Incommensurate Indigenous Rights?
When Indigenous Peoples claim rights to self-government, land, and cultural autonomy—the primary items in a collection of indigenous rights—are they asking for exceptional benefits or special rights from their surrounding nation state? For most nation-states and international agencies, including the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous nations must live within the laws and institutions of their host nation states.
The arguments of exceptionalism and special rights are red flags for the view that Indigenous Peoples have citizenship rights as all other citizens within the nation state, but indigenous rights violate the political and legal equality laws and values. Exceptions and special rights are singled out for reversal in court cases and legislation, since they are contrary to the main premise of equal rights for all national citizens. In this view, Indigenous Peoples are entitled to the rights of citizens that all other citizens have, and no more. This is the premise of the Declaration and the practice of most nation states around the world.
Indigenous Peoples, however, do not agree that the label of special rights or exceptional rights should be applied to indigenous rights. Indigenous Peoples in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere reject an assimilationist version of national citizenship, they do not reject national loyalty or citizenship rights. Indigenous Peoples live outside mainstream society, government, and culture, often by choice, and by cultural and political commitment. As individuals, Indigenous Peoples often resist participation in mainstream culture and institutions, and prefer to establish relations with nation states through collective national or community organizations.
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