Unburdening future generations
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed recently by an overwhelming majority of 143-4 at the United Nations General Assembly, is a far-reaching statement on human rights.
The document's 45 articles set out the rights of 400 million indigenous people in 70 countries to their self-determination, cultures, traditions, languages, institutions, world views and life ways.
It calls on states to prevent and redress theft of land and natural resources and forced assimilation, while establishing minimal standards to eliminate racism, discrimination, marginalisation and exploitation that inhibits their development.
Indigenous communities constitute a special category of peoples descending from the earliest occupants of a region who suffered under colonisation. Some, as in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US, exist as minorities. Others have achieved sovereign independence.
They are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the world today. Almost all have endured loss of sovereignty and land, and forced assimilation.
Indigenes have consistently resisted oppression. Their modern advocacy has its origins when colonised people, witnessing the immense destruction and violence of World Wars I and II, began questioning notions that European civilisations were superior. A wave of anti-colonial and nationalist movements sprang up.
Gains were made, firstly under the UN International Labour Organisation Conventions 107 and 169, and then when the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples was formed in 1982. Maori were involved at the outset. The group produced a first draft of the declaration in 1993. The now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights redrafted that annually. A reconstituted and more effective UN Human Rights Council adopted a formal draft in 2006. Last month's passage affirmed that process. One of the reasons the declaration took so long to formulate was that Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US have consistently impeded its progress, something the indigenous community has widely condemned.
This Canzus group claims to be acting in the interests of indigenous peoples, yet none of the four properly consulted the indigenous people they claimed to represent. New Zealand facilitated six meetings over 20 years and then only with interested individuals.
Canzus also argued the declaration was fundamentally incompatible with democracy. This ignores the fact that current constitutional arrangements were originally imposed and that while equality under democracy is an admirable goal, the reality is that historically, mono-cultural democracies in pluri-cultural contexts have always favoured dominant groups and have disadvantaged minorities.
New Zealand said the declaration created special rights for Maori in a manner unfair to other citizens and was inconsistent with the principles and protection afforded to Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi. The Crown forgets that it created different classes when it treated Maori as second-class citizens and cleared them off their lands and suppressed their culture and language. Maori weren't accepted as equal. They were an underclass.
And, while the Treaty does afford Maori some protection, for the most part the Crown unilaterally decides Treaty policy.
The UN declaration provides balance by delineating a baseline of rights for all indigenous peoples. This is one root of the opposition from New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the US. These countries have baggage. They don't want further examination of colonial or current injustices. Canzus also objected to articles affirming indigenous people's rights to political self-determination; economic development of original traditional lands and natural resources; and free, prior, and informed consent before those rights are impeded upon - as separatist and threatening to lands now legally owned by others.
Never mind that this doesn't acknowledge that most non-Maori, lawfully-owned land derives from an initial theft, and that the four governments fail to appreciate that empowering indigenous peoples to help themselves is the best way forward.
The stance is duplicitous because the declaration clearly recognises that much lost land will never be returned.
Herein lies a second rub. The declaration urges land be returned where possible, but where that is not feasible it recommends compensation at full value. The real issue is that New Zealand has forced Maori to accept very much less, usually one to two per cent of losses. The Crown does not want to admit that New Zealand's restitutive processes and standards are sometimes lacking.
The declaration is helpful because it reminds us to focus on full justice lest we encourage a greater sense of injustice that will burden future generations. And, there are implications for the future. The declaration allows claims on loss of identity and culture. At some time in the future, it will lead to the forming of a long overdue international tribunal on indigenous claims.
This will have implications for how we interpret and apply the Treaty. The document will remain, but in future we will be more honest about the past. The gang of four governments will cease to dictate the falsehood that colonisation occurred by free and intelligent cession of sovereignty. Indigenes will be equal, Maori more self-determining and greater compensation due.
Canzus is a backward coalition. It is time we joined the rest of the world.
* Dr Taonui is head of school of Maori and indigenous studies and Kaiarahi (joint Maori adviser) College of Arts, University of Canterbury
very interesting link HERE on the history of NZ and OZ
In Canada’s case to recognize the right of self-determination and the territorial rights of indigenous nations would mean that Canada’s claims over millions of hectares of land–they call “Crown land”– are potentially null and void. Canada might have to respect the original owner’s and their right to freely use and dispose of their land and resources according to THEIR wants and needs–not Canada’s wants and needs. Canada is attempting to “legally steal” First Nation territories through a bogus “treaty process” with First Nations it started more than fifteen years ago. First Nations leaders have begun to see through Canada’s treaty charade and balk at giving away their land for Canadian dollars (called Loonies strangely enough). More than two-thirds of what Canada claims as its territory actually belongs to the original owners–the First Nations.