We, the Peoples: From the Iroquois Tree of Peace and the Treaty of Waitangi to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the rights of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves difference, and to be respected as such,

Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind…

Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law.[1]



And so, our humanity has finally adopted a Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples living in our variegated world. Weaving a tapestry of protection for self-determination, social and cultural development, indigeneity against destruction, forced assimilation or deprivation of their integrity, the United Nations in 2007 drew a line that separated the past from the future, with a present that pulsates to coexist between the two temporalities. But, how did we arrive at the adoption of such a declaration? And what are its benefits for the people it addresses and protects? Can we read it as a formal apology or as a new chapter in which humanity in general is moving forward?

1492, the year we draw the thread of indigenous peoples’ history. The date that changed the course of European knowledge, and the date that handed mankind the hard price of discovery. It was then that Columbus, with his sails unfurled, set sail from Spain with his compass pointing to the unknown that was destined to become the most known. He landed in what is now the Bahamas and met the Taino, one of the many tribes that inhabited their old New World.[2] Estimates of the exact population of the Taino at that time are quite hazy, with guesses ranging from a few thousands to a million inhabitants. In the immediate future, the fate of the Taino was as ominous as the contact with these steely strangers. With the arrival of more Spanish colonists and warriors and the death of their last leader, Higüey, the Taino were forced into slavery and several thousands died from newly introduced diseases. By 1514, the former Taino territory, known in the Old World as Hispaniola, housed only 32,000 Taino.[3] This first contact would mark the bloody centuries that followed the slow and brutal colonization of the Americas. Accompanied by explorers and travelers, colonization claimed the lives of millions of indigenous people in the Americas, from the Sioux and Apache to the Yąnomamö and Guaraní.

Approximately a century later, in 1618, the slave ship São João Bautista began its arduous journey from Angola to Mexico.[4] European populations had already settled in the Americas and the systematic slave trade was just opening its pages in modern world history. Millions of people were being transported annually from Africa to the Americas, destined for a life of enslavement, degradation and humiliation. If we could use one phrase to describe the phenomenon of European colonialism, we would certainly use this one: “uprooted generations, lost civilizations”.

One of the cruelest tactics imposed when colonialism stacked its scattered foundations in the world was cultural assimilation. By imposing European culture, language, religion and civilization, the otherness and diversity of the enslaved regions were degraded and some were plunged into oblivion. The religious missions, the establishment of administrative officials, the creation of European institutions with no foundations to function properly as in the great metropolitan centers and the method of torture and slavery created a poor imitative world hoping for something superior.

I firmly believe that one of the most remarkable and most brutal consequences that colonialism brought about during all these centuries of enslavement to the peoples it was supposed to help rise was oblivion. The diachronicity of civilization exists in the context in which the social animal achieves an interaction, whether it is framed by imitation from neighbouring cultures, or by perpetuating a tradition that appears seemingly static in time. Language, for example, is subject to enormous alterations as the years pass, a myth changes as people change, religions adapt to the dictates of synchronicity. All these elements of culture are interwoven and forged, but when they are discarded or rejected, then comes the primary, in my view, need to revive the old, to preserve the memory, tradition, customs, language, art, all those elements, which give meaning and interpretation to social life. Clifford Geertz, following Pike’s emic approach[5], suggested that culture must be seen hermeneutically, we must understand the meaning and symbols embodied in cultural practices, and in this way, we will be led to an understanding of the whole culture.[6] How, then, is oblivion interpreted and how is a right that has been trodden upon for centuries protected?


This article seeks to present the history that gave birth to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, attempting to raise some significant questions around the interpretation of the Declaration and how the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere can indeed be preserved from the distractions of a globalized human community.



The Two Strings of the Thread

The second decade of the 20th century witnessed two important events, which I place as the legal and international origins of the debate on the rights of indigenous peoples as separate from universal human rights. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948 by the UN ensures the protection of human rights without racial or cultural distinctions, indigenous peoples have for many centuries been struggling for their own rights, which are mainly entwined around rights to land, sovereignty, and other cultural practices and expressions.


Deskaheh and the Case of the Canadian Natives

In 1923, four years after the founding of the League of Nations and five years after the end of the Great War, the Haudenosaunee confederacy applied for membership in the League of Nations as a separate nation.[7] The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is known in the English world as the Six Iroquois Nations of the Grand River, a region now identified with Ontario. The confederacy is held together by the Great Law of Peace (Kaianere’ko:wa), which, according to Amerindian tradition, was offered to the great leader Hiawatha by the Great Peacemaker, the so-called prophet whose name – Deganawida – the Iroquois avoid using.[8] The Haudenosaunee confederacy influenced the history of the world far more than we really believe. According to the writings of the Iroquois Great Law, “…The chiefs of each Nation in the future shall settle their national affairs at the Council governed always by the laws and rules of the Council of the League and the Great Peace”.[9] The Great Law is for the Confederation a legal document that guarantees and obliges the member nations to comply with the provisions – wampum – that the Law prescribes. In addition to the roots that the Tree of Peace spread from the Great Peacemaker, the Great Law is said to have influenced to some extent the liberal Constitution of the United States, a view that has created fierce controversy in the circle of historians and anthropologists. The influence of indigenous people on modern Western thought is extensively discussed by Graeber and Wengrow (2023),[10] who argue that the newly arrived Europeans, missionaries and settlers conducted long debates with indigenous people on key issues, such as that of justice and rights. From another perspective, as John Kahionhes Fadden states, “…the Americans did not copy the Kaianere’ko:wa, [the Great Law of Peace], because they had slaves, they treated their women like unicorns; they seem to have had no sensitivity to the environment”.[11] The discussion of the influence that Native Americans did or did not exert on the U.S. Constitution may add another element missing from the thoughtless and nationalist perspectives. Imitation and observation act independently of the rational part of thought, it inevitably happens, and in some cases, such as this one, it may work for good.

From about 1100, when the Great Law was adopted, until 1923, the Iroquois Confederacy added another nation, and thus renamed the Six Iroquois Nations (the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca, and from 1722 the Tuscarora). In the early 20th century, the indigenous people, indignant and frustrated by the mistreatment they were receiving from the government, particularly from the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada, decided to send a representative group to the League of Nations to request membership in this global organization. At that time, the Department of Indian Affairs revealed its quagmire, its unreliability and its mismanagement to settle with regard to the indigenous population.[12] One of the cases it was supposed to settle was assimilation, which was achieved through the Canadian Residential Schools, institutions in which children were forcibly and coercively removed from their families to be held indefinitely in order to suppress their indigenous identity and create a generation tailor-made for white Canadian rule.[13] To the canvas of government prohibitions and restrictions are added the displacement from the land and forced residence on aboriginal reservations, the denial of their rights and primarily the denial of the right to vote and stand for federal elections, the exploitation of resources without adequate consultation or compensation, legal discrimination such as the Indian Act of 1876[14] and fictitious and spurious treaties and agreements.

Thus, in 1923, Deskaheh (chief’s title – Cayuga royaner), also known as Levi General, along with George Decker, a lawyer from the United States, petitioned Great Britain to recognize the Iroquois Six Nations as an independent nation.[15] The request for an audience with the then King George V did not prove fruitful, and the case was sent to the then young Winston Churchill, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies. The request was rejected on the grounds that the Six Nations did not fulfil the criteria for recognition as a nation.[16] To their disappointment, Britain was not up to the task and refused to refer the request to the appropriate department for an inquiry, as was required in any other case where a nation or state wished to join the League of Nations. So, the two travelled to Geneva and addressed the Netherlands, with whom they had historically established diplomatic relations as early as 1600. Invoking the concept of self-government and seeking protection from the League of Nations against the aggression of their Canadian neighbours, they interpreted the Covenant of the League of Nations verbatim and expected their perspective to be echoed by this global organization.[17] On August 6, 1923, Deskaheh wrote a memorandum addressed to the League of Nations Secretariat, the Red Man’s Appeal for Justice. He writes in Article 15:

To the manifest encl of destroying the Six Nations Government, the Dominion Government did, without just or lawful cause, in or about December of the year 1922, commit an act of war upon the Six Nations by making a n hostile invasion of the Six Nations domain, wherein the Dominion Government then established an armed force which it has since maintained therein, and the p1·esence thereof has impeded and impedes the Six Nations Council in the carrying on of the duly constituted government of the Six Nations people, and is a menace to international peace.[18]

However, the League of Nations Secretariat, clearly influenced by British and Canadian indignation and hateful rhetoric towards Canada’s indigenous people, refused to listen to Deskaheh’s appeal, explaining that “claims from within Canada conflict with the Canadian nation. Minorities must work together as loyal citizens”.[19]

The solution traditionally adopted by colonial governments, not only in Canada but everywhere in the world, is to violently target and vilify those who threaten the harmony of their new and mimetically created world. The Canadian Mounted Police attempted an armed raid on the village where Deskaheh resided in order to find evidence of his disruptive behavior, such as alcohol, guns or anything that could weaken and invalidate his claims.[20]

Because Deskaheh traveled to Geneva on a passport of an inherited consultant, Canadian authorities did not allow his repatriation. He died alone in exile in 1925.[21] He never gave up defending his people, the Six Nations of the Iroquois, and fought for the rights of himself and his nation till the very end. Deskaheh’s Appeal, on the other hand, is a testament to the indomitable spirit of a people who refuse to silence their history. It is an outcry for justice, for peace, for reconciliation, a call for recognition and a call for a crackdown on shadowy indifference. Deskaheh invites the world to hear the call for justice, to honour the diversity of human existence and, ultimately, to disseminate that all of us, bit by bit, care for this Tree of Peace.


T.W. Ratana and the Māori Case

Several miles away from Canada, in New Zealand, in the land where the Māori civilization has prospered for hundreds of years, lived the political and religious leader Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana (hereafter T.W. Rātana). T.W. Rātana created the Rātana religious movement after a vision in which the Holy Spirit appeared to him. As a Māngai (mediator), Rātana quickly gained fame and in the early 1920s, he traveled around New Zealand, visiting villages and preaching the religious message.  After collecting signatures from more than 30,000 Māori,[22] Rātana sought an audience with the King of England, George V in 1924 on indigenous issues and rights in his country. In his claims, he demanded, among other things, that the Treaty of Waitangi should be respected. The hearing was refused and Rātana was returned back to New Zealand.[23]

On 6 February, 1840, the British Crown and Māori representatives signed the Treaty, which guaranteed rights, peace and the establishment of a government to represent their culture. In Article 3 we read:

For this agreed settlement, therefore, concerning the Crown Government, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand and give them the same rights and obligations as the people of England with regard to citizenship.[24]

Among other things, the Treaty provided for the purchase and sale of pieces of Māori-owned lad, but these had to be settled on the basis of certain standards, i.e. equal exchanges. For example, as Andy Fyers (2018) reports, the Ngāi Tahu sold for £15,000 most of South Island to the Crown (which was equivalent to a fraction of a penny per acre) in exchange for schools and hospitals. The schools and hospitals, however, never materialized and the Ngāi Tahu instead received 37,000 acres of the purchased land (one thousandth as opposed to one tenth). In the early 20th century, 2,000 Ngāi Tahu managed to survive on their traditional lands.[25] Today, only 4,8% of the national lands are officially owned by Māori, which anthropologically means that they can no longer visit conduct rituals and cultural practices on taonga that are considered sacred sites. So, what is the value of the Treaty when it can be violated? The above instances of stolen land and violation of the provisions leads us to the conclusion that the Crown has managed to exploit, through legal maneuvering and sometimes unashamedly illegal, the writings of the Treaty which are perhaps open to multiple interpretations.


T.W. Rātana and Deskaheh are two historical examples of fortitude and perseverance and played a key role in shaping the rights of indigenous peoples, leaving an indelible mark on the course of activism. Deskaheh’s efforts to secure recognition of the Six Nations of Iroquois in the League of Nations brought to light the debate around the principles of international law and the concept of justice, while illuminating the systemic injustices faced by indigenous communities, forcing the global community to confront the legacy of colonialism and recognize indigenous peoples’ inherent rights over their territories, self-governance, culture and history. Similarly, T.W. Rātana’s actions in bringing Māori demands before the newly formed organization brought to the fore the ongoing injustices suffered by indigenous communities in New Zealand and elsewhere. Pointing out that if treaties are to be signed, then they must be explicitly honored, his visionary leadership inspired generations of Māori activists and leaders to continue the struggle for justice, equality and peace, concepts self-evidence in subsequent UN Declarations. Perhaps, what Grace Xiu Woo said is perfectly suited to this chapter of world history and may it be the premise upon which we can carve out a better world in the future: “if we want to decolonize the future, we must first decolonize our understanding of the past” (2003).



Spelling the Rights

If we accept as correct the assumption that anthropology is a product of colonialism,[26] then we should not be surprised that it based its academic and epistemological structures on the evolutionary vertical theory as formulated by Morgan, Maine and Darwin before them. Two early anthropological works, Maine’s The Ancient Law (1861) and Morgan’s The Ancient Society (1877), proposed that civilization evolves vertically, with European civilization being considered the colossus of human evolution.[27] This assumption was in practice encouraged by colonial governments.

The 20th century can be seen as the century of decolonization, the attempt to establish new nations free from the oppression of colonialism. However, the place of indigenous peoples remained low on the agenda of new politicians, who were struggling to find their place on the world scene.


A Global Outcry

Alongside decolonization, the era of non-profit organizations and solidarity activism flourished, especially in the second half of the 20th century. In 1961, Peter Benenson, founded Amnesty International, following an explosive publication in The Observer, entitled “The Forgotten Prisoners”, and then publication of The Prosecution 1961, in which he highlighted the unjust imprisonment and torture suffered by people around the globe without accurate judicial process.[28] At the same time, Survival International was founded I 1969 bu a group of people shocked by the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.[29] In particular, Norman Lewis published an article in Sunday Time Magazine on 23 February 1969 entitled Genocide.[30] Specifically, Norman stated: “Ten years ago there were over 400 Tchikaos, but in 1966 they were overrun by diamond prospectors who shot every Indian they met. Now only 53 survive, protected in the Xingu Park”.[31] A few years later, in the 1980s, in Brazil, in the vast trails carved by the Yanomami in the Amazon, illegal prospectors were attempting to mine for gold, and when the results were disappointing to them, they would lash out at these savages. One in five Yanomami in Brazil died from violent attacks or diseases brought by outsiders.[32] One survivor of the massacre of 16 Yanomami tells Survival International, “the gold-miners killed our brothers and sisters, and also killed our father with machetes; some of them were killed with guns…We can’t talk about it much because it makes us very sad. When we talk about the massacre, we remember our father”.[33] The darkness spread by the relentless foreign invaders could not extinguish the flame of the Amazonian indigenous people. Refusing to be silent in the face of the cacophony of oppression, the Yanomami continued to fight for the protection and survival of their people, and the environment. For their struggle is not only about them, but also about the soul of the Amazon, the future of the planet, which some have refused to respect and accept as their home. At the same time, the International Working Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs (hereinafter referred to as the IWGIA) was founded, based in Copenhagen[34] with a significant contribution to the subsequent efforts to adopt a declaration protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

Non-profit organizations and UN groups, on the long road to the declaration, contributed significantly to the adoption and writing of the articles, primarily because they represented indigenous peoples and took their demands into account. Much later, José R. Martinez Cobo spoke at the UN General Secretariat Conference in 2014 addressing the issues that indigenous people around the world continue to face. Speaking about the adoption of a paper declaration with legal force, Cobo said that this particular declaration would be different from others adopted by the UN, as it would require the participation of indigenous peoples themselves, through representatives, supporting the tagline “Nothing About Us, Without Us”.[35]


Walking on the Paths of the Law

A young lawyer, Augusto Willemsen Diaz, who had been a human rights officer at the UN General Secretariat since the 1950s, was trying to integrate the problems faced by indigenous people into the occasional UN studies on minorities and discrimination. As he says, “I worked on the Special Study on Racial Discrimination in the Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Spheres (the UN Study on Racial Discrimination)…The objective of insisting that there should be a chapter on indigenous peoples in this Study…was to use it as a basis on which to insist on a specific study on indigenous peoples, given that the phenomenon of violent military defeat (conquest) and subsequent colonization, present in many cases, including amongst the peoples of Abya Yala (America) in the 15th century onwards, had intensified, expanded and accentuated age-old features of racism and racial discrimination”.[36]

Very soon, in 1971, José R. Martinez Cobo proposed a study entitled Study of the Question of Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples, which was approved by the United Nations Sub-Commission responsible for the prevention of discrimination and the protection of minorities. Although the study was only published in 1987,[37] sixteen years later, we understand that someone was indeed whispering in the ears of those who could legally and officially change the world that we must protect the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples in practice. Cobo’s Study was presented at various meetings held by the Sub-Commission.[38] On 30 August 1984, the Sub-Commission adopted the Resolution 1984/35, in which it described the study as a particularly valuable contribution to the clarification of basic legal, social and cultural problems concerning indigenous peoples.[39] The following year, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (hereafter referred to as the WGIP) established by the UN Economic and Social Council expressed the need for a declaration to record and defend the rights of indigenous peoples. The Draft Declaration presented seven principles, which would be considered by the UN General Secretariat. In particular, they included:

  1. the right to full and effective enjoyment of universally recognized human rights,
  2. the right to equality and freedom from discrimination,
  3. the collective right to exist and to be protected against genocide as well as the individual right to life,
  4. the rights in relation to religious ceremonies and access to sacred sites,
  5. the right to all forms of education,
  6. the right to preserve cultural identity and traditions and to pursue their own cultural development
  7. the right ‘to promote intercultural information and education, recognizing the dignity and diversity of their cultures’[40]


The draft was adopted in 1994 and examined by the UN Human Rights Committee. One of the reasons why its adoption was so delayed was the ambiguous concept of self-determination. The way in which nations were constituted until the end of the 20th century did not allow individuals, ethnic groups and minorities to claim their own autonomy on land. Thus, in the fury for independence, many states absorbed indigenous rights and incorporated them into the national aspirations of the nation. The debate that opened with the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among other things, included the clarification of the concept of self-determination, the description of the concept of indigenous people and the groups to which it would ultimately be addressed.[41]

In 1995, an interdisciplinary working group was set up, which was responsible for examining the draft declaration as adopted in 1994. The ideal that the working group hoped for was that the declaration would be endorsed and adopted during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995 – 2004).[42] The results that the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples expected were not what was anticipated, and among them was the eventual formal adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Adopting the Declaration in 2007

From the time the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 1994 until 2007 when the Declaration was formally adopted by the UN, although a few years have passed in relation to an eternity of brutality, we have to acknowledge the special recommendation of the Declaration, which was not adopted in the way other declarations were adopted under the UN.

Indigenous peoples, through representatives, had a say throughout the process that followed, which is discussed below, and even proposed certain points that could better serve their interests. The UN has in some cases adopted what Passy calls “informal integration strategies”, which allow for the participation of informal organizations that would otherwise be subjected to trials and tests to determine their validity. The IWGIA therefore encouraged the adoption of new regulations that would allow for the broad participation of representatives of indigenous peoples’ organizations, regardless of their organizational status.[43]

During the 4th Session, in May 2005, 155 Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (hereafter referred to as IPOs) participated of which only 16 had consultative status.[44] This was allowed by the IWGIA, which established an informal procedure under which a wide range of IPOs could participate. As an illustration, the Indian Law Resource Center was actively involved during the 30 years required for the Declaration to be adopted, pursuing collective and individual rights, and importantly campaigned years later to persuade the US government to adopt the Declaration, in 2010.[45]

Thus, in 2007, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted on 13 of September. The General Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a landmark declaration that ended 25 years of contentious negotiations on the rights of indigenous peoples to protect their territories, resources, traditions, history and culture. 143 countries voted in favor of the Declaration, with 11 abstentions and 4 countries against. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States refused to recognize the Declaration. Four countries with a significant and rich history of indigenous presence, long before the arrival of the white rulers themselves. In particular, Australia had strongly expressed its dissatisfaction with the reference to self-determination, as it referred to situations of decolonization and the splitting of states into smaller, well-defined population groups.[46] While it encouraged active political participation of Australia’s indigenous people in political affairs, it refused to endorse a concept that could be interpreted as an action that would affect the territorial and political integrity of  democratically oriented country. The Declaration was welcomed by these countries a few years later. In 2009, Australia and New Zealand changed their vote and a year later, in November and December Canada and the United States, under the presidency of Barak Obama, respectively, also voted for it.[47]

Les Malezer, president of the Global Indigenous Caucus, stated that “the declaration is a UN document of mutual respect”.[48] It was created on the basis of human rights and of course does not universally express the views of all indigenous peoples or all member states. We must, therefore, interpret and see the declaration as a new step, a new chapter in which humanity is embarking. This time, instead of us taking on the affairs of those who are other than ourselves, we have jointly created a document, a declaration with the participation of the very people to whom it is addressed. The uniqueness expressed in this declaration is something unprecedented, and that is precisely how we ought to see it. It is a framework that will oblige States to protect and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples without exclusion or discrimination. It has officially opened up the debate on self-determination and autonomy, even if it does not legally bind states. It encouraged public and governmental awareness of issues relating to the protection of the environment, because this is our home. Native Americans have a wonderful saying, regarding this, that says: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.[49] And that is the assumption with which we must all walk together from now on.



Concerning a Humble Epilogue

Although, as noted above, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not provide for a legal obligation on the part of member states, the word “obligation” mentioned within the document addresses customary international law and the ethics that each government must uphold towards its citizens. In 2014, the two-day high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly was held in New York to discuss and resolve issues concerning indigenous peoples.[50] The aim of the conference was to adopt the Conference Outcome Document, which would serve to review and consolidate the international community’s commitment to upholding the rights of indigenous peoples. Les Malezer, in his speech, states at the end:

“The outcome document is a good result and provides opportunities. But now that the key doors are open, it has to be Indigenous Peoples that walk through those doors. We can’t wait for member states to take the initiative, although some of them will. Indigenous Peoples that haven’t been able to get into the room now have the door open. But they’ve still got to walk into the room, they’ve still got to put in the effort and the organization and engage through this process in order to get the results.”[51]


And so, in 2024, indigenous peoples and the United Nations have together taken the first tentative steps towards a more harmonized world, far removed from the vision people had 100 and 200 years ago.

The first step has been made, now we just have to learn how to walk.



[1] From the preamble (Annex) to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the first article of the Declaration

[2] Columbus and the Taíno – Exploring the Early Americas | Exhibitions – Library of Congress, n.d.

[3] Hispaniola|Genocide Studies Program. (n.d.). Genocide Studies Program. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://gsp.yale.edu/case-studies/colonial-genocides-project/hispaniola

[4] Elliott, M., & Hughes, J. (2019, August 19).

[5] Eriksen Hylland Τ. (2007), σελ. 74-75

[6] Clifford Geertz (2003)

[7] Li Xiu Woo, Grace (2003, April 30)

[8] See, especially Hiawatha: The Great Uniter of the Iroquois, (2024, February 5). Lowell Milken Center. https://www.lowellmilkencenter.org/programs/projects/view/hiawatha-the-great-uniter-of-the-iroquois/hero

[9] Excerpt from Wampum #97 of the Great Law. Available at: The Great Law – KAYANEREHKOWA. (n.d.). Ganienkeh Net.  http://www.ganienkeh.net/thelaw.html. “Wampum”, cloths used by the indigenous peoples of North America, were used as decorative objects as well as for ceremonial and diplomatic purposes. The wampum bands, two-tailed bands, signified the achievement of peace between peoples. In the Great Law of Peace, the wampum in a way replaced the Articles of Conventions (Rene R. Gadacz, Wampum, The Canadian Encyclopedia). The Great Law of Peace was adopted around 1100 and is considered by various historians to be a government document with force and authority for the Iroquois Confederacy. After a great war broke out between Hiawatha, the great Mohawk chief and warrior, and a violent chief who was allegedly responsible for the death of his family, Hiawatha met the Great Peacemaker, a spiritual leader, and together they traveled across the Nations from Ontario to Quebec to visit the various Iroquois tribes. They endeavoured to bring peace between the nations and to terminate the wars they were waging among themselves. The Peacemaker led the chiefs of the nations to a large pine tree, which he uprooted, and in its hole the warriors threw all their weapons. The tree was replanted and went down in history as the Tree of Peace, an act that ratified the Reconciliation and Unity of the Five – originally – Iroquois Nations. (Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace (n.d.) University of Waterloo, από: https://contensis.uwaterloo.ca/sites/sandboxes/admin/testCopy-1205/lecture-content/module-3/3c.aspx)

[10] Graeber D., & Wengrow D. (2023)

[11] Johansen, B. E, & Grinde, D. A. (1990)

[12] Woo Xiu G. (2003)

[13] Hanson, E., Gamez, D., & Manuel, A. (2020, September)

[14] Two of the provisions of the 3d Article of the Indian Act of 1876 that are worth noting are the 8th and 12th. The 8th provision states that “Indian lands mean any reserve of portion of a reserve which has been surrendered to the Crown”. Of course, the interpretation of this provision may vary. If we dwell on the verb surrendered and consider the rhetoric and tactics used by the colonial powers in the new world, the 8th provision bears witness to land grabbing, denial of rights and repeated violations of universal human rights. Below the 12th explains that “the term person means an individual other than an Indian, unless the context clearly requires another construction”. (See, Indian Act, 1876, National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, from: https://nctr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/1876_Indian_Act_Reduced_Size.pdf). In 1951, and seeing the horrors that the human mind can create in a war, the Act was amended and Native Canadians were given certain freedoms, such as the right to appear in their ceremonial costumes or to conduct potlatch (a social practice of gift exchange, a practice carried out mainly by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, such as the Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Tlingit, and Coast Salish. However, the Royal Commission of the Aboriginal Peoples pointed out that by removing or repealing oppressive provisions of the Act, the government only succeeded in making it more similar to the original 1876 Act. (See, Hanson E. (n.d.) The Indian Act. Indigenous Foundations, from: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_indian_act/

[15] See, Young, S. (2019). One of the reasons Deskaheh visited Great Britain first is because the treaties signed by the aboriginal people of Canada were not with the Canadian government, but with the British colonial empire. So, the matter was turned over to Britain. (See. Li Xiu Woo, Grace (2003, April 30).

[16] Woo Xiu, G. (2003)

[17] Ibid.

[18] Deskaheh (1923)

[19] Young S. (2009).

[20] Woo Xiu, G. (2003)

[21] Young S. (2009)

[22] See, Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana. (n.d.). New Zealand History. Available: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/tahupotiki-wiremu-ratana. Other sources give us the number of 45,000 signatures, see Newman K. (n.d.) Story: Rātana Church – Te Haahi Rātana, Te Ara, από: https://teara.govt.nz/en/ratana-church-te-haahi-ratana

[23] Sanders D. (1980)

[24] The Treaty, although there are exclusions in the English rendering from the Māori, includes some inalienable and unambiguous points, such as Article 3 presented in the text, which deals with the rights and responsibilities of equality and common citizenship for all New Zealanders (rite tahi / equality). (See.  Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. (n.d.). Human Rights Commission. Available: https://tikatangata.org.nz/human-rights-in-aotearoa/human-rights-and-te-tiriti-o-waitangi). However, in the Māori text, the word “tikanga” is rendered as “protection” in English and has the meaning of protecting customs. Thus, when it is stated that “the Queen will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand”, it essentially means that she will allow the preservation of Māori customs. (See. The Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi here: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/files/documents/treaty-kawharu-footnotes.pdf)

[25] Fryers A. (August 1, 2018)

[26] Hylland Eriksen, T., & Sivert Nielsen, F. (2013)

[27] Hylland Eriksen, T. (2007), pp. 36-37

[28] Clapham A. (2007). See. pp. 101 – 102.

[29] Irène Bellier (2005)

[30] Norman L. (23 February 1969)

[31] Ibid.

[32] Survivors of Yanomami massacre speak out 20 years on, (August 13, 2013), Survival International, from: https://www.survivalinternational.org/news/9455  

[33] Ibid.

[34] Irène Bellier (2005)

[35] Malzer L. (2014). In particular, Malezer, in his eloquent speech, and without giving up on the spirit that created the Declaration – which even today is not legally binding – stated that it was imperative that the indigenous representatives enter the room and witness the adoption of a legal declaration of their rights. However, they were not allowed entry.

[36] Charters, C., Stavenhagen, R., Willemsen-Diaz, A., & Eide, A. (2009)

[37] Sanders, D. (1989)

[38] Ibid, p. 23

[39] Ibid.

[40] Thornberry P. (2002)

[41] Ibid.

[42] The International Decade of Indigenous Peoples was proclaimed by the UN General Secretariat in 1993, following the recommendation of the World Conference on Human Rights. The theme of the International Decade was “Indigenous Peoples: Cooperation in Action”. The International Decade aimed to promote international cooperation to solve the problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas such as human rights, culture, environment, development, education and health. However, the first International Decade did not achieve the goals it had hoped for and so another was created in 2005. In this International Decade, which lasted until 2015, the official Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. See. Leaflet No.7, The International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, in Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/GuideIPleaflet7en.pdf

[43] Morgan, R. (2007)

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Sixty-First Session, 107th & 108th Meetings, GA/10612 (13 September, 2007), General Assembly Adopts Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples; “Major Step Forward” towards Human Rights for All, Says President, Mettings Coverage and Press Releases, from: https://press.un.org/en/2007/ga10612.doc.htm

[47] United Nations and Indigenous Peoples, Native American Rights Fund, από: https://narf.org/cases/declaration-indigenous-rights-un/

[48] Ibid.

[49] Other sources indicate that this quote may also belong to Oscar Wilde. There is a difference of opinion as to who wrote it.

[50] It is the First World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. From Survival International here: https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/les-malezer-key-doors-are-now-open-indigenous-peoples-have

[51] Ibid.




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The cover picture is available in Onondaga Nations’s website, here: https://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/ 

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