Tribes, States and Colonialism: The Evolution of the Concept of Indigenous Peoples and its Application in Asia. Discussion Paper 2013
While the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 by a vase majority of votes, many Asian governments refuse to accept its applicability to their countries. Due to the lack of a defi nition of ‘indigenous peoples’ and an interpretation of the concept as applying only to the context of Western settler colonialism the concept remains contested in most Asian countries. At the same time, the concept and the set of internationally recognized rights attached to it resonate well with large numbers of marginalized groups who hitherto have been known under labels like ‘natives’, ‘tribal peoples’ or ‘ethnic minorities’, and who are now increasingly identifying themselves as ‘indigenous peoples’.
Taking the controversy over its defi nition as point of departure, this article traces the evolution of the concept of indigenous peoples in the UN system, shows that at a time was and in many cases can still be considered coterminous with ‘tribal peoples’, that the experience of colonization indeed is core to what constitutes indigeneity, but that in Asia colonialism is not just confi ned to the Western colonial era, but that it predates it and, above all, that it is continuing in the form of internal colonialism to this day. It concludes by arguing that while resistance to and withdrawal from the state have been strategies chosen by tribal peoples to retain autonomy for centuries, this has become increasingly diffi cult today and that identifying as indigenous peoples and invoking international human rights instruments such as the UNDRIP are part of the new strategy of these peoples to preserve their identity and self-determination.