Home Institution

Duke University

Publication Date

Fall 2010

Program Name

Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy


The plight of indigenous peoples around the world is a serious one, and without significant international action, many valuable cultural and linguistic traditions are in grave danger of disappearing altogether. Many of these indigenous groups have experienced detrimental consequences from the history of slavery, colonialism and imperialism, and the emergence of nation-states that stripped them of their autonomy and greatly threatened their way of life. Today, there are some positive examples of international and national efforts to protect indigenous peoples, but unfortunately, most indigenous populations remain dispossessed and underrepresented. Although the international community has established principles of unalienable human rights, it has done relatively little to extend these rights to indigenous peoples in particular. Even the United States has yet to adopt ILO Convention No. 169, the most important, binding international document on indigenous rights, nor has it supported the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The first part of this paper examines several international initiatives that do promote indigenous rights and provide positive support, and the second part is dedicated to the case of the Sámi, the indigenous people in Norway. The Sámi are unique in the successes that they have achieved by working closely with the Norwegian government, and they currently stand stronger and more united than most indigenous peoples in the world. With a lot of input and pressure from the Sámi, Norway has developed institutions and legislation to safeguard the Sámi languages and culture that were once in danger of disappearing. This case study illustrates the positive changes that are possible for indigenous minorities and provides a model for other states to consider when developing their own indigenous policies.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Comparative and Foreign Law | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Human Rights Law | Inequality and Stratification | International Law | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Race and Ethnicity | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


Article Location