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Indigenous Self-Determination


“Colonization was rendered illegitimate in part by reference to the processes leading to colonial rule, processes that today clearly represent impermissible territorial expansion of governmental authority.”1


The concept of self-determination was recognized following the first World War to validate the decolonization of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires. It was formally acknowledged first in the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, articles 1.2 and 55.2  


Self-determination was first recognized as a right in 1960 with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.3 The right to self-determination was further affirmed with its inclusion into the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights4 and the International Covenant on economic, Social, and Political Rights.5 In 1970, the United Nations’ Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations6 provided more definition to the right, broadening it to include people under racist regimes.7


In 1989, the United Nations’ International Labour Organization adopted the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.8 However, the convention did not use the term ‘self-determination’ even though it was the precursor instrument to the 2007 United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It was in the UNDRIP that the right to self-determination was first paired with the term ‘Indigenous Peoples.’


Article 3

“Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”9


This section of the website is meant as an overview and guide to understand self-determination and its status with Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Use the navigation bar to select pages and page anchors.




1. (1993) Anaya, S. J, A Contemporary Definition of the International Norm of Self-Determination, Transnat’l & Contemp. Probs. 3: p. 131-164. http://caid.ca/ConDefIntNorSelDet1993.pdf

2. (1945) Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice. Articles 1.2 & 55. http://caid.ca/UNCharter1945.pdf

1.2 “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;” [Emphasis Added]

55 “With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote:”

a. Higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;

b. Solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational cooperation; and,

c. Universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” [Emphasis Added]

3. (1960) United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Resolution 1514 (XV). Article 2. http://caid.ca/UNRes15141960.pdf

2. ”All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” [Emphasis Added]

4. (1966) United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Resolution 2200A (XXI). Article 1.1. Entered into force 1976.  http://caid.ca/UNCovCivPolRig1966.pdf

Article 1:

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]

5. (1966) United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Resolution 2200A (XXI). Article 1.1 and 1.3. Entered into force 1976. http://caid.ca/IntCov011708.pdf

Article 1:

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]

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.”  [Emphasis Added]

6. (1970) United Nations Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, Resolution 2625 (XXV), A/RES/25/2625. http://caid.ca/UNDecFreiRelCoo1970.pdf

1. “Solemnly proclaims the following principles:

The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples

By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.

Every State has the duty to promote, through joint and separate action, realization of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter, and to render assistance to the United Nations in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to it by the Charter regarding the implementation of the principle, in order:

a. To promote friendly relations and co-operation among States; and

b. To bring a speedy end to colonialism, having due regard to the freely expressed will of the peoples concerned;

and bearing in mind that subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a violation of the principle, as well as a denial of fundamental human rights, and is contrary to the Charter.

Every State has the duty to promote through joint and separate action universal  respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Charter.

The establishment of a sovereign and independent State, the free association or integration with an independent State or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitute modes of implementing the right of self-determination by that people.

Every State has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to above in the elaboration of the present principle of their right to self-determination and freedom and independence. In their actions against, and resistance to, such forcible action in pursuit of the exercise of their right to self-determination, such peoples are entitled to seek and to receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.

The territory of a colony or other Non-Self-Governing Territory has, under the Charter, a status separate and distinct from the territory of the State administering it; and such separate and distinct status under the Charter shall exist until the people of the colony or Non-Self-Governing Territory have exercised their right of self-determination in accordance with the Charter, and particularly its purposes and principles.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or colour.

Every State shall refrain from any action aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of any other State or country.” [Emphasis Added]

7. (2015) Dessanti, C., Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Self Determination in International Law. Intra Vires 1.1 (fall 2015): p. 45-55. http://caid.ca/IndPeoRigSelDet2015.pdf

8. (1989) United Nations International Labour Organization, Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. C169. http://caid.ca/ILOC169.pdf

9. (2007) United Nations General Assembly, Sixty-First Session: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. http://caid.ca/UNIndDec010208.pdf



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Last Updated July 13, 2018