Decolonization Supported By International Law

Michael Odegaard
February 2, 2023

Indigenous language parity in processes of decolonization supported by international law. 

by Michael Odegaard

Equal opportunities for participation and representation implies the equal dignity and inclusion of indigenous languages in all related regulatory deliberative and documentation processes.

The United Nations began a decolonization process that realized its end in 2007 with its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); for the first time in history indigenous peoples’ right to exist was internationally declared to be a legal right. The US State Department does not regard the Declaration as binding law, as the UNDRIP was not ratified by the Senate, but recognizes it as having both moral and political force. (Complete UNDRIP text provided here: UNDRIP Article 19 states that governments shall get indigenous people’s “free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” However, the US State Department statement defines consent only as a “process of meaningful consultation with tribal leaders, but not necessarily the agreement of those leaders.” 

Further addressing cultural genocide and forced assimilation caused by linguicide, UNDRIP Article 6 declares that every indigenous individual has the right to a nationality, and Article 8 declares indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. Article 16 includes the right to both establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity and that States shall take effective means to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. UNDRIP Article 43, the rights recognized in the Declaration “…constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”

In June of 2016 the Organization of American States (OAS, of which the US is a member by treaty) ratified the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; a human rights instrument akin to the UNDRIP, it recognizes a suite of human and civil rights for to the first peoples of the Americas representing an application of its campaign for international human rights for stateless peoples indigenous to their lands. (Complete text provided here: To that end, Article XXXIX of the American Declaration provides that:  “The rights contained in this Declaration and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” 

Article XIV of the American Declaration also requires “The states, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, shall make efforts to ensure that those [indigenous] peoples can understand and be understood in their own languages in administrative, political, and juridical proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or other effective means.” Article XXI declares that “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in the decision making in matters which would affect their rights. They may do so directly or through their representatives, and in accordance with their own norms, procedures, and traditions. They also have the right to equal opportunities to access and to participate fully and effectively as peoples in all national institutions and fora, including deliberative bodies.” Article XXII provides that “The matters referring to indigenous persons or to their rights or interests in the jurisdiction of each state shall be conducted so as to provide for the right of the indigenous people to full representation with dignity and equality before the law. Consequently, they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection and benefit of the law, including the use of linguistic and cultural interpreters.”

Indigenous peoples are responding to the UN and OAS declarations by identifying opportunities to fulfill requisite professional capacities demanded by the provision of equal opportunities for indigenous language participation in regulatory processes of city, state, and federal governments.