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date: 23 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Indigenous rights are arguably the most successfully institutionalized form of minority rights in international law today. Currently, Indigenous rights provide greater protections (particularly where the control of territory and self-government are concerned) than more general minority rights. This creates clear incentives for historically subordinated minority groups to assert Indigenous status. The proliferation of claims to indigeneity has led to debates about whether the category should be expanded to include some minority groups who now fall outside it or whether a more restricted conception of indigeneity should continue to prevail. Yet what makes Indigenous rights distinct from other kinds of minority rights, from a moral and philosophical perspective? In other words, if Indigenous peoples are entitled to certain protections to which other minority groups are not entitled, how is this disparity justified? The successful institutionalization of Indigenous rights in recent years raises important questions about what constitutes fair treatment for similarly situated minority groups, especially in countries and regions where there have been close historical connections between Indigenous peoples and other historically subordinated groups, as is the case in Latin America. Indigenous rights regimes have been quite successful in the Americas, where the proper way to define indigeneity has generally been viewed as fairly self-evident. Yet the experiences of Afro-descendants in Latin America raise important questions about whether they should be included in conceptions of indigeneity that illustrate the important public policy effects of legal and philosophical definitions of Indigenous rights. For instance, if some Afro-descendants occupy a position similar to the descendants of the region’s original inhabitants (i.e. Amerindians), should they also be included in Latin American conceptions of indigeneity? Is the best solution to devise broad legal categories that encompass both Indigenous people and Afro-descendants with similar characteristics? Or, instead, should narrower conceptions of indigeneity be preserved, while simultaneously finding ways to recognize that some Afro-descendants share similar characteristics with Amerindians and are thus entitled to similar rights? This essay analyzes the vexed relationship between Indigenous rights regimes and other minority rights frameworks through the prism of Latin American state responses to the issue of whether and how to include Afro-descendants in conceptions of indigeneity.

Keywords: Afro-descendants, Indigenous rights, Latin America, black movements, multiculturalism

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