Addressing the Land Claims of Indigenous Peoples Around the World

Isabelle Anguelovski
MIT Program on Human Rights and Justice
September 2008

CBI, the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program (PDP), and the the MIT Human Rights and Justice Program explore ways of addressing the needs of indigenous peoples around the world, particularly with regard to their demands for self-government, control of their borders, the right to use their natural resources as they see fit, and the right to take whatever actions are required to preserve their cultural identity.

What rules ought to govern the interaction between quasi-autonomous peoples and the dominant democratic states in which they live? And, in advanced western democracies, how can the tools of peacemaking and consensus building be used to resolve the conflicts that threaten the survival of aboriginal peoples?

PDP is working with Developing Innovations in Navajo Education, Inc. (DINE) – tribal leaders in Navajo Nation – to explore ways of applying traditional peacemaking tools to resolve natural resource management disputes, particularly disagreements regarding the development of coal-fired power plants, extraction and processing of uranium, allocation of scarce water supplies, resolution of long-standing land claims that have stymied sorely needed infrastructure investment, and the prospect of investing in renewable energy on the reservation.

Abstract: "Indigenous people have lived in the same locations for hundreds if not thousands of years. The national governments involved either refuse to recognize the land claims of indigenous people or are only willing to settle claims in ways unacceptable to them. However, unless these claims are resolved in such a way that First Peoples gain control sufficient, at the very least, to maintain their language and culture, they will disappear. In this paper, the authors explore 14 cases of indigenous land claims, concentrating on the strategies that these First Nations have pursued and the responses they have received from the dominant cultures that surround them. The authors' goal is to understand the preconditions for effectively resolving the land claims of indigenous peoples around the world."

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