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).
You are here
On Australia. It includes some references to protests.
Covers Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
Compares Australia and Canada
Compares Canada and USA from a legal perspective.
General analysis, includes some references to protest.
Chapter on ‘Donald Macleod and Australia’s Aboriginal Problem’, pp. 174-89 covers Pilbara strike and Pindan movement of late 1940s.
Perkins has been one of the leading activists in New South Wales and his role in leading protests is described in some detail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A political history of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
Includes protest ‘fish-ins’
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.
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.
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.
On the development of the ‘Red Power’ movement rejecting white culture.
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’.
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).
Useful summary with references.
Analysis by social anthropologist of campaign against the Alta Hydropower Dam, and its impact in promoting cultural and political rights.
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.
See also: Milburn, Caroline , Australia: Women at forefront of Jabiluka resistance The Age, 1999
Covers resistance by Cree and Inuit, supported by Kayapo Indians in Brazil and transnational green groups, to major hydro-electric project in Quebec.
Covers ‘Stop Jabiluka’ campaign by Aborigines and environmentalists in Kakadu National Park.
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.)
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.
On New Brunswick protest blockade by Elsipogtog First Nation and supporters.
Focuses on legal struggle.
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.
Explores women’s fight against oil extraction in the Bolivian Tariquía Reserve and the threat against forms of self-governance, of dispossession from the land and the environment this constitutes. The authors bring into the analysis the false division between the public and the private sphere. The threat of dispossession, in fact, is projected in daily life, as when women have to endure divisions within their families, occurrence that is considered a form of private and public violence.
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.
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.
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.
Studies cover Peru, India (Orissa), Philippines, Nigeria (the Niger Basin), Chad and Cameroon, as well as Australia and Canada.