Meeting of the Working Group on the Fifth Section of the Draft Declaration
with special emphasis on
“Traditional Forms of Ownership and Cultural Survival, Right to Land and Territories”
(Washington, D.C., Simon Bolivar Room,
November 7-8, 2002)
report of the rapporteur
By Osvaldo Kreimer1/
Territorial rights are a central claim for Indigenous Peoples in the world. Those rights are the physical substratum for their ability to survive as peoples, to reproduce their cultures, to maintain and develop their organizations and productive systems. The OAS Permanent Council Working Group in charge of the preparation of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Working Group) held a major technical meeting from November 7 - 8th. on this subject with the participation of representatives of the OAS member states’governments, indigenous lawyers, leaders, and experts2/, in preparation for the more political Special Session that will convene frp,February 24th-28th., 2003, under the Chairmanship of the Peruvian Ambassador to the OAS, Eduardo Ferrero Costa.3/ The specific goal of this meeting was to review the present situation and evolution of national law, jurisprudence and practice in the Americas, about land and territorial rights and rights over natural resources especially considering the related texts in Section” Social, Economic and Property Rights” of the Proposed Declarations.4/
This OAS Working Group’s meetings here in Washington, have become a major forum in the discussion and development of international standards on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and about their relations with nation-states. These meetings at the OAS are part of an universal effort to review indigenous rights at many organizations: within the United Nations (at the parallel forum at the Commission on Human Rights and the Indigenous Forum); at the International Labour Organization (I.L.O).; at the Word Bank, Inter American Development Bank, and other technical and political institutions working to set new international standards and legal mechanisms to address biodiversity, intellectual property, sustainable development, children’s rights, health, and others, in relation with the rights of indigenous peoples.
General trends in the territorial rights for Indigenous Peoples. As part of a general trend away from dictatorships, and towards a more inclusive political participation since the late 80s, most Latin American countries ( 15 out of 24) have included in their Constitutions provisions recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples. Simultaneously, Indigenous Peoples have strengthened their organizations and develop a more organized struggle to reclaim their rights. Central among those demands are the issues related to land, territories and natural resources. As it was discussed in a general climate of consensus at the meeting, these rights are not merely a real estate issue, and shall not be conceived in the classical civil law approach to “ownership”. Rather indigenous land rights encompass a wider and different concept, that relates to the collective right to survival as an organized people, with control of their habitat as a necessary condition for the reproduction of their culture, and for their own development, or as Indigenous experts prefer, for carrying ahead “their plans for life ” (“planes de vida”) and their political and social institutions.
One of the expositor at the meeting, C.Gregor Barie, a German jurist specialized in Latin American Constitutional Law and Indigenous Rights,5/ reminded that despite the general backlash during the Republican period since the early 1800s, while the governments in all the Americas weretrying to extinguish or integrate the Indians within the nascent nation-states- legislation was implemented in different countries, both in the 1800s and in the early 1900s freeing Indians from some of their burdens (like manumissions, servitudes, and special services like the mita and encomienda). There were other exceptions, like the laws in Colombia establishing the “resguardos”since 1850 to 1890, in Chile and Argentina since 1860 establishing “reducciones” for the mapuche in the first case and “reservations” in the latter6/, the Peruvian Constitution of 1920, and the Panamanian recognition in 1925 of the autonomy of the Kuna people.
The process of dispossession of lands and territories from indigenous peoples took many forms, through legal disguise and direct use of force and dislodgement. Conquest wars, military campaigns to occupy and bring land into “productive uses”for the colonizers or the Empires, the use of institutions to subjugate the physical labor of Indians transforming them into forced servitude and overtaxing them in a way that had to surrender their territorial rights (like in the “encomiendas”) or using the Indigenous’ rotational way of production to consider lands “unoccupied” and giving them to European colonizers (like in the “sesmaria” in Brazil7/). Since the beginning of the XIX century, the new Republics adopted the Napoleonic civil codes, giving predominance to the real estate concept of ownership of the land (as opposed to a collective relation with its occupants as the habitat for their organization, social, economic and cultural reproduction,) , based in individual (as opposed to collective) ownership. This opened the way to vast colonization programs and subdivision of previously collective lands, consistent with the efforts to assimilate the Indigenous populations into the general citizenry, or as warden of the States due to their presumed incapacity. Even progressive movements like “agrarian reforms” trying to return individual ownership to landless peasant families, served in practice to dismantle collectively owned lands of Indigenous peoples.
In the last two decades, multiculturalism as a new conception of unity in diversity, has had growing acceptance as a political and constitutional principle in Latin America. With different approaches and content (multiethnic and pluricultural nations; intercultural education and public services) multiculturalism has developed as the dominant paradigm constitutive of States. This development has happened not only in countries with proportionately large indigenous population ( e.g. Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala,Mexico) but also in those like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, where they make up a minor proportion of the national population. Growing recognition of their territorial rights has been one of the major consequences.
In Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela make reference to territorial rights in their constitutions. Moreover, the newest Constitutions, like those of Ecuador (1998) and Venezuela (1999) have expanded these concepts. Ecuador accepted a wider concept of indigenous land and territories, with “environmental” and “gender “ components, as well as recognizing trade systems connected with it (a generalized barter system or “trueque”) and elements of Quechua law.
The Venezuelan “Bolivarian” Constitution devotes a full chapter to it, stating about indigenous peoples that “the State will recognize (…)their habitat and their originary rights over the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy and are necessary to develop and guarantee their life-styles(formas de vida).”(Art 119). A new law issued in Venezuela in December 2000 “Demarcation and Safeguards for the Habitat and Lands of Indigenous Peoples”, prepared with wide participation of indigenous representatives has already begun to implement those precepts established in the Venezuelan Constitution.
One of the major issues of this section of the future American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and therefore of the meeting, echoing the discussion in other fora, is the ability of the State to use its sovereignty or eminent domain, to build infrastructure, to exploit or license the exploitation of natural resources , or any other action or project that may affect indigenous lands and the use of their territory. A major condition of international law in these cases is the previous fair and serious consultation with the affected indigenous peoples. I.L.O. Convention 169 ratified already by 17 Latin American countries recognizes that right. Consultation in these cases is a general practice in North America.
The Brazilian Constitution (1988) gives renewed strength to the ancestral possession as basis for the territorial rights. As presenters Barie and Sergio Leitao8/ explained in the meeting, four conditions operating as four concentric circles are constitutionally established to define “indigenous areas” to be demarcated, homologated and titled as their “habitat” : 1) permanent ancestral possession; 2) areas necessary for their productive activities, including the reproduction of flora and fauna; 3) areas necessary for their cultural reproduction, and for their survival as a collective; and 4) habitat shall have the physical capacity and shape to allow the full functioning of the mechanisms of authority and self government of the Indigenous People.
Indigenous Lands and Territories
Indigenous and state representatives at the Working Group delved in the analysis of these four elements defining indigenous land and territory. Of particular value was the discussion of the use of the word “territory” in reference to indigenous habitat.. The participants explored the concept of “indigenous territory”, defined as the habitat necessary for their collective life, activities, self-government, and cultural and social reproduction; with the clear understanding that it does not impinges upon the territorial integrity of the State.
There are differences among the legal definition of the term “indigenous territory”in different regions of the Americas, and that they do not include and shall be distinguished from the classical meaning of “territory” connected with national sovereignty. There are differences in the legal definition of the term “territory” referred to indigenous rights, in Canada,, in the U.S., and in Latin America. Canadian presenters indicated that in Canada, basically, indigenous land is the area where an indigenous people exercise its right of ownership and jurisdiction, while territories are such areas not included in the indigenous land, where the indigenous people exercise other rights(use, passage, hunting and gathering, sacred ceremonies) but areas not under their ownership and no Indian jurisdiction can be exercised there. In the U.S. jurisprudence the use of the term “territory” nowadays has fell into disuse,as Dr. Tim Vollman9/ noted. A U.S. Indian legal representative indicated that it is fair to say that in US law, “territories” is not a term of art that carries any specific legal meaning or definition. It is true that it has often been used in legal and political contexts to mean lands over which indigenous peoples have legal rights. The various forms of property rights held by indigenous peoples, however, varies so much that it is rather difficult to connect one term of art with a standard definition of its constituent rights. It is true that in the US we tend to use terms such as Indian Country, Indian lands, and Indian reservations. The latter is generally used to describe areas of lands and resources that are under broad jurisdiction or authority of indigenous peoples. The other two can include reservations as well as areas in which indigenous peoples can have any number of rights which may or may not include full ownership or jurisdiction over the lands (subsurface and/or surface), but also include other rights such as those you listed (ie. use, passage, hunting, and gathering, sacred ceremonies
On the other hand, in Latin America, the prevailing meaning of “Indian territory” seems to be an inclusive concept for both lands and other areas where other property rights exist for the indigenous people.Colombia has constitutionally established “indigenous territorial entities” as part of the political subdivision of its national territory. Indigenous Colombians are less than 2% of the population and have been recognized and allocated about 12% of the territory. This territorial recognition includes elements of the right to self government, theoretically with the same functions and attributes of other politico-administrative entities ( like municipalities). However, rules and regulations to fully apply those political collective rights have not yet been agreed by Congress.
The eminent domain kept by the Brazilian state over the Indigenous lands and territories has been a positive development, emphasized both Leitao and Inacio-Kaingang10/ . While indigenous lands are “endowment of the Federal Union” (“bienes da Uniao”), because the “Uniao” assumes the responsibility to guarantee them to the Indigenous peoples, to preserve them from attacks and usurpation from state agents and third parties, and to provide special measures necessary for Indigenous welfare and survival. In fact after the recognition of these rights, data shows demographic growth of the Indigenous population in Brazil ( they are now 0.2% of the population), reversing a long term trend and despite other negative socioeconomic conditions. In fact, this view of the State’s eminent dominion is very close to the theory in Canada and U.S. law, about permanent domain by the nation state that has a “trust obligation” to protect and guarantee the safety and permanency of Indian land. And as Brazilian indigenous leader Azelene Inacio-Kaingang said “ the right to land [for indigenous peoples] implies also the right to decide how to occupy the land, based on what values and on what concepts of occupation and exploration…with the possibility to show the planet an alternative construction of the world”. The proposed American Declaration which provides in Art. XXII “the right to define the nature of its own development” attempts to address this issue.
Safeguarding Inembargability, Imprescriptibility and Inalienability.
Another important concept analyzed in the meeting was the “three “I”s ” safeguard for Indigenous lands and territories: inembargability, imprescriptibility and inalienability. These legal characteristics generally recognized as part of the concept of the Indigenous lands and territories are taken as necessary in most constitutions and doctrines, with the purpose to keep Indigenous ownership outside the market and free from market forces, to guarantee intergenerational permanency and to reinforce Indigenous communal forms of use, productive, spiritual or otherwise.
Two countries have weakened those safeguards. The traditional collective property of the “ejido” in Mexico (collective ownership which in practice had been breached for many decades by different forms of long term leaseholds to non-Indians) was released constitutionally in the early 90s. Something similar happened when the Fujimori administration obtained a Constitutional change that maintained the imprescriptibility, but allowed for the transfer and mortgaging of individual lots within indigenous areas.
As remarked by Aylwin11/, Indigenous demands for territory seem to be now more complex, going beyond civil ownership of the land and resources, and including more political and symbolic elements. The position taken by Indigenous peoples tend to parallel constitutional and legislative developments both in the Americas, including symbolic and political elements of autonomy and self government, as elements of internal self determination. Indigenous leaders at the meeting remarked the important connection between demarcation and titling of indigenous lands with the governability of those areas.
Inter American Human Rights system developments. While the Inter-American Commission has since 1972 sustained the rights of Indigenous peoples to their lands, two new major developments in the Inter-American system of human rights were given major attention at the meeting: the ground breaking decision of the Inter- American Court on Human Rights( seating in Costa Rica) about the Awas Tingi12/ case, recognizing the rights of the Mayagna people at Awas Tingi to have their lands demarcated and titled; secondly the stating of the full protection of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in relation to the particular collective forms of property that Indian communities maintain, different from the civil law form of property; and thirdly, the special relation indigenous peoples have with their habitat and the importance of that relation for their survival.
During the meeting there was also some discussion regarding the recent decision of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights regarding the “Dann Case” which involves a complaint by members of the Western Shoshone tribe in Nevada, U.S. regarding the decision by US authorities not to recognize their rights to lands. According to the US, title to these lands were extinguished by encroachment of non-Indians during the 1800s. This position is opposed by the claimants who argue that their title was never extinguished by an express act of the US Congress – such an act is required by the US Constitution.” National Cases. During the meeting recent development in several national cases in terms of lands, territorial and natural resources rights were presented.
Judicial reforms and public policies in Bolivia. In the Constitutional reform of 1994, Bolivia recognized the Original Community Lands (”Tierras Comunitarias de Origen” or TCOs), defined in the 1996 Law of the National Service for Agrarian Reform (Ley INRA No. 1715) as: “… the geographical spaces constituting the habitat of Indigenous and originary peoples and communities, to which they had traditionally access and where they maintain and develop their own forms of economic, social and cultural organization, so as to ensure their survival and development. They are inalienable, indivisible, irreversible, collective, inembargable, and imprescriptible composed by communities, and mancommunities”; definition that accepts the concept of territory as established in I.L.O. 169.
Aylwin sustains that this and other laws (On Environmental Protection and Conservation, 1992; on Forestry, 1996 and others) have advanced the protection of Indigenous Lands. As of March 2002, Bolivia has given title to 22 TCOs,(mostly in the Eastern lowlands or “Oriente”) encompassing more than 5,300,000 hectares, or 18% of Indigenous claimed land. Problems abound in the application of the law, mainly due to economic interests connected with the exploitation of timber and mineral in those claimed lands. He mentions that since 1997 many timber and oil concessions were licensed to their parties in indigenous claimed lands, affecting 49.6 % of their surface. Bureaucratic problems in the articulation between the administrative and judicial systems are also to blame for the delays and difficulties in the implementation.13/ Reforms in Brazil. The 1988 Brazilian Constitution recognized among other permanent and collective Indigenous rights, original and imprescriptible rights on their lands they traditionally occupy, and considers them inalienable and not subject to disposition; granting permanent possession of them, and exclusive usufruct of the richness of the surface, rivers and lakes thereby existent. Brazil did ratify I.L.O. 169.
Aylwin reports data for homologation of Indigenous lands in Brazil for September 2000: of the 576 indigenous lands claims for 103.713.243 has.,or 73,12 % has completed or is in the last stage of homologation and registration; and another 19.01% have been demarcated; including among them more than 95 millon hectares, more than 11% of the national territory.14/
Notwithstanding, the preservation of those lands for the Indigenous occupants is a continuous process to avoid the expansion and intrusion of agricultural, mining, and timber interests; as well as public works such as dams and highways. By 1998 there were 7,023 requests by third parties to obtain mineral grants in Indigenous lands, and the Government had at that time granted 163 authorizations impinging upon 76 indigenous areas. Another problem is the overlapping between “indigenous lands” and “conservation lands” that blurs the status of Indigenous rights, which ocurrs over about 10% of the Indigenous areas.
One important characteristic of the Brazilian system is that in order to modify the nature of Indigenous areas offering concessions for exploitation, it is necessary not just to consult the affected Indigenous peoples; but the consultation must include also Indigenous participation in the results; and those concessions require approval by the National Congress, and all decisions on the matter can be challenged at the Courts in contradictory processes.
Territorial Indian Rights in Chile. After the military regime, a law regulating Indigenous relations with the State and recognizing rights was prepared and issued in 1993 with Indigenous participation. The law not only recognizes existing Mapuche territories, but it allows expansion by market acquisition or by transfer to them of public lands, establishing a Fund for Lands and Waters at the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI). From 1995 to 2000, reported Aylwin, 294.112 have been registered at CONADI, or about half of the Mapuche land recognized in the south of Chile. More than 112,000 has. from public lands have been transferred in 2000 to CONADI for posterior grant to Indigenous communities.
CONADI has also acquired about 30,000 additional has. that were transferred to 2.906 Indigenous families, most of them Mapuches south of the Bio Bio river. The Mapuche population was about 1.3 million people (1992 census) of which 230.000 lived in homogenous rural communities. In all, including other transfers, from 1994 to 2000, 170.357 has were incorporated to Indigenous patrimony, benefiting 8.619 families. By the end of XIX century the estimation of Indigenous land reclaimed were about 500,000 has.
Several problems have been detected in this process of incremental recognition and transfer. Mainly that at this point there is very little public land left to satisfy Indigenous claims and demands. This disbalance between demands and available land to transfer creates continuous frictions.
Aylwin reported that several public works, in particular hydroelectric centrals, highways, forestry and others, are restricting the full enjoyment of Indigenous rights on their lands. These projects have resulted in indigenous relocations to other lands or cities. As the present legislation (1993 Law) does not recognize Indigenous rights on the natural resources on their lands, there has been a process of appropriation by non-indigenous people of mineral, fishing and other resources.15/ Indian Rights in the U.S. Tim Vollman, , an attorney with extensive experience previously with the U.S. Dept of the Interior and now counseling tribes, historied the development of the recognition of the concept of Indian property rights from the confusion of pre-Constitution years, to the belief reflected in the U.S. Constitution that Indian tribes constituted separate nations within the sovereign borders of the U.S. Tribal members were neither taxed nor given any of the rights of the citizens of the U.S. The 1790 Trade and Intercourse Act reserved for the Federal Government the authority to approve all real state transactions with Indian Tribes , under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Many States disregarded it, while non-Indians competed for the title of lands previously occupied by Indians. As a result many lawsuits occurred, and the theory of”Indian title” evolved from them.
In Fletcher vs. Peck 10 U.S. 87 (1810) and others, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the underlying title to Indian Lands lay with the European Sovereign who discovered the land, and this title passed to the 13 Original States who formed the U.S. But this title, even if later acquired from a State by a non-Indian, was held to be subject to the right of Indian occupancy of the lands, which would first have to be extinguished by the sovereign before a purchaser of the title could occupy and use the land. This Indian right of occupancy was held to be “as sacred as the fee title of the whites” (Mitchell vs. United States, 34 U.S. 711,746 (1835), a legal principle reaffirmed by the Supreme Court time after time, to the present day.
“Extinguishment of Indian title to most of the territory of the U.S.A. was accomplished through treaties of cession negotiated between Indian tribes and the U.S. prior to 1871,…usually when they have been defeated ..or in the face of threat of war,… and thus routinely unfair”, said Vollman. It was not until 1946 that Congress, recognizing the unfairness of the treaty negotiation process created the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) “to allow tribes to make claims for monetary compensation, not the lands, based on unconscionable transactions”. In the case of unceded Western lands continued traditional use was ignored and the lands were treated as the public domain of the federal government, or set aside for National Forests or military use. Still today, he mentioned, conflicts arise about lands that Indians consider “unceded”. Other complex and varied situations occurred in the South in lands obtained from Mexico, among other reasons because there the Indians had been recognized by the Spanish crown as citizens, and in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between Mexico and the U.S. a provision was included for the protection of property of Mexican citizens.
In general, nowadays, in order for Indians to recover land in which title has otherwise been deemed extinguished, Congress must pass an act, is required as it has done in several cases. However – as the U.S. representative remarked in the meeting- it is not a judiciable right, but depends on a political decision by the Legislature.
Tim Coulter, Indian Law Resource Center’s Director and counsel in the Dann case, acknowledged several positive aspects of the present situation in the U.S.: the State protects the rights of indigenous peoples against third parties; there is usually no federal or State taxation of Indian lands; there is recognition of aboriginal title (albeit without full legal protection), as well as of Indian ownership of subsurface resources; the U.S. recognize Indian governments including much of their jurisdiction powers, and generally respects their hunting and fishing rights. He mentioned also negative aspects: the government “taking” of Indian lands using what Coulter considers the low standard of “public use”; the continuing application of discriminatory procedures; abuses in the system of trusteeship; and a general lack of security and legal predictability.
Indian rights in Canada. Treaties and negotiations about land and resources. Many lessons were learned at the meeting from the Canadian experience with treaties, and from Canada’s the elaborate and complex system of negotiation. Most indigenous rights emerge from numerous treaties made between 1701 and 1923, and modern-day treaties known as comprehensive land claims settlements, explained Tom Molloy, chief federal negotiator for Canada16/. In his words “the Government of Canada and the courts understand treaties between the Crown and Aboriginal people to be solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.” A sense of a shared future have given guidance to the understanding of issues and relationship, by Indians, the federal and provincial governments. As the Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing aboriginal rights but does not define them, the courts shall define these rights in the context of the particular facts and groups involved. The consequent uncertainty has given rise to a systematic search for negotiations and elaborate mechanisms to carry them forward. Nonetheless, as Molloy commentied “treaties take time”, as did the treaty recently achieved with the Nisga, which exceeds 1500 pages with “every word and comma negotiated.” Issues commonly involved include in treaty negotiation include land quantum, location, minerals, oil and gas rights, forestry rights, fishing and hunting regulations , migratory birds, gathering, land use planning, environment protection, resource revenue sharing, water rights, dispute resolution, expropriation of settlement lands, and issues surrounding the preservation of cultural artifacts, including repatriation, archaelogy, and ethnography.
Negotiations are carried on a “without prejudice” basis so that the parties can speak openly and frankly, with the right to withdraw from the negotiation at any time and pursue other options as litigation. While time-consuming and costly, Molloy values negotiations: “at the end you don’t have a winner and a loser, and that is important to build a new relationship.”
The Right to a Fair Consultation The right to a fair consultation is one of the major components of the future American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and was therefore a focus of the meeting, echoing history of discussion in other fora. Fairness of consultation is determined by several factors. A consultation must be conducted at an opportune time; all necessary information must be at the disposal of the all parties beforehand; and a consultation must be carried out with full consideration of the customary traditions and decision-making institutions of the peoples affected. In turn, any objections or comments must be taken into consideration when arriving at a decision. Addressing this right involves assessing the ability of the state to use its sovereignty or eminent domain to build infrastructure, the state’s exploitation of or licensing the exploitation of natural resources, or any other action or project that may affect indigenous lands and the use of their territory. A major condition of international law in cases involving this right is the previous fair and serious consultation with the affected Indigenous Peoples. Ratification of ILO Convention 169 by 17 Latin American countries recognizes this right and its general practice in North America.
Rights to natural resources. The right to natural resources is probably one of the hardest issues in the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights. The meeting discussion distinguished issues surrounding surface resources and underground ones. In general the discussants agreed that the right to land and the recognition of Indigenous habitat include the indigenous right to all surface resources necessary for their survival and for a sustainable environment. The application of this principle continues to be controversial, especially in Latin America where concessions of non-renewable resources like old timber and mining are assigned to third parties by the State, without full and informed consultation with the indigenous peoples occupying those areas.
There is a major difference between the United States and the Latin American legal approaches to rights to subsurface or underground resources., In the United States, underground resources (like oil and coal) belong to the owner of the land. On the other hand, in most Latin American countries the State has reserved for itself the right to those resources. Jose Aylwin, the Chilean expert who reviewed trends in international law about natural resources and indigenous rights, underscored the importance of connecting the recognition of territorial, land and natural resources rights for indigenous peoples with autonomy and self-government rights. Along with other presenters, he emphasized the need to redefine state development policies affecting indigenous lands, as well as state’s monitoring against intrusion, and other forms of penetration and infringement upon indigenous lands rights.
Tim Vollman asserted that water rights in the view of many observers could be one of the most critical issues in the XXIst. century in the U.S.. While the federal government has subsidized numerous irrigation and other water projects in the West throughout the last 100 years, with no participation of Indian tribes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in one case that “the Tribes retained senior rights to enough water to fulfill the purposes of their reservations” (Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564 (1908)). As litigation to adjudicate water rights is complex and time-consuming with cases lasting for decades, legislative settlements secured tribal rights, as evidenced by the passage of 20 acts of Congress in the last 20 years.. Congress has also authorized the water marketing by Tribes, so they may profit from the senior rights.
Azelene Inacio-Kaingang commented that in Brazil, s environmental areas preserved by the Indians have proven to be those maintaining the cleanest water streams. This is in contrast to areas surrounding agricultural towns, especially those with mining operations that have severely polluted rivers and streams in the Brazilian northwest.
Anne Deruyttere, chief of the Indigenous Peoples and Community Development Unit at the Inter American Development Bank, called the meeting’s attention to the misconception about poverty in indigenous communities. Acknowledging that classical indicators of poverty (malnutrition, schooling, income) demostrate the deterioration of living conditions in indigenous communities, Deruyttere emphasized that to succeed indigenous development has to be based in their riches,- the cultural and social capital of Indigenous Peoples , including social mechanisms for production and for the communal use and exchange of their lands, products and resources, as well as their agricultural, ecological and traditional medical knowledge.17/ In her presentation she outlined a strategy for indigenous development based on the concept activities at the traditional subsistence economy, simultaneously with developing market niches in a “intercultural economy” and enterprises fully integrated in the market economy (forestry, trade, transportation). She analyzed the characteristics of specific Indigenous territories, connecting them with their systems of transfer, inheritance, complementarity between communal and family use, with systems of reciprocity, redistribution and based on the principle of non-accumulation.
At the IABD, Deruyttere said, the main lessons learned are that sustainable development equals development with identity; that cultural and socioeconomic development support each other; that development shall be integrally conceived and based in a sociocultural diagnosis about the culturally specific uses of land; about the importance of consultation and institutional strengthening; and the convenience of carrying ahead the projects in multiphase processes under continuous dialogue between indigenous peoples and government officials. In the new generation of IADB projects these elements are geared towards integral development, with a territorial approach, including territorial planning, community mapping, understanding cultural mores as assets for development, articulating municipal with community resources, and emphasizing the self management of financial resources.
Jorge Uquillas18/, senior sociologist for the Environmental and Sustainable Development Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank, outlined major sociological questions about the topic: What resources and what rights are at issue? Where the majority of indigenous peoples reside? What is their connection with eco-regions? Which technologies are used in the handling of natural resources in indigenous lands? Uquillas remarked that the majority of the Indigenous lands and resources are in areas of high biodiversity, but the majority of Indigenous populations are located elsewhere, namely in the low-sierras chains of the Amazonia and the Central American Atlantic Coast, and in the Andes and Mesoamerica highlands. The indigenous people, 20 million peoples in Mesoamerica and a similar number in the Andes, live in areas of intense environmental degradation. Uquillas emphasized that protective measures should address not only ecological but also cultural diversity, taking in account that the intensive use of modern agricultural techniques and inputs in those mountainous areas (as opposed to their use in flatlands), have shown high correlation with ecological degradation and lack of sustainability. Addtionally, Uquillas presented different experiences of successful agricultural and land and water management practices, practices well known to many indigenous peoples who have used them for centuries.
Conclusions In closing, the Work Group’s Rapporteur offered his conclusions upon topics discussed in the meeting that would help advance the understanding of these issues. Among his conclusions, he noted:
- the general progress in law, practice and jurisprudence over the last decade in the Americas about indigenous rights to land, territories, and natural resources;
- the acknowledgement of the value of continuous possession as a basis for indigenous rights;
- the acknowledgment of the collective nature and collective value of those rights;
- the understanding about the special meaning of “indigenous territory” different from and not conflicting with its classical meaning connected with national sovereignty.
- the richness of Indigenous cultures, practices and knowledge, and their connection to territorial rights and their use in development policies and projects;
- the importance of well-established and funded mechanisms for negotiation and agreement mechanisms between the State and Indigenous peoples to implement indigenous territorial rights and give new basis to their relationship;
- the necessity for the States to establish reliable and clear mechanisms for identification, demarcation and homologation of indigenous lands and territories.
- the differences in national legislation about the rights to underground resources , but the commonly accepted principle of serious and fair consultation with the Indigenous peoples affected, as well as the sharing of the benefits.
- the increasing juridical acceptance of the Indigenous worldview to interpret the extent of their habitat, how to organize it, how to manage it, and to define development plans.
- the value of the eminent domain by the State over indigenous lands emerging from the State assuming the obligation to promote, preserve and protect those indigenous rights.
- the value of historical treaties and other agreements for legal and historical sources for the recognition and definition of States and Indigenous relations.
- the importance to recognize indigenous rights when areas they occupy ancestrally are declared ecologically protected
- the connection between the definition of territorial rights for indigenous peoples, and their ability to establish their own self-government, including internal jurisdiction;
Analysis of Article XVIII of the Proposed American Declaration, in relation to the exchanges at the Working Group meeting The main goal of the meeting was to compare the proposed texts related to lands, territories and natural resources with the legal, jurisprudential and doctrinal situation of these issues in the Americas. Article XVIII is the main focus of this analysis, which shall be construed also in relation to other articles of the proposal, among others section IV related to political rights and self-government; and Arts. XIII Right to Environamental Protection. and Art. XX “Right to Development”. It shall be remarked that the meeting was held on the understanding of what the Canadians call on a “without prejudice”basis so that representatives could speak open and frankly, and State representatives indicated specifically that their interventions were not necessarily “positions” of their represented countries, but intented to understand and explore different issues.
Article XVIII. Traditional forms of ownership and cultural survival. Rights to land, territories and resource
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the legal recognition of their varied and specific forms and modalities of their control, ownership, use and enjoyment of territories and property. 2. Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition of their property and ownership rights with respect to lands, territories and resources they have historically occupied, as well as to the use of those to which they have historically had access for their traditional activities and livelihood. 3. i) Subject to 3.ii.), where property and user rights of indigenous peoples arise from rights existing prior to the creation of those states, the states shall recognize the titles of indigenous peoples relative thereto as permanent, exclusive, inalienable, imprescriptible and indefeasible.
ii) Such titles may only be changed by mutual consent between the state and respective indigenous peoples when they have full knowledge and appreciation of the nature or attributes of such property.
iii) Nothing in 3.i.), shall be construed as limiting the right of indigenous peoples to attribute ownership within the community in accordance with their customs, traditions, uses and traditional practices, nor shall it affect any collective community rights over them.
4. Indigenous peoples have the right to an effective legal framework for the protection of their rights with respect to the natural resources on their lands, including the ability to use, manage, and conserve such resources; and with respect to traditional uses of their lands, interests in lands, and resources, such as subsistence. 5. In the event that ownership of the minerals or resources of the subsoil pertains to the state or that the state has rights over other resources on the lands, the governments must establish or maintain procedures for the participation of the peoples concerned in determining whether the interests of these people would be adversely affected and to what extent, before undertaking or authorizing any program for planning, prospecting or exploiting existing resources on their lands. The peoples concerned shall participate in the benefits of such activities, and shall receive compensation, on a basis not less favorable than the standard of international law for any loss which they may sustain as a result of such activities. 6. Unless exceptional and justified circumstances so warrant in the public interest, the states shall not transfer or relocate indigenous peoples without the free, genuine, public and informed consent of those peoples, but in all cases with prior compensation and prompt replacement of lands taken, which must be of similar or better quality and which must have the same legal status; and with guarantee of the right to return if the causes that gave rise to the displacement cease to exist.
7. Indigenous peoples have the right to the restitution of the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, occupied, used or damaged, or when restitution is not possible, the right to compensation on a basis not less favorable than the standard of international law. 8. The states shall take all measures, including the use of law enforcement mechanisms, to avert, prevent and punish, if applicable, any intrusion or use of those lands by unauthorized persons to take possession or make use of them. The states shall give maximum priority to the demarcation and recognition of properties and areas of indigenous use. The two parts of the article’s title refer to two complementary aspects, both of which were affirmed, clarified and developed at the discussion. The main traditional characteristic of Indigenous ownership, its collective nature, was presented not only as a way to exercise rights of property. Perhaps just as importantly, it is a framework and an instrument to maintain and activate internal group relations and cohesiveness, to ensure its survival and reproduction as a group and as a culture, to exercise self-government and develop its internal organizations . In short, as, the basis to develop their own “plans for life” and development as a collective.
The other pertinent issue in the title is the use of the term “territory”. Two aspects of its meaning in this context were clarified, which advance towards solving the difficulty in its use at the Declaration. First, it was clear the difference between the Canadian meaning (“those spaces external to their lands, where Indigenous peoples have other special rights, not ownership”); the disuse the term has fallen into in U.S. legal practice , and its meaning in Latin America, where the term “indigenous territory” is used to include all the habitat they occupy and where they realize traditional activities necessary to their survival as a collective. It can be argued that, regardless of that difference, in “indigenous territory” is an emerging concept, developed by law and doctrine, compatible and consistent with full respect to national territorial integrity, as part of the national sovereignty.
It was also indicated that several Latin American constitutions used explicitly the term “territory” or “indigenous territorial entities”, and its use has been peaceful and has not generated any disagreement about national sovereignty.
With respect to what are Indigenous areas (lands and territories), the four constitutive elements outlined in the Brazilian constitution were stated repeatedly at the meeting and seemed to be basic for an future agreed definition:
the ancestral and permanent occupation by the Indigenous people;
its essentiality to maintain their productive activities;
its essentiality as habitat for the Indigenous people’s survival and cultural reproduction
the continuous operation in that habitat of their institutions and internal authorities.
With respect to Art XVIII paragraph 1, several interventions clarified its main point, that the recognition shall be given to the “diverse and particular modalities and forms” of indigenous ownership:
- first, that the Inter-American Court decision in the “Awas Tingi” case did clearly settle this point.
- that the legislation of most of the member States, both Latin and North-American ones, recognizes this general principle, and in some cases establishes it constitutionally;
- that in no case this recognition has created problems with the juridical principles operating in member States.
With respect to Art XVIII paragraph 2, which refers to the recognition “of their property and ownership rights with respect to lands, territories and resources they have historically occupied, as well as to the use of those to which they have historically had access for their traditional activities and livelihood. “
It is possible to conclude from the presentations at the meeting that most of the States recognize both in law and in practice these rights; that the States have different ways to make effective and apply this recognition; and that they also accept both categories of Indigenous areas, those which have been occupied ancestrally and those in which even if not occupied, they have special rights (like fishing, hunting, sacred ceremonies, etc.)
With respect to Art. XVIII paragraph 3.1 some points were commonly accepted in the discussion.
- the recognition that Indigenous peoples preexisted the national States, and therefore their rights are inherent to that preexistence.
- there was an extensive analysis in respect to the diverse forms in which the States make that recognition ( is it a political acknowledgment issued by Congress, that is taken in account in the legislative process, or is it a juridical responsibility of the State). In both positions, it was agreed that in the last decades that recognition has solidified.
- Inembargability, inalienability and imprescriptibility of Indigenous lands are concepts commonly accepted in legislation. The connection between those conditions with the ability for the status of Indigenous lands to guarantee social cohesiveness and economic reproduction was remarked. It was also stated that in some countries – despite Indigenous claims- the legislation accept embargability and alienability of Indigenous lands.
- In reference to Art XVIII section 3.1 about the possibility of modifying the title, it was commonly accepted that it can only be done after informed and free consent by the Indigenous people, and – as alleged in the Dann’s case- said consent shall be given following the traditionally accepted and representative decision-making mechanisms of the tribe.
- Internal allocation of individual ownership rights (usufruct, renewable lifetime possession, etc. of portions of land and territories) to tribal families or members, following customary traditions, , while at the same time preserving the collective nature of the lands and territories as stated in XVIII 3.1.iii, was clarified and commonly accepted.
- The existence and legal force of many historical treaties and agreements.
With respect to Art XVIII paragraph 4.about the States providing an effective legal framework for the protection of their rights, one of the most relevant comments referred to the value of the “eminent domain” kept by the nation-state over Indigenous lands when it is based and justified upon the state’s obligation to protect and promote indigenous rights over those lands and territories and others collective and human rights of Indigenous peoples.
Different states’ systems for the recognition of lands and mechanisms for negotiation were discussed at the meeting. One clear conclusion is that regardless of the system of negotiation, they take serious effort, cost and time because of the complexity of issues involved and the political decisions implied. In any case, it was made clear the importance for the State to have well established mechanisms for recognition and negotiation, and not to adopt them ad hoc under the pressure of particular circunstamces.
Natural underground resources are the subject of Art. XVIII. 5 . While in North America the rights to the underground are included in civil ownership, in Latin America the rule is that rights to subsurface resources belong to the State. From the discussion it is clear that these rights are not absolute, and in the latter case they are limited by other principles, like the right to economic and social survival of the Indigenous peoples; the respect to the nature of Indigenous habitat and its sustainability as such; the right to consultation established by I.L.O 169 and international customary law, and the right to participate in the benefits, as well as to be indemnified by damages consequent to the exploitation of those resources. All these principles are included in the proposed Art. XVIII.5.
In terms of resettlement of Indigenous populations, subject of Art. XVIII.6 which is practically identical to the provisions in I.L.O 169, there seems to be consensus. The discussion focus on the guarantees that the definition of “public interest” be done not in an arbitrary way, considering that in those cases an important element of the public interest is in itself the respect and protection of indigenous rights.
The restitution of lands, territories and resources is the theme of Art. XVIII.7, and it was the subject of numerous interventions at the meeting, from which several common points seem to be agreed:
- that in principle there is a right to restitution of traditional lands and territories.
- that obviously the definition of those territories can not be based on the reality of colonial times, but it has to be defined in other criteria as those outlined in some constitutions and practice.19/
- that there are processes of restitution in most countries of the Hemisphere, successful in many cases, but still fraught with difficulties.
- That in the majority of the countries there is legislation geared towards restitution, but the practice is quite irregular. In some countries most of the land claimed has been already recognized or returned to Indigenous peoples, in other the process is just beginning. There are countries with very elaborate and effective systems for negotiation either of restitution or reparation, while in other these procedures are still in discussion, if not the principle itself.
The Rapporteur remarks finally that the discussion showed that fears about the disintegration of States because of the recognition of Indigenous lands and territories has practically dissipated. More and more autonomous indigenous lands are being established, not only without weakening the apparatus and sovereignty of the State, but on the contrary reinforcing its territorial tissue, enriching its variety and diversity of cultures, and in many cases, acting as zones of peace within areas of conflict.
1. Osvaldo Kreimer, J.D.,Ph.D., is Rapporteur for the OAS Working Group on Indigenous Rights, and Advisor “ad honorem” to the General Secretary .
2. Different country delegations to the OAS ( Brazil, Canada, Peru, and the USA) as well as organizations ( IACHR, and the Inter American Human Right Institute -Costa Rica); supported financially the presence of indigenous leaders and experts at the meeting:
3. This meeting, originally proposed to the Working Group by the Rapporteur was organized by the Working Group Chairman with the collaboration of the Rapporteur Kreimer, Mr. Jorge Sanin (OAS Summit Secretariat), Mr. Luis Toro (OAS Department of International Law), Mr. Alejandro Aristizábal (Secretariat to the OAS Permanent Council), Ms. Isabel Madariaga (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), and Minister Antonio Garcia and Counselor Ana Peña (Permanent Mission of Peru to the OAS).
4 . Documents including technical papers for this meeting can be found at