The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Rights of “Indigenous People”:
A formal right, a real disappearance

Oct 8, 2007

The United Nations recently voted a declaration recognizing the rights of “Indigenous People” to “be autonomous, to not suffer forced assimilation or the destruction of their culture.”

Those who are today called “Indigenous People,” not so long ago were derogatorily called “savages.” They include the Inuits or Eskimos living in the Arctic, the Papuans of New Guinea and the Aborigines of Australia. They have all managed to survive contact with the colonizers, more or less conserving traces of their ancestral way of life.

The survival of their culture and simply the survival of these few people is due especially to the fact that they occupy or have been confined to territories that for a long time were unexploitable by the colonizers: too hot, too cold or too dry. But, there are few living traces left of “indigenous people” elsewhere – those who lived in the Caribbean before the arrival of the colonizers, for example, or most of the Native Americans who once peopled North America.

Today, the so-called civilized nations, to ease their guilty consciences, create museums to display the cultures of those disappeared people. Today, they call them “human beings”; yesterday they hunted them like animals, herding together the survivors.

Today, they issue purely verbal declarations, like this one by the U.N. But, even so, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand voted against this resolution, as formal as it was. If oil or uranium were to be discovered on territory allotted to “indigenous people,” it might create a problem!

In a society based on the search for capitalist profit, “civilization” means all too often only expropriation and despoilment, when it should mean the free and unconstrained offer of access to education, culture and medical care.