Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Amazonian Nemonte Nenquimo


Biodiversity Wars. Coexistence or Biocultural Collapse in the 21st Century

The different peoples who are descendants from ancient human populations are variously referred to as “native” autochthonous, aboriginal, or primitive, and now more commonly, they are described as “indigenous peoples,” “first nations peoples” or “fourth world peoples.” I prefer “Fourth World Peoples” [1]. Fourth World nations adopted the “Fourth World” as the appropriate political and cultural designation. In virtually all instances, these nations are “peoples.” This designation is critical since the conventional wisdom holds that all peoples have “rights” to decide their cultural and political future, and they have the right to exist. Each distinct people possess collective rights. Fourth World peoples have cousins who make up the remainder of the world’s populations. Consequently, one comes to understand that Fourth World nations constitute the bedrock from which all human societies have emerged even as Fourth World peoples persist as separate and distinct nations.

The popular and official state government use of the word “indigenous” as a way of characterizing Fourth World peoples creates a misleading understanding of the position the 1.9 billion Fourth World people occupy in the scheme of relations between peoples generally. The term “indigenous” has currency in the state-based international political and legal system—predicated on characterizing a population WITHIN the sovereign control of a state. Recognizing the firm embrace states’ government wrap around Fourth World nations is to understand that the use of the term “indigenous” for most states simply affirms their sovereign control over the social, economic, political, and cultural development of peoples. While nations must not be denigrated for their use of the term “indigenous” it should be recognized that the state-embrace is a claimed sovereignty over peoples who have not necessarily consented to remain under state rule. In a written exchange with Cedric Ryngaert, Professor of Public International Law at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, I inquired about his understanding of the role of state-based laws in the mitigation of genocides committed against Fourth World peoples. He wrote: “While IL (sic) gives rights to indigenous peoples, indeed, these have to be realized by states as the duty-bearers. This realization happens under international supervision. I do not deny that not all states discharge their obligations adequately and that international supervision could be improved….” [2] Professor Ryngaert states the conventional wisdom among state-based legal theorists and practitioners that to have the political designation “indigenous” is to leave peoples under the rule of state institutions whether they wish this to be the case or not. States repeatedly employ their claims of sovereignty—absolute rule—inside their claimed boundaries serving as a political, legal, and strategic device to block efforts by Fourth World peoples to exercise their political and legal autonomy—their self-determination.

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