Indigenous Movements Essay

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Struggles for indigenous self-determination have become a major worldwide human rights movement. Throughout the Americas and in settler colonies such as Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, as well as across the Pacific and in Asia and Africa and the Caribbean, indigenous peoples reject their treatment as disadvantaged citizens of settler states and instead demand to be recognized as political communities with distinctive rights. The proliferation of indigenous mobilizations – irreducible to a single, unified movement – reflects a shifting terrain of struggle. New strategies, operating simultaneously on multiple scales, have been deployed to confront new and evolving threats to the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Despite noteworthy gains, indigenous peoples, in many cases, still are losing control over lands, water and other resources, and access to sacred sites. Market-driven global processes, underwritten by dominant settler colonies such as the United States, are deepening environmental deterioration and increasing poverty, limiting the hope of sustainable futures for indigenous and non-indigenous people everywhere.

In response to overt settler violence and subtle coercion (e.g., subordination to states within liberal multicultural frameworks), indigenous peoples continue to fight old fights as well as mount new forms of resistance. While often concerned with defending recently re-acquired autonomy in local contexts ripe with racial tensions, the political and economic conjuncture brought on by global capitalism and its unprecedented demands for resources (e.g., forests, minerals, oil, water) has forced indigenous peoples to engage in new fights for survival. Generally speaking, indigenous movements employ a variety of strategies and operate from multiple locations in order to challenge the authority and question the legitimacy of the state and capital. Indigenous movements thus occupy a fluid position vis-a-vis the state and struggle for freedom both within and against structures of domination by taking power and making power.

Thus, indigenous movements emerge transhemispherically and transoceanically to challenge settler states’ claims of absolute sovereignty. These multi-faceted mobilizations stress self-determination and autonomy, often calling for restructuring states, territorial rights, control over economic development, and reforms of police powers over them. Everywhere, indigenous peoples remain as concerned as ever with safeguarding distinctive forms of government and governing, wrestling control of natural and cultural resources away from states and corporations, protecting sacred sites, and revitalizing indigenous languages and cultures.


  1. Duncan I., Patton, P. & Sanders, W. (eds.) (2000). Political Theory and the Rights ofIndigenous Peoples. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  2. Stuart-Harawira, M. (2005) The New Imperial Order: Indigenous Responses to Globalization. Zed Books, London.

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