Ten years ago, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Beyond the utilitarian benefits of community land ownership - indigenous management results in better environmental outcomes than even protected areas - we are peoples.
Indigenous Peoples suffer disproportionately from poverty despite living on the world’s most resource-rich lands in large part because we lack secure rights to those lands.
The Declaration's promise remains unfulfilled. Only 10 percent of the world’s lands are recognized as belonging to Indigenous Peoples and other rural communities, despite the fact that these communities have customary ownership rights to over 50 percent. Even where laws respecting indigenous rights exist, governments often ignore them and instead protect the rights of investors and corporations, who proceed with extractive projects without consent.
In the United States the struggle of the Sioux to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from threatening their water sources is well known, but there exists a pattern of government approval for energy projects on reservation lands without the tribes’ consent. This exacerbates Native American poverty, which in many cases is a legacy of colonialism and insecure land rights. Native Americans standing up for their rights have sometimes been met with violence—a problem faced by Indigenous Peoples around the world.
The Declaration was a step forward for indigenous peoples, certainly, but rights are not yet fully respected and protected. Indigenous communities will continue to fight for their lands.