1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion

Identity, Power and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  • Project from: 2006 to 2008


This project will theoretically and empirically trace the structure and interlocking nature of relations between governments and international organizations in order to analyse how these links impact on the identity, rights and livelihood of indigenous communities. It will assess whether, during their collaborative endeavours to industrialize economies, national governments and international agencies have adequately recognized and appreciated the unique identity of indigenous groups and their relationship to their ancestral land and use of its resources.

The project will focus primarily on the issue of power, specifically how power is deployed within the state and international institutions and between the state and indigenous groups. Links between the themes of identity, power and rights will be established, drawing attention to the need to institutionalize mechanisms that protect marginalized groups from displacement from their lands while also giving them an avenue to participate in decision making on issues affecting their way of life. The three main subthemes of the project—state, international institutions and indigenous peoples—will be deconstructed to reveal how a more just deployment of power can ensure that the identity and rights of indigenous communities are protected while a more mutually acceptable and equitable form of development can be pursued.

Under the theme of the state, government policies that deal with land redistribution and development programmes, including the promotion of economic and entrepreneurial activities to help eradicate poverty, will be reviewed. The theme of international institutions will deal with the links between the state, international financial institutions (IFIs) and transnational corporations (TNCs). The project will assess the outcome of developmental recommendations, including the promotion of privatization and industrialization by IFIs, on indigenous peoples’ ownership of their ancestral land and its resources. The promotion of foreign investment and its impact on the economies and cultures of indigenous communities will also be evaluated. The theme of indigenous peoples will focus attention on the issues of cultural identity and of communal ownership of resources, noting that the distinctiveness of these communities is linked to their geographical location and forms of employment of the resources of these sites.

The primary hypothesis of this project is that the current developmental plans conceived between governments and international institutions have affected the self-determination of indigenous peoples and aggravated social inequalities between them and other communities. This project will involve 8 country case studies – Bolivia, Peru, Chad-Cameroon, Nigeria, the Philippines, India, Australia and Canada. The initial workshop was held on the 26th-27th July 2006, in Geneva, bringing together academics, researchers and policy-makers with expertise in this area. The final workshop, where research findings were discussed and finalised, was held in Geneva on the 2nd-3rd April 2007.

A series of dissemination seminars is also underway, in order to secure feedback from academics, NGOs and indigenous peoples about the project’s research findings and policy recommendations. The first of these seminars was convened on 18 August 2007 in Cochabamba, Bolivia and hosted by the Universidad Superior de San Simón. The symposium was held at the Centro de Documentación e Información Bolivia (CEDIB), a research centre, archive and clearinghouse for news reports on social and environmental issues in Bolivia. Further meetings in 2008 will be held in Peru, New Zealand, and the Philippines.