The Whisper on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPS) has a strange existence. This resolution is universally ignored, for two primary reasons. On one hand, most developed countries have already established protections for their indigenous populations, while on the other hand, developing countries turn a blind eye to the mistreatment of the natives.

Adopted by the UN in 2007, then heralded by Obama in 2010, DRIPS is an attempt to outline the rights of natives all over the globe. In essence, DRIPS is a noble attempt by disconnected UN representatives to raise the floor of treatment for an often targeted group. It fails entirely in that no governing body will enforce it. The UN couldn’t possibly muster the manpower to enforce the resolution globally, while the indigenous populations at greatest risk remain in duress.

The text is cherry picked in developed countries, such as the US, UK, and New Zealand. In these countries, previously indigenous land can no longer legally be given back to the natives. Additionally, the resolution fails to establish a precise definition of “Indigenous Peoples”, leaving the governing bodies to make the determination.

In an effort to have the best of both worlds, these developed countries passed the resolution while making statements about its obscurity and idealism. Of course, a country like the United States must support an effort to treat natives fairly, but transferring developed cities like Chicago to the ownership of native Americans is unrealistic. In an attempt to pressure nations who aren’t very nice to their natives, the Americans approved of the resolution despite its strange language.


When this resolution was first adopted, native Americans were twice as likely to be in poverty as the general population. That was increased to three times as likely when they lived on reservations. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has done nothing to combat this rampant poverty. In fact, during the months after president Obama endorsed the resolution, the Native American poverty rate climbed above where it had been four years prior to an astonishing 30%.



Since the resolution was adopted, Australia has made negligible improvements towards its indigenous infant mortality rate. These accomplishments are overshadowed by the fact that indigenous women are still about 50% more likely to lose an infant. In fact, children ages 0-4 account for a staggering 6% of all indigenous deaths. At the other end of life, indigenous Australian males can expect their European friends to outlive them by a decade.

In British Columbia, the government is currently taking steps to create a new dam on what are now indigenous lands. Even Trudeau, the prime minister, has thrown his weight behind this effort. Despite supporting the UN resolution “without reservation”, as Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, no action was taken to elicit consent from the natives. The resolution clearly states the indigenous peoples must give free and informed consent for this dam. It seems the government has already decided that these lands are theirs. So now, how can the natives give free consent? Surely the government could remove them by force. It may be forbidden by DRIPS, but they don’t care to follow the resolution’s articles properly.

Unfortunately, in many countries, governments care even less about upholding the ideas of DRIPS. Governing bodies around the world, such as Russia, Colombia, China, Peru, and Nigeria, are of little-to-no help to mistreated and disadvantaged native populations. These countries fail to uphold the right of natives to be treated equally to others, continuing the historic injustice that has befallen them. 


The aforementioned countries allow natives to live in squalor compared to the general population. Russian indigenous infants and mothers are at least five times more likely to die. Columbian indigenous mothers are four times as likely to die, while children are twice as likely to be malnourished. Chinese indigenous peoples are three times more susceptible to poverty, and about twice as susceptible to childhood obesity. Infant mortality, childhood malnutrition and poverty rates for Peru’s indigenous peoples are at least twice as high. The entire Fulani population of Nigeria is virtually illiterate. Though some of these countries may have even voted in favor of DRIPS, there are absolutely no regional laws or governing bodies to establish the ideas set in the resolution. 

In a great deal of these developing countries, xenophobia and racism contribute to the discrimination of indigenous groups. When there is no effective anti-discrimination legislation and no will of the government to help the disadvantaged, hatred against these groups is free to reign. Whether it be hate campaigns in the media, in schools or in their community, natives are freely and openly targeted every single day.


In these places, the economic plight of the natives is ignored in favor of the economic opportunity of the majority. One cannot be a nomadic herder on the same land that has teams of petroleum engineers extracting crude oil. One cannot compete with industrial-scale fishing using primitive tools. One cannot expect to enjoy the same lifestyle as their native ancestors did while their neighbors intrude on their property. In these instances, all of which have actually threatened indigenous populations, there are no institutional safeguards to protect the natives.

At its core, DRIPS isn’t a particularly flawed resolution. The ideas presented have been codified into law in many countries in the past few decades. However, in the places where these are ideas are already law, there are ways to enforce these laws. Places where these laws don’t exist are often rife with prejudice and intolerance. The major problem we face in places likes this is that resolutions likely won’t be enforced.

Admirable for its hope, DRIPS falls drastically short of making an impact for the global indigenous population. There are very few indications that this resolution has helped natives anywhere, or that it will in the future, however, DRIPS has established itself as a guide for activists, as a guilt-passing eye on governments, and as shoddy as it may be, a lighthouse of hope, for natives globally.