Heritage and Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The working group will first plan a colloquium that brings together international (including indigenous) experts from different disciplines and regional specializations (Africa, Americas, Asia) to discuss theoretical, legal and practical aspects of indigenous heritage and rights (including topics such as representation and repatriation), situating specific cases within a wider comparative framework. Granted: €7500

12-14 June: International Colloquium

The sustainability and protection of indigenous heritages are vital to the identity and cultural continuity of indigenous peoples. During the past centuries, however, a great amount of sacred, religious items or human remains has been taken from indigenous communities as scientific ethnographic collections to be stored in national and foreign museums. First this happened in the context of colonial expansion, more recently in the context of continuing relations of ethnic marginalization and social injustice within independent states (“internal colonialism”). A number of World Heritage Sites, nationally designated protection areas or "parks" may include parts of the homeland of indigenous peoples. Local perceptions of heritage and place as well as indigenous knowledge and interests, however, are often not given full weight in conservation / development policies or in research designs. In a number of cases this has led to confrontations, mistrust and lack of collaboration between the indigenous peoples (right-holders) and other interested parties (stake-holders).

Since the 1970s, the emancipation struggles of indigenous peoples have resulted in a general recognition of indigenous cultural rights, at least in theory. From a nationalist discourse that saw indigenous peoples as “backward minorities” which had to be integrated into mainstream modernity, new ideas have been developed that stress the participation of indigenous peoples in all matters and activities that concern them. This has been internationally established, for example in the I.L.O. convention 169 (1989) and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly of the U.N. in 2007.

As this is a relatively recent development, and full of problematic aspects (because of the multiplicity of parties concerned and the still present consequences of colonialism in many areas), it is important to monitor and evaluate the progress on the ground. In-depth case studies need to be made, shared and discussed, on what the local practices of the protection of indigenous heritage are, and how indigenous concepts, rights and agency are being taken into account, especially when problematic issues such as repatriation have to be dealt with, but also in research designs, interpretations and publications. Global migration, conflicts over cultural patrimony, and global heritagization have led to a situation of “Indigenous Heritage at Risk”. In general the complexity of conflicting interests, diverse religious and political visions, as well of the power structures involved has only become bigger and more pressing.

Future Collaborations and Events
The colloquium is planned as a contribution to the development of a specific attention for indigenous heritage and rights in a collaborative effort between researchers from the faculties of archaeology, social sciences (anthropology), law and humanities at Leiden University. Consultations about connecting Leiden specialists and their networks started this spring, instigated by the deans of Archaeology and Law.

This event will function as a concrete impulse for inter-faculty cooperation, and, in first instance, as a base for developing a program of interdisciplinary summer schools on this topic (from summer 2015 onwards). At the same time the discussions in the meeting, the international input, and the connection of different networks will be a point of departure for forming a consortium with this focus. Basic financing of the conference comes from Jansen's ERC Advanced Grant 'Time in Intercultural Context', which focuses on Mexico. The support from the Global Interactions profile area broadens this focus to include indigenous communities and knowledges from other regions of the world.

Project coordinators:
Prof.dr. Maarten Jansen (Archaeology)
Prof.dr. Gerhard Persoon (Anthropology)
Ms. G. Auroa Pérez (Archaeology)
Dr. Shuli Wang (Archaeology)

Grant awarded May 2013

Last Modified: 08-06-2015