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MINORITY ASPIRATIONS AND THE REVIVAL OF INDIGENOUS

PEOPLES
FERNAND DE VARENNES

A b s t r a c t - The growing world-wide sensitivity to the aspirations of indigenous


peoples is to be welcomed. However, there is still a tendency which should be avoided:
to lump the claims of indigenous peoples with those of minorities. Indigenous peoples
are the heirs of long-established political, social and cultural communities which have
been oppressed for centuries or victimized by policies of genocide or forced assimilation into the approved language and religion of the dominating community. These
forms of destruction can only be truly ended by returning to indigenous peoples a
degree of autonomy which will ensure that they have real control over their future.
Indigenous peoples should be able to create institutions, including schools, where their
languages, religions and cultures are permitted to flourish without interference.

Zusammcnfassung -

Wachsende weltweite Sensibilisierung gegentiber den


Bedtirfnissen einheimischer V61ker sind sicherlich begrtil3enswert. Vermieden werden
sollte jedoch die Tendenz, die Ansprfdche einheimischer V61ker mit denen der
Minderheiten gleichzusetzen. Einheimische VOlker sind Erben langans~issiger politischer, sozialer und kultureller Gemeinden, die jahrhundertelang unterdriickt oder Opfer
politisch motivierten Massenmordes wurden, oder aber die dazu gezwungen wurden,
sich der Sprache und Religion der dominierenden Gruppe zu unterwerfen. Diese Art
von Zerst6rung kann nur dann endgfiltig beendet werden, wenn einheimischen V61kern
die fur eine wahre Kontrolle fiber ihre Zukunft nOtige Autonomie zugestanden wird.
Einheimische V61ker sollten die M~glichkeit bekommen, Institutionen und Schulen
einzurichten zur Pflege und Weiterentwicklung ihrer eigenen Sprache, Religion und
Kultur ohne Intervention yon dritter Seite.

R6sum6 - La sensibilisation croissante au niveau mondial pour les aspirations des


populations autochtones doit ~tre encourag6e. Une tendance reste cependant ~t 6viter:
confondre les revendications des peuples autochtones avec celles des minorit6s. Les
premiers sont les h6ritiers de communaut6s politiques, sociales et culturelles implant6es de longue date, qui ont 6t6 opprim6es pendant des si6cles, ou sont devenues
victimes de politiques g6nocides, ou encore forc6es ~t l'assimilation de la langue et
de la religion autoris6es par la communaut6 dominatrice. On ne pourra mettre un
terme d6finitif ~t ces formes de destruction que si les populations autochtones recouvrent un minimum d'autonomie qui leur assurera une maitrise v6ritable de leur avenir.
Les peuples autochtones devraient pouvoir cr6er des institutions, dont les 6coles, off
leurs langues, leurs religions et leurs cultures seraient libres de s'6panouir sans
ing6rence.

Resumen - La creciente sensibilidad que se registra en todo el mundo ante las aspiraciones de los indigenas es un hecho muy positivo. Sin embargo, aun subsiste una
tendencia que debe evitarse: no deben agruparse las reivindicaciones de los indigenas
con las exigencias de minorias. Los indigenas son los herederos de communidades
politicas, sociales y culturales establecidas desde hace mucho tiempo, que fucron
oprimidas durante siglos o victimas de politicas de genocidios o de asimilaci6n forzada
International R e v i e w o f Education - Internationale Zeitschrift fiir Erziehungswissenschaft Revue lnternationale de l'Education 42(4): 309-325, 1996.
1996 K l u w e r A c a d e m i c Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

310
a la lengua y a la religi6n oficial de la comunidad dominante. Estas formas de destrucci6n solamente podrfin suprimirse devolviendo a los indigenas un grado de autonomia
que les asegure un real control de su propio futuro. Los indigenas deberian recibir la
posibilidad de crear instituciones, e incluso escuelas, donde sus lenguas, religiones y
culturas puedan florecer sin sufrir interferencias.
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The unique status of indigenous peoples: Not minorities

Defining indigenous peoples


Indigenous peoples are not minorities. Or rather, the better position would be
to say that they are not necessarily minorities. The term "indigenous people"
is descriptive of a political and social community, whose m e m b e r s are the
descendants of the likely first occupiers of a territory which has subsequently
been o v e r w h e l m e d by another group of people from a dramatically different
technological and cultural background.
Although there have been numerous attempts at offering an objective or
legal definition of who is an indigenous person, most are seriously lacking in
clarity (Hannum 1988: 664). While it seems unproblematic that a Guarani in
Paraguay is a m e m b e r of an indigenous people, the answers b e c o m e more
controversial when one asks if a H m o n g in Thailand, a Sami in Finland, a
Tuareg in Mauritania or even a Basque in France ought to be considered as
indigenous. Some of the definitions at the international level have opted for
a very broad approach, emphasising self-identification and the desire of the
m e m b e r s of these communities to transmit their "ethnic differences":
[I]ndigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, in having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on
their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now
prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant
sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future

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generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their
continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns,
social institutions and legal systems. (Martinez Cobo 1987: 4.)
Others look at inhabitation of land since "time i m m e m o r i a l " as the critical
factor (Alfredsson 1990: 15), though this would mean that the Basques ought
to be considered as indigenous, but in fact this suggestion is generally rejected
At the United Nations level, there has been an evolution starting with
the International Labour Organisation Convention (No. 169) Concerning
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO Convention
1989) which defines indigenous peoples as:
. . peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account
of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation
or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their
legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions
The important point to retain from all of these attempts at a definition is that
nowhere are indigenous peoples used s y n o n y m o u s l y with the concept of a
minority It is undeniable that indigenous peoples may constitute a minority
in a State when one considers a strictly numerical criterion, and it is also
true that in most countries indigenous peoples probably find themselves politically dominated by some other group in control of the government whether
they are a numerical minority or not.
Because indigenous peoples do tend at the same time to be members of a
minority, there is a tendency in certain milieux to equate their demands with
those of other minorities. This infuriates m a n y indigenous leaders because
most of their demands are based not on their status as a numerical minority,
but as a political and social c o m m u n i t y whose sovereignty has never been
c o m p l e t e l y surrendered or abandoned. Therefore, they feel that to present
any demand couched in terms of a minority issue risks weakening the political nature of their status and claims.
Certainly, most invading powers recognised at least initially that they were
dealing with political and social entities, signing treaties and accords with
the leaders of these communities. A n u m b e r of countries still admit that the
relationship between the State and indigenous peoples is unique and not to
be mistaken with the issue of numerical minority. In the United States, the
relationship is admitted to be political (O'Brien 1991: 1462):
The relationship . . . is not defined by race, but is of a political nature, arising
from the inherent sovereignty of each party . . . . It is a relationship grounded in
international law and in the absolute sovereignty of Indian nations who possessed
a desirable landbase . . . .
The current UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1993)
contains similar hints as to the origins of the unique status of indigenous

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peoples. For example, the Preamble of the Draft Declaration recognises the
"need to respect and promote the inherent rights and characteristics of indigenous p e o p l e s . . , which derive from their political, economic and social structures . . ." (emphasis added). Many of the Draft Declaration's provisions
then proceed on the basis that the rights of indigenous peoples are linked to
membership in historical political and social communities.

A history of destruction: Education and the attempts to eliminate


indigenous peoples
Siempre la lengua fue compa~era del imperio.
[Antonio de Nebrija, 14921
To understand the current aspirations of indigenous peoples in education, one
must also reflect on some o f the ways dominant groups have sought to destroy
the very presence o f indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples were in
many cases initially perceived as either a threat or an inconvenience. When
they were in fairly large numbers and still relatively strong militarily, indigenous communities had to be subdued or coerced into agreeing to the protection or control of the invading group. Then, when they became less of a threat
but still an inconvenience, they were either to be eliminated completely by
removal from their former ancestral territory, exterminated altogether (Beothuk
in Newfoundland, Canada; Aborigines of Tasmania), or eliminated as being
distinct individuals culturally or politically. In the latter case, assimilation "that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him,
and save the man" (Ong Hing 1993: 923) - as an optimal result was more or
less vigorously sought and achieved in every country having indigenous
peoples. As the numbers of indigenous people were often dropping as a result
of unfamiliar diseases, famine caused by destruction of traditional hunting,
fishing or agricultural activities, or armed conflicts, it was foreseen that their
languages, religions, or even their distinctive physical attributes would be
swept away, making them undistinguishable from their conquerors (quoted
in de Varennes 1994: 274):
After the 1812 War with the United States, British colonisers no longer required
aboriginal peoples as allies - or for that matter, as explorers or traders. Their value
rapidly diminished, with the result that aboriginal tribes became stigmatised as
obstacles to the progressive settlement of Canadian society. Moreover, by refusing
to relinquish their identity and assimilate into "higher levels" of "civilisation",
aboriginal peoples were dismissed as an inferior and unequal species whose rights
could be trampled on with impunity . . . . A policy of assimilation evolved as part
of this project to subdue and subordinate aboriginal peoples. From the early nineteenth century on, elimination of the "Indian problem" was one of the colony's later the Dominion's - foremost concerns. Authorities rejected extermination as a
solution, but focused instead on a planned process of cultural change known as
assimilation. Through assimilation, the dominant sector sought to undermine the

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cultural distinctiveness of aboriginal tribal society; to subject the indigenes to the
rules, values and sanctions of Euro-Canadian society; and to absorb the de-cultured
minority into the mainstream through a process of "anglo-conformity". The means
to achieve this outward compliance with Euro-Canadian society lay in the hands
of missionaries, teachers, and law-makers.
In the United States, teachers speaking only English were e m p l o y e d and
instructed to assimilate indigenous children into the majority-controlled
society. These children were punished - they were beaten or they had their
mouths washed out with soap - if they lapsed into their native language
(Skutnabb-Kangas 1981: 309): "at the boarding schools m a n y of them were
forced to attend by a g o v e r n m e n t which at times withheld food from parents
who wanted to keep their children at h o m e " (Baron 1990: 165).
Similar methods were widely used in countries all over the world in an
effort to mould individuals belonging to non-dominant groups, specifically
minorities and indigenous peoples (for example, the Hill-Tribes of Taiwan),
and m a y have been a very recent practice in Brazil and Southeast Asia. This
phenomenon was particularly evident after the seventeenth century as States
intervened more and m o r e directly into what had previously been c o m m u nity oriented activities (including education) in order to create the trappings
of a Nation-State:
In 1812 the government junta advised schoolteachers that Spanish was the language
of the classroom and to banish Guarani from school usage. "In school the use of
Guarani in class hours was prohibited. To enforce this rule, teachers distributed to
monitors bronze rings which were given to anyone found conversing in Guarani.
[On] Saturday, return of the rings was requested and each one caught with a
ring was punished with four or five lashes" (Rubin 1968: 480).

Before European settlement of Australia, there were a p p r o x i m a t e l y 250


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in the continent. Only one
third of these continue to be spoken by some people, and m a n y are spoken
only by a handful of older individuals. Their disappearance has nothing to do
with their inability to adapt to the context of a technologically driven society,
but much to do with repressive, even genocidal, actions by public authorities
or m e m b e r s of the dominant majority (Language and Culture: A Matter of
Survival 1992: 17):
Every turn in policy of government and the practice of the non-[Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander] community was postulated on the inferiority of the
Aboriginal people; the original expropriation of their land was based on the idea
that the land was not occupied and the people uncivilised; the protection policy
was based on the view that Aboriginal people could not achieve a place in the
non-[Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander] society and that they must be protected against themselves while the race died out; the assimilationist policy assumed
that their culture and way of life is without value and that we confer a favour on
them by assimilating them into our ways; even to the point of taking their children
and removing them from family.

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Such a scenario, recurrently experienced by indigenous peoples worldwide,
must be understood in terms of economic and political power in addition to
the legal manifestations of such power: the invading population group would
take control of the land from indigenous peoples in order to exploit local
resources and to establish effective political power over the territory. With
consolidation of power and control over recently acquired territories, the conquering authorities found it expedient at times to impose their way of life upon
indigenous populations, whose traditions they often considered primitive, in
order to support the legitimacy of their own claims of ownership and dominion
(Torres 1991: 133). Education was and still is the vehicle of choice for implementing these stratagems.
Thus, many of the policies affecting indigenous peoples were based upon
the assumption that indigenous populations, cultures and languages would
eventually disappear naturally or by absorption into other segments of the
population and the emerging national culture of the new State. As a result,
public authorities have traditionally shown a great deal of intolerance towards
indigenous cultures and languages, going so far as "forced conversion to the
religions of the dominant groups and pressure or intimidation to abandon the
practice of certain rites and ceremonies", as well as hostility towards indigenous controlled education (Hannum 1988: 657). As pointed out by the UN
Special Rapporteur (Martinez Cobo 1987: 11):
It was expected that the indigenous languages would disappear.., in the face of
the dynamism, the equality and the attraction of the official languages - international languages which were assumed to have real or imaginary advantages of all
kinds and were considered particularly suited to science, technology, art and civilisation. For that reason, no stress was laid on state plans to teach the indigenous
languages or use them as languages of instruction for some of the initial phases of
education. That was assumed to be contrary to the best interests of those societies
and involved danger for national unity, since it was feared that it would lead
inevitably to linguistic insularity and excessive social and political fragmentation.
These policies often resulted in the extermination of the native peoples and
languages. By forcing indigenous peoples' children into the educational system
and environment of the dominating population group, it was "sought to achieve
the so-called civilisation of these peoples including the replacement of their
native tongues" (Piatt 1990: 4-5) and remove any threat to the unity of a
fragile Nation-State.
Underlying these various examples is the desire in many States to protect
the integrity of the State by the destruction of anything that could be described
as "indigenous", especially the religions, languages and legal customs, so that
no individual could claim any of the rights associated with the unique status
enjoyed by indigenous peoples. In many ways these goals have been almost
completely successful: most indigenes in North America are now Christians
and have adopted English or Spanish as their primary language. However,
assimilation at the linguistic and religious levels has in most countries never
been complete, and in any event it does not change nor weaken the funda-

315
mental nature of the rights to which indigenous peoples aspire. Because indigenous peoples are increasingly acknowledged both in international law and in
many States as occupying a unique political niche, a collective right in its
purest sense, individuals who are indigenous are entitled to claim the benefits
associated with this status, and therein lies the strength and hope of the revival
of indigenous peoples as distinct political and social communities.

The revival of indigenous peoples and education


General trends
Indigenous peoples seem to have been making impressive gains, at least in
theory, in the field of education. In the last twenty-five years, Latin American
countries have begun to accept that their educational policies did not respond
to the actual needs of indigenous peoples. In March 1975, Peru enacted Decree
No. 21 recognising Quechua as an official language of the Republic because,
as set out in the Preamble, large sections of the indigenous population "have
no direct access to knowledge of the laws". The decree also provides that
the Ministry of Education shall provide "all necessary support for institutions engaged i n . . . the teaching and promotion of the language in question".
The teaching of Quechua is declared to be compulsory at "all levels of education in the Republic". In Bolivia, the Supreme Decree No. 23036 of 28
January 1992 contains provision for the implementation of the Programa de
Educaci6n Intercultural Bilingue in the Guarani, Aymara and Quechua communities. In Mexico, the Executive Decree of 27 January 1992 amends Article
4 of the Constitution by including a provision which protects the development
of indigenous languages, culture, uses, customs, resources and social organisations. In Paraguay, Law 28 of September 1992 renders mandatory the
teaching of both national languages (Spanish and Guarani) at the elementary,
secondary and university levels. There are many more examples of this evolution in national legislation. The indigenous people in the Danish territory
of Greenland made important gains as pointed out by one scholar (Vik0r 1992:
90):
There was a growing realisation that genuine emancipation of the Greenlandic
people and modernisation of their society was impossible without emancipating
and modernising the indigenous language. When Home Rule came in 1979, it was
agreed that Greenlandic should be the main language . . . . Since then, marked
progress has taken place. Greenlandic has become the medium of instruction in
the schools, and, while Danish used to be taught from the first year onwards, it is
now delayed until the third year. It is also generally acknowledged that even
children of Danish parents living in Greenland should learn Greenlandic.
A notable change of heart is also observable in the United States which, until
perhaps some twenty years ago, had been intransigent towards indigenous
people, their languages and their cultures in education policies:

316
In 1978 the State legislature of Hawaii recognised Hawaiian as an official language;
subsequently a language revitalisation program was established. Ten years later
.. a Hawaiian senator introduced a proposal in both houses of Congress which
resulted in the adoption of the Native American languages Act in October 1990.
In October 1992, additional legislation was passed, setting up a grant program "to
ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages".... The
Native American Languages Act acknowledges that the "United States has the
responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these
unique cultures and languages", and establishes a federal policy "to preserve,
protect and promote the rights and freedom of native Americans to use, practice
and develop Native American languages" and to "encourage and support the use
of Native American languages as a medium of instruction". The grant system
supports community projects, teacher training, materials development, training for
radio and television production, language documentation and equipment purchase
(Fettes 1994: 10).
Although progress has also been made in Canada, most indigenous peoples
do not actually have the right to demand the use of their language as a medium
of instruction in that country. The governments in Province of Qurbec and
the Northwest Territories (where a large percentage of the population is indigenous) have the most generous attitudes and legislation in place, but most
governments in Canada generally do not allow the full use of indigenous
languages in State-supported schools as a medium of instruction, nor even
allow the instruction of indigenous languages except perhaps for one or two
hours every week (Maurais 1992: 158-159).

Tools for survival: Control and self-determination


In 1993, many indigenous inhabitants of Easter Island openly challenged the
Chilean government, demanding control over their land and the use of their
native language, Rapa Nui, as the main language in their schools. The armed
uprising of indigenous peoples, including members of the Tzeltal, Tzotzil,
Tojolabal and Chol, in Chiapas, Mexico, in January 1994, rested to some
degree on the inability of the Mexican government to carry through with its
constitutional and legal obligations in respect to the use of indigenous languages. Many public teachers in indigenous communities are unable to speak
the local language, and school material and books are often only available in
Spanish, in apparent violation of the Constitution. During negotiations with
the Chiapas rebels, the government agreed to provide education in their native
language and to revise school curricula to include more indigenous history
and culture. In another, this time non-violent, confrontation, some 800 Achuar,
Quicha, and Shuar marched from their villages to the capital city of Quito,
Ecuador, in April 1992, galvanising several thousand more people to join them
along the way. In response, Ecuador's president promised to accept a longstanding demand regarding the use of indigenous languages as a medium of
instruction.
What is surprising with these seemingly random events is that the demands

317
of these unrelated groups, separated by thousands of kilometres, are in fact
consistent with the demands of, and sometimes gains made by, indigenous
peoples world-wide.
In the French territory of New Caledonia, indigenous peoples have been
granted some autonomy powers, including the right to teach their language
and culture in public schools. In Nicaragua, the Atlantic Coast Autonomy Law
recognises the right of the Atlantic Coast communities to preserve their
cultural identity, and their languages, as well as the right to use and enjoy
the waters, forests and communal lands for their own benefit. Article 12(5)
of the Autonomy Law provides that members of these indigenous communities are entitled to be educated in their own languages, through programmes
which take into account their historical heritage, their traditions and the characteristics of their environment, all within the framework of the national education system. The demands of the Mayas of Guatemala in education are
surprisingly close to what appear to be a growing international consensus:
-

Utilizar la lengua Maya de cada c o m m u n i d a d lingiilstica como lengua docente en los programas de educaci6n . . .
l m p l e m e n t a r p r o g r a m a s de emergencia para contribuir al rescate de las comunidades lingiiisticas en vias de extinci6n (Xinkas, ltzaes, Tekos, e t c . ) . . .
Reestructurar el Ministerio de Educaci6n para que presupuestaria, orgdnica y estructuralmente desarrolle los subsistemas de educaci6n del Pueblo Maya, Ladino, Xinka y al Garffuna.
El Pueblo Maya debe disponer y decidir sobre sus propias escuelas en los diversos niveles
de la ense~anza escolar, personal bilingiie y propio material diddcitico.
Sistematizar la ense~anza del las ciencias, la tecnologia, las artes y la filosofia Maya, en
sus distintos niveles. El alumno M a y a debe c o n o c e r y a p r e n d e r desde su propia cosmovisi6n ya que perfil y las directrices del Estado, reflejan otros valores y otra visi6n del
mundo.
El Estado debe reconocer el derecho del Pueblo Maya de disponer de sus propias escuelas
para la f o r m a c i 6 n de Maestros Bilingiies para todos los niveles y especialidades de la labor
escolar.

(Consejo de Organizaciones Mayas de Guatemala 1991: 14-19)

The 1977 Kiruna Declaration on Human Rights of the World Council of


Indigenous Peoples makes it also clear that essential to the efforts of indigenous peoples to survive and even prosper as a community is the need for
some appropriate degree of autonomy, as well as the need for an education
in the language of the people which is in accordance with their culture and
customs.
The Declaration of Tlahuitoltepec on the Fundamental Rights of the
Indigenous Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of lndo-Latin America of 1993
similarly emphasises that indigenous peoples are "peoples with our own
history, religion, culture, education, language and other fundamental characteristics" and that their own way of life is "reflected in their political, legal,
economic, social and cultural structures" which must be recognised and
respected in law and in practice.
All of these very different contexts from around the world unanimously
point to the essential elements for the survival and even revival of indige-

318
nous peoples as political, social and cultural communities. Indigenous peoples
have increasingly come to realise that their continued existence as political,
social and cultural communities, and the well-being of the individuals making
up their communities, can best be assured if they have the right to control
their lives in a way which has been consistently denied them by the dominating population group and its govemment. This means a measure of political autonomy, which will vary according to the nature of the indigenous
community, its population base, and the preferences of its members, with
secure access to and control over natural resources, and including taxation
powers. It is undoubtedly true that the political status claimed by indigenous
peoples varies tremendously, reflecting the diversity of situations in which
they find themselves and the diverse character of the indigenous peoples themselves. Whether called "self-determination", "self-government", or more accurately the continued exercise of indigenous legal and political autonomy, in
essence they are all manifestations of the same desired goal: effective control
by indigenous peoples over their own destiny as it relates to their survival and
their identity. And central to control over their own destiny is control over
the education of their children, especially its content and language. Amongst
the results of control of education by indigenous peoples is the possibility of
maintaining the culture and values of the community and the sheer efficiency
of a system with even modest resources which faithfully mirrors the expectations and conditions of indigenous peoples. As is explained in one study
(Skutnabb-Kangas 1981: 177):
One of the interesting things in the Rock Point study (which showed that Navajo
children initially instructed through the medium of Navajo did considerably better
than the English-medium instructed controls even in English in grades 4, 5, and
6) is the comparison between teaching in the majority language with good, readymade materials and teachers well-trained, and teaching in the minority language
with hardly any teaching material available and teachers trained inadequately or
not at all.
Similar positive results have been observed in New Zealand where the first
kura kaupapa maori (Maori primary schools) only opened in the late 1980s.
Most instruction, including mathematics and science, is done in the Maori
language. It appears that children who were deemed failures in English
language State schools are now doing very well in the kura kaupapa maori.

State responsibilities and international standards


In addition to being entitled to greater control over many aspects of their lives
because of their status as political as well as social and cultural communities, indigenous peoples have made remarkable gains at the international level.
It now appears to be acknowledged that control without key resources to
exercise it would be a hollow victory, For this reason, indigenous peoples have
recognised the need to obtain guaranteed means for their continued survival.

319
Thus, the observable trend at the international level, and in an increasing
number of States (de Varennes 1995: Chapter 7), is that indigenous peoples,
whilst still being called to participate in the larger society by learning a State's
official or majority language, should be allowed to, and even assisted in, preserving their languages, customs, and culture. This new attitude implies that
a State is obligated to provide financial and institutional assistance in order
to develop and promote indigenous languages and cultures. This would also
seem to indicate that even in the case of a language used by a relatively small
number of people, a State may be obligated to assist in its maintenance financially or otherwise, if the indigenous people seek to enforce their right to
the promotion and safeguarding of their language. For example, Special
Rapporteur Jos6. R. Martinez Cobo noted that in the area of public education
indigenous children should always be taught the language of their people,
regardless of their numbers (Martinez Cobo 1987: 20):
The State must make an effort to provide, at the primary level sufficient facilities
for the teaching of the mother tongue of indigenous children; in all circumstances
it must teach them to read and write in their mother tongue and consolidate this
knowledge before teaching them any other dialect or languages as a second or
acquired language.
Amongst the international instruments that bear testimony to this progress
is the 1989 ILO Convention. For example, Articles 2 and 6 provide for the
duty of a State to cooperate with indigenous peoples in the full realisation of
their social, economic and cultural rights, with respect to their social and
cultural identity, their customs and traditions and their institutions. In addition
to the need for cooperation, the 1989 ILO Convention calls for the duty to
"consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is
being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them
directly" as well as to "establish means for the full development of these
peoples' own institutions and initiatives, and in appropriate cases provide
the resources necessary for this purpose." Indigenous peoples have the right
to retain their own customs and institutions, as long as they are compatible
with fundamental human rights.
The 1989 ILO Convention as a whole reflects an emphasis on indigenous
peoples as political or cultural units which are entitled to the respect of the
State, as well as the maintenance of, and even appropriate resources for,
their institutions. Article 6 which refers to "representative institutions" appears
to acknowledge that the political structures of indigenous peoples are to
be recognised and consulted as part of a State's own legal and political
order.
Article 27 of the 1989 ILO Convention begins with the principle that educational policies must reflect the special needs and incorporate the histories,
knowledge, value systems and the further social, economic and cultural aspirations of indigenous peoples. Moreover, Article 27(3) provides that:

320
In addition, governments shall recognise the right of these peoples to establish their
own educational institutions and facilities, provided that such institutions meet
minimum standards established by the competent authority in consultation with
these peoples. Appropriate resources shall be provided for this purpose.
The 1989 ILO Convention also has a provision dealing with public schools
and indigenous peoples. Article 28(1) provides that indigenous children "shall,
wherever practicable, be taught to read and write in their own indigenous
language or in the language most commonly used by the group to which they
belong. When this is not practicable, the 'competent authorities shall undertake consultations with these peoples with a view to the adoption of measures
to achieve this objective."
Whilst some of the provisions of the 1989 ILO Convention are likely
inspired by the prohibition of discriminatory practices, it is undeniable that
others go beyond this norm: indigenous peoples deserve "special measures"
because of their unique political position within a State, or perhaps because
of their traditional political autonomy. Though there may be other explanations why indigenous peoples should be treated differently from other groups,
it remains fairly clear that regardless of their relative demographic importance, States should, whenever practical, protect and promote the development and use of indigenous languages and assist indigenous children in
learning the languages and cultures of their ancestors. The rights of indigenous peoples are thus linked to their unique status as members of a political
and social entity increasingly recognised in international law.
It should also be emphasised that Article 27(3) does not appear to guarantee entire instruction in indigenous languages, but only that children of
indigenous peoples are to be taught to read and write the language of their
people.
Indeed, the tone of the 1989 ILO Convention is somewhat timid compared
to the provisions of the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples. Recognising the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination
in Article 3 (by virtue of which they may freely determine their political status
and pursue their economic, social and cultural development), the Draft
Declaration then enumerates an impressive series of rights which extend
beyond what has generally been considered mandatory for minority groups
or individuals, including:
1. The right to autonomy and self-government (Article 3).
2. The right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and
cultural characteristics, as well as their legal systems, while retaining their rights
to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural
life of the State (Article 4).
3. The right to be protected from "cultural" genocide, including the prevention of
and redress for any act which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their
integrity as distinct societies, or of their cultural or ethnic characteristics or identities, or any form of forced assimilation or integration by imposition of other
cultures or ways of life (Article 7).

321
4. The right to revitalise, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and
to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
Furthermore, States have the obligation to take effective measures to ensure this
right is protected (Article 14).
5. The right of indigenous children to all levels and forms of education of the State.
This is combined with the right all indigenous peoples to establish and control their
educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages,
in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
Indigenous children living outside their communities still have the right to be
provided access to education in their own culture and language. Furthermore, States
must take effective measures to provide appropriate resources for these purposes
(Article 15).
6. The right to autonomy or self-government, as a form of self-determination, in
matters relating to their internal and local affairs, including culture, religion, education, information, media, health, housing, employment, social welfare, economic
activities, land and resources management, environment and entry by non-members,
as well as taxation powers for financing these autonomous functions (Article 31).
7. The collective right to determine their own citizenship in accordance with their
customs and traditions (Article 32).
It would seem that the State could be obligated to assist indigenous peoples
in "correcting" past injustices and practices which amount to "cultural"
genocide. The weakness of some indigenous languages and cultures can
largely be attributed to assimilationist State policies, often enforced brutally
or at least against the will of indigenous peoples with ensuing consequences
in terms of economic and educational advancement. According to Article 7,
indigenous peoples would have the right to obtain redress from the principal
offenders, namely public authorities. Although the provision appears to be
mainly concerned with the prevention of and redress for current State practices that deprive indigenous peoples of their "integrity as distinct societies,
or of their cultural or ethnic characteristics", it is certainly arguable that some
measure of redress must be implemented since most of the original causes of
the present disintegration of indigenous cultures and languages are attributable to State sponsored or condoned practices that were common until recently.
In the field of education, the UN Draft Declaration proposes to go even
further than the 1989 ILO Convention. Whilst in the latter the extent of the
right to instruction of indigenous languages appears to be limited to the acquisition of an ability to read and write one's own indigenous language, the right
as proposed in Article 15 could extend to all levels and forms of public education in indigenous languages, in addition to the right to establish and control
private indigenous educational systems and institutions supported by State
resources. In other words, the UN Draft Declaration now suggests that indigenous peoples, regardless of the number of speakers of their languages, should
be entitled to be educated through the medium of their language in public
schools if they so desire.

322
F u t u r e p r o s p e c t s - Is there really a r e v i v a l ?

It may be too early to speak of the "revival" of indigenous peoples as afait


accompli. Whilst there has been a monumental shift in attitude in many countries and at the international level within the United Nations system, and certainly a greater willingness to recognise indigenous communities as political
and social entities in a number of countries, it must be admitted that the actual
actions of governments and the implementation of often noble principles often
fall short of expectations. In part, this may be due to the diversity of indigenous peoples themselves and of the various shapes their aspirations may
take.
Despite the sometimes favourable rhetoric, some of the behaviour of public
authorities can best be described as well-intentioned but seriously deficient.
Constitutional provisions in Mexico should in theory make State education
receptive to the aspirations of indigenous peoples, but in practice there is often
no or very little school material available that reflects the language and culture
of indigenous peoples, although some steps are being taken to correct this
following the Chiapas events. In Australia, the government has on a number
of occasions indicated it was very much in favour of "internal" self-determination of its indigenous peoples and according to Aborigine languages a preeminent position so as to maintain and develop their cultural integrity, but in
practice this has not been reflected by most of its measures in the education
field:
It is still reality, however, that in the few schools where Aboriginal languages are
being taught, these are often not the languages spoken by Aboriginal children
attending that particular school. Moreover, they are often taught within the context
of a social studies curriculum by white teachers who tend to rely upon Aboriginal
teacher-aides to help them teach the Aboriginal language components (Smolicz
1991: 42-43).
Furthermore, "pre-eminent" position of indigenous languages and cultures
will be meaningless unless indigenous peoples have guaranteed resources in
order to make it all possible. Indigenous education requires the means to
develop a curriculum that corresponds to the cultural and linguistic preferences of the people involved. It also requires, at least at the initial phases,
allocation of sufficient resources to create and use appropriate school material
in the languages of the indigenous peoples to the extent that each indigenous
people has chosen to use their language as a medium of school instruction.
In some cases, indigenous peoples may prefer to use to a large degree or
even almost completely the preferred language in the State, be it English,
French, Spanish, Mandarin or Malay, as a medium of instruction.
Unfortunately, the "Counter-Reaction" has already appeared. Emphasising
the large number of languages and cultures in Australia, some scholars have
suggested that it is impossible to have one single coherent "indigenous edu-

323
cational policy". Since Western (read English language and Anglo-Saxon
Australian culture) educational policy is viewed as based on a liberal tradition that transcends race consciousness, it is seen as "neutral", while indigenous policies are not. The appropriate response that seems to be suggested in
that country is to stick to a "non-racial" policy and prefer the English language
and Anglo-Saxon cultural model of education because this is the only way
individuals can succeed in the Western dominated world (Smith and Curtin
1994: 40), although lip-service can be paid to cultural diversity by putting
aside an hour or so every week for aboriginal stories or music as part of a
school curriculum.
It is not the object o f this paper to critique the various weaknesses and
errors in the above resistance to the gains being made by indigenous peoples,
but it should be pointed out that there are a number of glaring fallacies. One
is to confuse race with culture and language. Another is to suppose that
English language or Anglo-Saxon culture is neutral, and everything else is
not. Other fallacies include the view that the adoption of an indigenous model
and/or use of an indigenous language as a medium of instruction is somehow
detrimental to the acquisition of the official/dominant language, or the belief
that indigenous languages are by their very nature incapable of being used
for teaching science or technology. It is not far from maintaining that one
group's culture represents true civilisation, and that indigenous peoples'
culture and view-points cannot. It is quite simply wrong, and even a dangerous
repetition of ideas that led to some of the past's most destructive efforts against
indigenous peoples as distinct social, cultural and political communities by
attempting to eliminate them spiritually and culturally if not physically.
In any event, it should be emphasised that indigenous peoples are not
strictly speaking a racial category: there are individuals who have integrated
into indigenous communities who could racially be described as Caucasians,
Blacks or Asians. A M o h a w k in Canada is no less a Mohawk because she
has blue eyes, nor is a Black Miskito in Nicaragua any less a Miskito because
of the darker shade of his skin. Indigenous peoples are first and foremost the
inheritors of a political and social entity that has maintained itself, sometimes tenuously, for hundreds and even thousands of years as is shown in a
quote of Thomas Berger (Macklem 1993: 1327-1328):
How can a liberal democracy tolerate political institutions limited to persons of
one race? To Native people, this objection seems mindless. They were here first.
This is not just a trite saying: it is the basis of their case. They were here, governing themselves; theirs was the only race inhabiting the continent. After the
Europeans came and occupied the continent, driving the natives into enclaves, even
these enclaves came under attack because they were limited to Native people. But
they are political communities, founded on tradition and culture, not on race. These
political communities are not vestigial: rather they are repositories of Native hopes
and ideals of self-government.

324
Conclusion
Despite exceptions, we appear to be heading both at the international and
national levels towards increased recognition that indigenous peoples occupy
a special position. They are not simply another minority group, but would
seem to deserve great latitude in the maintenance of their governmental institutions, languages, and cultures. At the level of education, there is a visible
trend at both levels signalling the unique relationship between a State and its
indigenous peoples which would appear to require concrete government
measures of support allowing the continued use of these languages, and even
correcting the results of previous assimilationist practices by public authorities. At the very least, it would appear that a State has the obligation to provide
the resources for the use of indigenous languages as a medium of instruction
in education, as appropriate to reflect the true desires of the peoples involved
when it is practical or possible to do so.
Although important to compensate for the destruction brought about by
past practices by the invading population groups and their government or
agents, support from the State as Big Brother is not the central element of
the aspirations of indigenous peoples. The key to their continued existence
as political, social, and cultural communities is to have their status recognised
in fact and in law, and for them to be able to exercise as much control as
possible over their territory, resources, and institutions, including the tremendously important field of education. Only then can the survival of indigenous peoples be ensured, and perhaps afterwards will it be possible to speak
of their revival as dynamic, full participants in the world community.

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