Indigenous peoples are a concept referring to a group with individual and collective rights derived from their historical and cultural characteristics and which have a common ethnic identity. They are further defined as the descendents of the native population before colonisation, conquest or the creation of the States, which subjected them to a foreign political system; and, independent of their size or level of development, they maintain cultural characteristics, cosmovision, spirituality and a harmonious relationship with nature; they are governed by their own types of organisation, customs and traditions. This concept does not necessarily mean that these characteristics are fixed.
The most used definition is that of Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organisation of the UN) approved in 1989, which says that they are peoples in independent countries who are considered indigenous by the fact that they are descended from populations that inhabited the country or a geographic region to which the country belongs, during conquest or colonisation or the establishment of the current State borders and who, whatever their legal situation is, conserve all their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions or part of them, and in addition they identify themselves as such.
They are social groups that share similar characteristics, such as a distinct social and cultural identity to the dominant group within society. Some criteria used by diverse institutions (World Bank, Human Rights Agencies from the UN, ILO, UNDP, DANIDA) to identify indigenous peoples are:
a) They generally live in, or maintain relationships with, ancestral territories and are linguistically and culturally separate from other groups in the country where they live.
b) They tend to maintain distinct social, economic and political institutions within their territories.
c) They have a close relationship with nature, which is reflected in their economies and ways of life (nomadic, slash and burn agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering, etc).
d) They aspire to maintain their cultural, geographical and institutional characteristics, instead of being assimilated fully within the national society.
e) They identify themselves as indigenous (native, first nations, tribal) and wish to preserve their special identity.
These are rights that are based on the collective cultural identity and historical rights of the indigenous peoples, indispensable for their existence, well-being and integrated development as peoples1. These include the right to freely determine their relationships with the States in a spirit of coexistence, mutual benefit and full respect, along with their right to determine their political position and to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. They have a right to conserve and strengthen their own political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, maintaining at the same time their rights to fully participate, if they so wish, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the States.
1 This is expressed in the definition of peoples rights contained in International Agreements on Civil, Political and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Is defined as the group of distinct spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional traits that characterise a society, or a social group, and which additionally includes the arts and humanities, ways of life, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs (UNESCO, 2005).
“Cultural diversity” refers to the various forms in which the cultures of the groups and societies are expressed. These expressions are transmitted within and between the groups and societies.
Cultural diversity is not only manifested in the diverse forms in which the cultural heritage of humanity is expressed, enriched and transmitted through the variety of cultural expressions, but also through different types of artistic creation, production, dissemination, distribution and enjoyment of the cultural expressions, whatever the means and technologies used (UNESCO, Agreement on the Protection and Promotion of Cultural Expressions, 2005).
Cultural diversity contains two collective forces, which on being combined can guarantee the necessary cohesion for sustainable development: diversity and dialogue. As such, cultural diversity is proposed as a doctrine to defend the creative capacity of the tangible and intangible forms of cultural expression2 of cultures that seek to preserve their identity and dignity, and at the same time ensure harmonious relationships of coexistence among individuals and groups from diverse cultures that share spaces (K. Matsuura. General Director of UNESCO, 2006).
2 Cultural expressions are the different ways through which cultural assets and services, along with other cultural activities, can be bearers of symbolic significance or transmit cultural values.
UNESCO has defined “interculturality” as the presence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures and the possibility of generating shared cultural expressions, acquired through dialogue and an attitude of mutual respect (Agreement on the protection and promotion of cultural expressions, 2005).
It is the process for defending the conditions for the continuity of cultural diversity and to contribute to the existence of equitable relationships and of mutual respect3 and for enrichment among native peoples, and between these and the rest of the national society (Ibis SAM, Draft of Regional Strategy 2007-2011).
Interculturality is understood as a political process that seeks to contribute to societies and States that have respect for diversity and for the rights of the different cultures, in a way in which the groups that have been historically excluded can contribute actively in the construction of really democratic countries, through new relationships of power between cultures and peoples (IBIS CAM, Regional Strategy Indigenous Rights: towards democracy and equity, 2007).
3 Through the interaction between people and collectives, balanced connections and articulation between different cultures, appreciation of differences and coexistence based on tolerance, respect and equality.
A doctrine that openly and legally recognises the existence of culturally different groups within the national States and addresses them on the basis of rights that they enjoy collectively. Its action is based on the policy of recognising the existence of groups that were previously ignored and on the implementation of policies that ensure the exercise of cultural differences and the political participation as members of said groups. Multiculturality facilitates the consideration of culture and identity as the foundation of rights and political obligations.
© 2011 IBIS in Bolivia
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