collings, pp. 117-124

On the spot account by pacifist during the occupation, noting the demands of the American Indian Movement protesters, that they had been invited by organizations representing many of the Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation angry about the conduct of the reservation government, and commenting on disparity between the light rifles of the protesters and the full military arsenal being deployed by the FBI.

(256). Smith, Paul Chaat ; Warrior, Robert Allen, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, New York, New Press, 1996, pp. 384

Examines the militant American Indian Movement (AIM). from the seizure of Alcatraz in 1969 to Wounded Knee in 1973, assessing failures as well as successes.

(257). Steiner, Stan, The New Indians, New York, Harper Row, 1968, pp. 220

On the development of the ‘Red Power’ movement rejecting white culture.

(258). Weyler, Rex, Blood of the Land: The Government and Corporate War Against the American Indian Movement, [1982], New York, Random House/Vintage, 1984, pp. 304

(259). Wilkinson, Charles, Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations, New York, W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 560

Part 1 ‘the Abyss’ examines the socio-economic conditions of many Native Americans in the 1950s, Part 2 the development of a movement, leadership on the reservations and ‘Red Power’, whilst Part 3 explores ‘the Foundations of Self-determination’.

(260). Ingold, Tim, The Skolt Lapps Today, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 290

Primary focus on Saami in Finland. Study of reservation resettled due to boundary changes with USSR after 1945, looking at ecological imbalances, links to government and debates about future. But also notes influence of broader Nordic movement and its different approaches (conservative defence of Lapp culture, or left focus on neocolonialism). Chapter 21 examines the evolution of the wider Saami movement and inter-Nordic conferences (pp. 235-44).

(262). Lawrence, WilliamRennebohm, Max, Saami and Norwegians protest construction of Alta Dam, Norway, 1979-81, ed. Rennebohm, Max, 30/01/2011, 2011, pp. 3

Useful summary with references.

(261). Paine, Robert, Ethnodrama and the “Fourth World”: The Saami Action Group in Norway 1979-81, In Dyck, Indigenous Peoples and the Nation State: ‘Fourth World’ Politics in Canada, Australia and Norway (236 - B.1. Campaigns for Civil, Political and Cultural Rights), St John’s Nfld, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland,

Analysis by social anthropologist of campaign against the Alta Hydropower Dam, and its impact in promoting cultural and political rights.

(263). Thuen, Trond, Quest for Equity: Norway and the Saami Challenge, St John’s Nfld, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1995, pp. 300

(NB Saami is sometimes spelled Sami in the literature)

Resistance to national and corporate projects threatening water rights and their natural environment has been part of the indigenous movements in the countries listed under B.1 above. Opposition to hydro-electric projects in Norway and Canada, resistance to uranium mining in Australia and the USA, and protests against mineral extraction in Sweden are important in relation to land and water rights and genuine political autonomy. Threats to first peoples’ environments still constitute a major issue and source of political conflict.

(264). Banerjee, Subhankar, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, New York, Seven Stories Press, 2012, pp. 560

Narratives and assessments by 30 activists and researchers of struggle by indigenous peoples and environmentalists to prevent proposed exploitation of oil, gas and coal in Arctic Alaska.

(265). Dekar, Paul, The Australian No Uranium Mining Campaign, Peace Magazine, Vol. 16, issue 3 (Jul-Sep), 2000, pp. 27-26

See also: Milburn, Caroline , Australia: Women at forefront of Jabiluka resistance The Age, 1999

(266). Gedicks, Al, International Native Resistance to the New Resource Wars, In Taylor, Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism (299 - C.1.a. General and International Studies), Albany NY, State University of New York Press, pp. 89-108

Covers resistance by Cree and Inuit, supported by Kayapo Indians in Brazil and transnational green groups, to major hydro-electric project in Quebec.

(267). Grenfell, Damian, Environmentalism, State Power and “National Interests, In Goodman, Protest and Globalisation: Prospects for Transnational Solidarity (158 - A.6.a. General Titles), Annandale NSW, Pluto Press, pp. 111-115

Covers ‘Stop Jabiluka’ campaign by Aborigines and environmentalists in Kakadu National Park.

(269). La Duke, Winona, Uranium Mines on Native Land, The Harvard Crimson, , The Harvard Crimson, 02/05/1979,

On struggle in late 1970s by Navajos against proposed uranium and coal mining, stressing dangers of uranium mining.
See also her article La Duke, Winona , Uranium Mining, Native Resistance and the Greener Path: The impact of uranium mining on indigenous communities Orion Magazine, 2009 , on Navajo resistance in past and new threat from revived stress on nuclear power. (Includes references to Kakadu.)

(271). Risong, Malin ; MacDougall, David, Sweden’s Indigenous Sami in Fight against Miners, Associated Press, , Associated Press, 29/08/2013,

Saami in Sweden have right to use land for herding but no ownership rights. The dispute over iron ore mining has prompted calls for Swedish government to give legal recognition to Saami ownership rights.

(272). Schwartz, Daniel ; Gollom, Mark, N.B. Fracking Protests and the Fight for Aboriginal Rights: Duty to Consult at Core of Conflict over Shale Gas development, CBC News, , CBC News, 19/10/2013,

On New Brunswick protest blockade by Elsipogtog First Nation and supporters.

(273). Tanner, Adrian, Culture, Social Change and Cree Opposition to the James Bay Hydroelectric Development, In Hornig, James P., Social and Environmental Impacts of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project Montreal, McGill-Queens University Press, , 1999, pp. 121-140

Threats to indigenous peoples’ land and rights from corporations and government around the world are growing as the search for resources becomes more desperate. This sub-section cannot provide a comprehensive bibliography – it aims simply to indicate some relevant sources.

(275). Anderson, Robert S. ; Huber, Walter, The Hour of the Fox: Tropical Forests, the World Bank and Indigenous People in Central India, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1988, pp. 173

(276). Boelens, Rutgerd ; Getches, David ; Gil, Armando Guevara, Out of the Mainstream: Water Rights, Politics and Identity, New York, Routledge, 2011, pp. 384

Compares struggles over water in Andean communities of Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia and Native American communities in S .W. USA, noting the combined goals of cultural justice and socio-economic justice.

 

(277). Gandhi, Ajay, Indigenous Resistance to New Colonialism, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Vol. 25, issue 3 (Fall), 2001, pp. 4-3

Notes opposition by indigenous activists (at ‘People’s Summit’ in Quebec City April 2001) to Free Trade Agreement of the Americas debated at official government Summit of the Americas elsewhere in the city, and reports some of speeches.

(278). Mander, Jerry ; Tauli-Corpuz, Victoria, Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Globalization, (new expanded edition), Los Angeles CA, University of California Press, 2007, pp. 272

Documents how multinationals are targeting resources in indigenous lands and strong indigenous resistance. Section V discusses activism and social movements and what can be done.

(279). Palma, Lillian, A Struggle for Sacred Land: The Case of Wirikuta, OpenDemocracy.net, , OpenDemocracy.net, 26/09/2013, pp. 5-4

Examines resistance by indigenous people in desert of Central Mexico to government granting mining concessions to Canadian First Majestic Silver in their protected zone, and wider support in Mexico for their cause.

(280). Sawyer, Suzana ; Gomez, Edmund Terence, The Politics of Resource Extraction: Indigenous Peoples, Multinational Corporations and the State, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 336

Studies cover Peru, India (Orissa), Philippines, Nigeria (the Niger Basin), Chad and Cameroon, as well as Australia and Canada.

Environmental struggles involving indigenous peoples are also listed under C.2.b., C.2.c. and C.2.d.