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Autonomy in Nicaragua and Nunavut:

A Comparative Study in Self Determination


Rodolfo Pino Robles

Master's Thesis, Native Studies, University of Saskatchewan



According to an Aymara legend, Pachakamaq (He Who Orders the Universe) arose from Lake Titicaca, made men, women and babies in totora cradles and then commanded: "Aliriña (Arise)". From the springs and caves of the earth the people emerged in the Tiwanaku (the oldest Andean civilization). I would suggest that coming from a dormant state, the people arose slowly. Today, again, Indigenous peoples world-wide are arising to state unequivocally that we are people. Aliriña!!

Aboriginal issues have risen to prominence both nationally and internationally, particularly since 1992, the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus' arrival on the Caribbean shores marking the beginning of the colonization of an entire "new world". With the accompanying increase in media attention upon the words and actions of Aboriginal people around the globe, there appears to be a growing and unified determination to oppose colonialism and the internal colonialism to which Indigenous peoples have been subjected since European arrival in this hemisphere. Aboriginal people are also struggling against the resulting centuries-long exclusion from participation in the economic, political and cultural life and institutions of a dominant society. One objective of the Aboriginal struggle is that non-Aboriginal peoples realize that Native people, as first inhabitants, did have their own economies, laws, social, civic and spiritual life, in fine, full self-determination before the arrival of the Europeans. Native people throughout the Americas have, for more than five hundred years, been resisting conquest, colonialism, policies of assimilation and neocolonialism.

Presently, political issues such as defining self-determination and achieving Aboriginal self-government, as a component of self-determination, are at the top of the Indigenous agenda, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. The Inuit in Canada and the Miskitu1 in Nicaragua are the two Aboriginal nations focused on in this study. These peoples are the subjects of agreements which are expected to provide some insights into the question of self-determination and self-government. The agreements in question are the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Nunavut Law, and the Estatuto de la Autonomía de las Regiones de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (Autonomy Statute for the Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua), which includes the RAAS (Autonomous Region of the South Atlantic) in the south and the RAAN (Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic) in the north. Of these two, the RAAN is the subject of this study.

This thesis will examine these two agreements to see whether both or either of them provide any degree of self-determination for two Aboriginal nations of the Americas, the Inuit in the Eastern Arctic of Canada and the Miskito in Nicaragua. Both settlements are based on a form of public government rather than one founded on ethnicity. However, since the majority populations in each of these regions are Aboriginal, the Inuit and the Miskitos would have access to control of the government. Thus, such settlements could turn out to be some of the most advanced political agreements existing for Aboriginal people, insofar as these legislative measures might recognize Aboriginal right to self-determination.

The phrase "self-determination" is properly understood only in the context of the process Aboriginal peoples went through in losing their autonomy. Upon European arrival on the continent, and in varying degrees, Indigenous people were obliged to: (1) change the technology they had developed to meet their basic needs and become incorporated into another economic system producing for Europe initially and later for the capitalist system sustained by the nation-states; (2) change the complex of norms and institutions by which they had organized their social life, and adopt the "Western" style; finally (3) alter, or completely change, their existing body of knowledge, beliefs and values. New and foreign societal systems were imposed on them. Some were imposed militarily, socially, or politically, while for others dependence upon European goods was created, as in the fur trade. The expropriation of land, control of its people and cultural imposition, known as colonization, remained in force for Indigenous people, even after independence came for the European colonials. This process is sometimes called internal colonialism, since colonialism has officially ceased.

Aboriginal people throughout the hemisphere are denouncing the social, political and economic conditions they are subjected to and are also searching for common ways to carry forward their struggles for the recognition of their right to self-determination.  I would suggest that the new environment of concern and the need for scholarly advocacy in the struggle for recognition of Indigenous people make it imperative that the discipline of Native Studies look at Aboriginal conditions throughout the hemisphere embracing both theory and empirical conditions, including among others: the growth of Aboriginal awareness throughout the hemisphere, the need to develop closer links between academia and Native communities, and the similarities throughout the region of Native struggles in defense of their rights, in search of political and legal recognition, and in defense of Aboriginal land claims and the Aboriginal right to life.

The new Nunavut Territory and the Nunavut Government will not take effect until April 1999. The RAAN and RAAS were only partially implemented in 1987 and the Autonomy Law was not even verified by the Violeta Chamorro administration until 1994. Hence there is no significant period of lived history under either agreement which could be examined in this thesis. Similarly, there is a dearth of analytic literature dealing directly with either agreement. For this study, the primary sources have been the legal documents themselves, and the several supporting documents and implementation documents. The author also met with representatives of the Nunavut Tunngavik (Simona Arnatiaq-Barnes, Implementation Director), John Merrit, a lawyer for the Tunngavik in the negotiations, and a member of the Nunavut Implementation Training Committee, Bill Logan. Apart from receiving copies of all the legal documents from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, he was unable to meet with any official with direct knowledge of Nunavut. Sources in the RAAN, the Nicaraguan government, and the Nicaraguan Embassy were also of little assistance in providing documentation subsequent to the Autonomy Law. Hence this study does not include a literature review.

Chapter One of this thesis searches for an accepted understanding of the definition of the concept of self-determination within international fora which might therefore be recognized by nation-states. Self determination, as employed here, depends on the definition of the concept accepted by the governments of Nicaragua and Canada. Given these, it is possible to prognosticate how either experience could -potentially— offer either Aboriginal people an experience of self-determination within these nation-states, beginning from the self-administration both the Inuit and the Miskito people obtain in these agreements.

Chapter Two selects the approach of internal colonialism as the theoretical framework. Internal colonialism is the condition in which the Inuit and the Miskitos have found themselves up to the moment of the signing of the agreement or the application of autonomy.

Chapters Three and Four focus on the history of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and the Eastern Arctic of Canada respectively and situate the unfolding of internal colonialism and class relations and the Inuit's and Miskitos' struggles. These chapters also briefly look at the developing of the idea of regional autonomy for the Miskitos and of a province-like territory, or Nunavut for the Inuit. Chapter Five analyzes the Nunavut Agreement and the Law of Autonomy. In light of the parameters set in Chapter One, it compares the two and determines whether the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement/Nunavut Law and the Estatuto de la Autonomía de las Regiones de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (Autonomy Statute for the Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua) offer self-determination to either Aboriginal people.

An examination of the RAAN, for the Miskito people, and of the Nunavut agreement, for the Inuit, has the potential of making an original contribution to the field of Native Studies especially in relation to the idea of Aboriginal self-determination. The sixth Chapter draws a conclusion to the question of whether self-determination is offered by either piece of legislation, and attempts to project some of the potential effects, opening the field for further exploration of different and more promising possibilities of Aboriginal-controlled public forms of government for other Native peoples of the Americas.



This chapter examines the evolution of the concept of self-determination as it has been successively defined by bodies of the United Nations. It then considers the implications of those definitions for Aboriginal peoples, specifically with respect to two distinctive land statutes: the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement/Nunavut Law and the Estatuto de la Autonomía de las Regiones de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (Autonomy Statute for the Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua).

Self-Determination: A Brief History

The concept of self-determination finds its principal antecedents in the late 18th century. I. Brownlie noted in his 1970 historical inquiry, “An Essay in the History of the Principle of Self-Determination,” three main ideas that were already embodied in the 18th century concept of self-determination: The ideological roots of self-determination are to be found in at least three distinct but related concepts which can be traced in the history of Western philosophy. The first is that of the equality of men ... The second is that man, as a rational being, has the possibility of choice even though it may be limited ... The third concept is that of social contract and this has proved the most dynamic in the present connection [emphasis added].i

There is a logical progression here. The first idea of this progression, equality, is the foundational concept. If all persons are not considered equal, if the concept is not even a philosophical ideal, why would anybody feel obligated to grant self-determination and why would anyone have the temerity to expect it or struggle for it? Equality is the great legitimator. Similarly the second concept, the possibility of choice, justifies the struggle to shape one's destiny. Of Brownlie's three tenets, the third philosophical principle, the social contract, is especially important in the search for self-determination, since the particular laws under discussion are the result of either contracts or agreements between Aboriginal peoples and their respective federal or central governments.

In Self-Determination in International Law, U. O. Umozurike traced the origin of the word self determination to the German term selbstbestimmungsrecht (the right of self-government), which German radical philosophers were using in the mid-nineteenth century.ii In 1896 the London International Socialist Congress incorporated the idea of self-determination in one of its resolutions, by declaring that the Congress “upholds the full rights of the self-determination (selbstbestimmungsrecht) of all nations.”iii However, self-determination as a functional political precept developed predominantly because of the Bolshevik revolution and the demise of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires after the First World War.iv The principle of self-determination, therefore, developed as positing the right of a nation to total independence as a sovereign power. The proposition was vehemently defended by the European political left for the most part. For example, in 1913 Joseph Stalin elaborated the Bolshevik position on this question. Stalin's proposition later acquired international relevance since it became a banner all over Europe and more so in what would become known as the Third World. In his 1912 monograph entitled Marxism and the National Question Stalin stated:

The right of self-determination means that a nation may arrange its life in the way it wishes. It has the right to arrange its life on the basis of autonomy. It has the right to enter into federal relations with other nations. It has the right to complete secession. Nations are sovereign, and all nations are equal.v

Proving that he was aware of the implications of his words, Stalin said in 1948 that the Bolsheviks would not support demands for self-determination for any nation within the Soviet Even though Stalin was not accepting self-determination for national republics within the Soviet Union, he considered them unequivocally as nations. Obviously his statement requires a doctrinaire definition of a nation and Stalin provided one:

A nation is a historically evolved, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.vii

Stalin understood “economic life” as the way of life of class-conscious working men and excluded capitalist exploiters from his definition of people or nation. His concept of national identity manifested in a common culture differs from the definition of a nation in the capitalist states which, according to F. Wilmer “... is a set of institutions through which control over territory, resources, and people is asserted for the purpose of economic mobilization in order to create surplus value.”viii

J. Bodley noted that among many other academics, B. Nietschman has insisted that one of the main differences between a nation-state and a nation is that “... the nation-states are actually composed of many such 'nations’ that have been arbitrarily forced under the same government administration, often as a heritage of colonialism.”ix Early colonizing nations of the capitalist states profited from the exploitation of others who in turn became nations with ethnic minorities.

After the October Revolution in 1917 the Bolshevik government, centralized in Moscow, maintained solid control over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At the same time, the consolidation of a Socialist economic, social and political system in the Soviet Union provided a model whose very existence encouraged nationalist and anti-capitalist nations in Latin America, Asia and Africa to seek self-determination as a political goal in their struggle against colonial oppression by the imperialist powers. This tendency was strengthened because of the rapid growth of national movements which developed after World War II. Populist national movements received encouragement and strategic support from the newly emerged East European bloc.x The fundamental changes in the world political climate and in the structure of international relations, which are favourable for the liberation movement, are also expressed in the establishment of new type of relations between the socialist countries and also between them and the developing countries.” K. N. Brutents, National Liberation Revolutions Today, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 290.

In 1945, the Soviet Union requested an amendment to the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks proposals for the creation of an international political organization, later the United Nations. This amendment added the phrase “based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” to the first and ninth chapters.xi Thus, the principle of self-determination was incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations and later it evolved into the right of self-determination of peoples. Self-determination, as a right, was seen as a major international accomplishment. The 1955 International Congress of Jurists in Athens asserted the significance of this concept by including the folowing:

The recognition of the right to self-determination being one of the greatest achievements of our era and one of the fundamental principles of international law, its non-application is emphatically condemned.

Justice demands that a people or an ethnic minority be not deprived of their natural rights and especially of the fundamental rights of man and citizens or of equal treatment for reasons of race, colour, class, political conviction, caste or creed.xii

However, even if nation-states subscribed to the right of self-determination, the idea of “equal treatment” is complicated. “Equal” could be easily interpreted as meaning “the same”, with no special rights, as proposed, for example, by the Canadian government in the 1969 “White Paper”. One should also note that nations still struggling to hang on to colonies seeking self-rule have contended that they already recognize the rights of so-called “ethnic minorities”. There appears to be a contradiction between declaration and practice. In fact, the greatest obstacle to the self-determination of peoples may not be in the failure of nation-states to declare their adherence to the principle, but rather in their excluding their own situations in the practice.

Who are a “People”?

Historically the concept of self-determination was associated primarily with the independent European nation-states. Currently, however, the definition of self-determination employs the term “peoples”xiii in the concept. For Indigenous populations the word “peoples” has the connotation of nation as a social and cultural construct. Aboriginal groups describe themselves as nations (peoples) precisely because of their common history, language, culture, territory, and economies and political interests.xiv This idea of nation (peoples) is not necessarily limited to the political and jurisdictional context of the nation-state.

There is a continuing ambiguity in all international documents that define concepts such as peoples and nation.xv The confusion surrounding the definition in the international arena becomes even more acute within nation-states. On October 12, 1970, the U.N. General Assembly resolution no. 2621 (XXV) reaffirmed

... that all peoples have the right to self-determination and independence and that the subjection of peoples to alien domination constitutes a serious impediment to the maintenance of international peace and security and the development of peaceful relations among nations ...

and adopted a program of action to assist the implementation of its earlier Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.xvi While this resolution accepts the right of all peoples to self-determination, it could be understood as confining the idea of all peoples to existing nation-states only, given the reference to maintaining international peace. It could also apply to groups such as the Palestinians, officially recognized as a distinct people by international forums. However, after W.W. II and as a consequence of the anti-colonial struggles, it was understood that those peoples subjugated by colonialism could expect some self-determination within the territorial jurisdiction of existing nation-states. Therefore, self-determination became accepted, in international forums, as a concept applying both within and outside the nation-state. Since the founding of the U.N., in 1945, numerous resolutions, proposals and drafts have dealt with “the right of all peoples and nations to self-determination.” This right of all "peoples" suggests a quasi-legal context for the term “people”. International News pointed out:

... almost every government objects to the recognition of an unqualified right to self-determination, for reasons we are all too familiar with: Indigenous peoples are not peoples under the meaning of international law; self-determination is limited to colonial contexts; self-determination can pose a threat to territorial integrity and State sovereignty.xvii

These are key elements when discussing Indigenous peoples. The recognition as “peoples” is vital to any idea of self-determination and this concept itself should be broadened. Indeed, in 1972, Umozurike suggested that the term should be broadened to include

... the right of all peoples to determine their political future and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. Politically this is manifested through independence, as well as self-government, local autonomy, merger, association, or some other form of participation in government. It operates both externally and internally to ensure democratic government and the absence of internal and external domination. Thus the principle of self-determination is relevant to peoples in dependent and independent territories alike [emphasis added].xviii

Umozurike referred to external self-determination as the right of peoples to decide their status within the international sphere,while internal self-determination is the right of peoples to choose a form of government under which they wish to live.xix

In light of this understanding of self-determination as “the absence of internal and external domination,” how can the idea of freedom from internal domination for Indigenous People be understood? Again, the specific terms nation and peoples are not clearly defined; these terms seem to be applied in international forums only to existing nation-states and this creates difficulties in applying the definition to Indigenous people.

Numerous international forums such as the Human Rights Commission, the Jurists Commission, International Alert and Amnesty International agree with the U.N. definition of the principle and right of self-determination of “peoples.” In 1981, a United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, A. Cristescu stated:

In referring to self-determination, all the main instruments of the United Nations—the Charter, the International Covenants on Human Rights, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations—identify it [self-determination] as a right of peoples [emphasis added].xx

Self-determination as a right could be applied to all peoples who hold (or who held until dispossessed) a common language, spirituality, territory, and/or economic life. The idea is asserted in subsequent international declarations. In the 1980 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signatory states, including Canada and Nicaragua, agreed that:

1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development (emphasis added).

2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

3. The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.xxi

The word “peoples” again is not specifically defined. The typical interpretation of the right to self-determination at the United Nations' forums applies solely to individuals from minority or ethnic groups within nation-states, but not collectively to the group itself. Canada, for example, has supported the principle that “... Indigenous peoples share equally with non-indigenous people in all human rights [emphasis added].”xxii By using the singular word “people”, Canada “... seems to support the equal rights of individuals,” in contrast to supporting groups that see themselves as distinct societies.xxiii Indigenous peoples do not consider themselves as “minorities” or as “ethnic groups” but as “peoples” a concept equated with nations.

The 1980 International Covenant was reflected in the “Draft Declaration of Principles Proposed by the Indian Law Resource Centre, Four Directions Council, National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Service, National Indian Youth Council, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and the International Indian Treaty Council” of 1985. The latter draft elaborated in detail the specific rights of Aboriginal peoples with regard to self-determination and recognition of Indigenous nations. The declaration includes the right of Aboriginal peoples to freely negotiate their political status, their entitlement to control and enjoym their ancestral-historical territories. It also included the recognition of their right to exercise their laws and customs by their nation-states' legislative, administrative and judicial institutions, and it ensured the right to return to social, political, economic, and cultural autonomy, within the existing borders of the nation-states.

This 1985 Draft Declaration concluded:

In addition to these rights, indigenous nations and peoples are entitled to the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms enumerated in the International Bill of Human Rights and other United Nations instruments. In no circumstances shall they be subject to adverse discrimination [emphasis added].xxiv

The 1985 Draft Declaration makes specific reference to “indigenous nations and peoples”. While all the U.N. documents and agreements invariably use the term “all peoples” when discussing the right of self-determination, the U.N. does not directly address the issues of Indigenous peoples.

There is general agreement, within international agencies, that self-determination is the right of peoples to decide their political status and seek their own economic, social and cultural improvement without foreign or outside intervention. The implementation of the right to self-determination has been left to the particular parties involved. However, there seems to be reticence about defining Indigenous peoples as peoples because they have been considered, in the words of P. Lepage, “not %sufficiently evolved& or as not having achieved the level of development deemed essential to exercise the right to self-determinationxxv [emphasis added].” Echoing Umozurike, in 1993 the Martin Ennals Symposium defined self-determination as a right of all peoples using the same terms of the International Covenant.xxvi The same year, in the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations reported to the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities that the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, all

... affirm the fundamental importance of the right of self-determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.xxvii

The above statements of principles are applicable only within the existing political structures and international covenants; consequently, the act of social revolution (the subversion of the system, or the status quo) is not acceptable as the means to “freely determine their political status.” Interestingly, Umozurike's definition, the International Covenants, the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Martin Ennals' Final Report, all employ the same phrases. This suggests a diplomatic consensus in international political language which lends itself to multiple interpretations of international law. The final interpretation, however is imposed, invariably, by those who hold the political, social, economic and military power.

Even though some progress has been made in achieving self-determination for Indigenous peoples, there remain huge political stumbling blocks. One of the most important political problems in implementing self-determination is the political definition of “a people.” In order to claim the right of self-determination, a group must be defined politically as a people, yet there is no single definition agreed upon by international agencies of what makes up a people. Consequently, there is no definitive method to address the issue of the status of Aboriginal peoples within a given State or, for that matter, within the United Nations. A definition of Aboriginal peoples as peoples that once were independent, ruled themselves and achieved certain and sufficient levels of material wealth would include their right to self-determination. The formulation of a workable definition is the major objective of current Aboriginal movements. The Nunavut Constitutional Forum (NCF) stated in a brief: “What we want is to have the tools to run our own lives and to participate as equals in the greater life of Canada as a whole.”xxviii Even though this statement refers to equality, we should note that the encompassing “we” alludes to the fact that the NCF refers specifically to the Inuit peoples as a distinct people with special rights within Canada and does not include ethnic groups which are not native as a group to Canadian soil.

International agencies continue to discuss the concept of self-determination without having reached a definition which would include Indigenous peoples. Needless to say Indigenous peoples, by and large, were not consulted since the discussion has been confined to experts such as, “... government officials, missionaries, anthropologists,” and others who “endlessly debated the best policies for indigenous peoples,”xxix This situation was evident, for example, in the Martin Ennals conference where, even though leading experts participated on the topic of Self-Determination for Peoples, there was no agreement in defining who are “a people.” The final report conceded that “the lack of a precise definition of the term %peoples&, which might have been an advantage at one time, had now become an obstacle to legal and political development.”xxx The difficulty increases when dealing with the category of "peoples& rights,” which could be applied to Aboriginal peoples, who may have very different approaches to the objective of achieving control over their traditional lands.xxxi

Both the Law of Autonomy of Nicaragua and the Nunavut Land Claim of Canada address the issue of “peoples' rights”. J. Crawford in The Rights of Peoples classified these rights in three major categories:

The first, the principle of self-determination ... A second is the right of peoples to existence which [...] incorporates both the right not to be subjected to genocide (a right with respect to which the Genocide Convention adopts the broadest definition of 'group’) and the right not to be deprived of one's means of subsistence [...] The third example is the right of peoples to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources, although [...] some of the international texts tend to conflate this with the right of governments, that is to say, of State structures.xxxii

Based on several other U.N. Covenants, the Charter, and General Assembly resolutions, the Martin Ennals Conference on Self-Determination, as one more international attempt to seek such an agreement on the question of who make up a “people”, confirmed the definition in the 1990 UNESCO final document from the meeting of Experts on Further Study of the Rights of Peoples in Paris. The following characteristics were stipulated as essential before a people could claim the right to self-determination in international law:

1. A group of individual human beings who enjoy some or all of the following common features:

(a) a common historical tradition

(b) racial or ethnic identity

(c) cultural homogeneity

(d) linguistic unity

(e) religious or ideological affinity

(f) territorial connection

(g) common economic life;

2. The group must be of a certain number who need not to be large (e.g. the people of micro states) but must be more than a mere association of individuals within a state;

3. The group as a whole must have the will to be identified as a people or the consciousness of being a people - allowing that groups or some members of such groups, though sharing the foregoing characteristics, may not have the will or consciousness; and

4. Possibly, the group must have institutions or other means of expressing its common characteristics and will for identity.xxxiii

The Miskitu-nani and the Inuit meet most of these criteria. Yet to date the UNESCO proposal for a definition of the term “peoples” has not been formally accepted by the U.N. or by individual member nation-states. A possible reason for its failure to do so may be that an official recognition of the term “peoples” would carry political, economic and legal implications which could be unacceptable to some member states of the United Nations.

One of the main accepted premises of understanding national identity by present nation-states has been that all people (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) are equal under the law of the land in which they live. This status fails to recognize Indigenous peoples as original inhabitants of the land or the irreconcilable difference in values between Indigenous peoples and the dominant cultures that have colonized them. In stressing the distinctiveness of Indigenous peoples as peoples within the nation-states, Erica-Irene Daes, Chairperson of the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations, stated that the United Nations cannot pretend, “... for the sake of convenient legal fiction,” that there is no difference between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. In her intervention at the Martin Ennals conference Daes stressed that:

[Indigenous peoples] have their own specific languages, laws, values and traditions; their own long histories as distinct societies and nations; and a unique economic, religious and spiritual relationship with the territories in which they have so long lived. It is neither logical nor scientific to treat them as the same “peoples” as their [non-Aboriginal] neighbours, who obviously have different languages, histories and cultures, and who often have been their oppressors.xxxiv

Aboriginal peoples have always maintained their uniqueness; thus to equate Aboriginal peoples without qualification with the rest of society is to deny these peoples' distinctive history which entitles them to some form of self-determination appropriate to their unique situation.

U.N. documents, and academic and political discussions on self-determination clearly show that there is no common approach to the definition of self-determination with regard to Indigenous peoples. There is general agreement on the principle or the right of peoples who meet most of the criteria for nationhood to govern themselves. There is no legal definition of the political concept of self-determination, because the sovereign power of a nation-state would be challenged and vulnerable if it were forced by an external authority to concede self-determination or autonomy to peoples within its borders by an outside authority. Although U.N. declarations have elevated the concept of self-determination to a quasi legal rule of contemporary international law, the U.N. has no power to implement its declarations.xxxv

Self-determination could be interpreted as an unconditional right of a distinct group of people to secede from the nation-state. Self-determination in this case is equated with sovereign independence. On the other hand, self-determination could also mean partial or internal autonomy. The Inuit and the Miskitu-nani have struggled for the latter interpretation because they have not been demanding secession. In the words of Inuit Mark Gordon “... we just want it [the government] to give us the means to solve them [our problems] ourselves. We need resources and autonomy to be able to do it.”xxxvi

Gordon's statement represents one of the several interpretations of self-determination. There is no unanimous understanding of what self-determination may mean for Aboriginal peoples as distinct societies. For some, as the Inuit, it involves the creation of an autonomous territory. For Aboriginal peoples in Saskatchewan, self-determination involves the development of a third level of government parallel to federal and provincial governments. The Miskitu-nani have asked for the right to establish and maintain partial international linkages with the approval of the central government. Indigenous peoples have more in common in their approaches to self-determination than differences since they all share a similar understanding about human responsibility and collective caring of the land. They share the belief that the land is sacred and above all that there is the imperative need to regain control over their lives. They differ only in the degree of autonomy which they desire in order to ensure their future. This is conclusively illustrated in George Manuel's “Fourth World” idea as he stated:

The celebration of the Fourth World, its real test of strength, and its capacity to endure, lies more with our grandchildren than with our ancestors. It is they who must cultivate the tree as a whole and honour the unique qualities of each root and branch.xxxvii

For Indigenous peoples self-determination means the right of their children and themselves to have the opportunity to cultivate with pride the values of the Indigenous peoples and to create a better life based on their own peoples' historical experience. Discussions and negotiations with governments would determine the political form these aspirations will assume.

For the purpose of this study, we will use the working concept defined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,xxxviii and based on the 1990 UNESCO criteria defining a people. This thesis will examine whether the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement and the Law of Autonomy promote self-determination, not with reference to the existence of the right of self-determination as an abstract idea, but rather with a view to the political implementation of the concept within the Indigenous communities. This means we will be testing whether or to what extent they will provide for the freedom of these indigenous nations to develop their political, social, and economic autonomy within Canada and Nicaragua based on the concept of decolonizing Indigenous populations.

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