Multiculturalism Policies for Indigenous Peoples

Perhaps the most striking change in the way Western democracies deal with ethnocultural diversity relates to the status of indigenous peoples, such as American Indians, the Inuit in Canada, the Māori in New Zealand, or the Sami in Scandinavia. Up until the 1960s, it was widely assumed that indigenous peoples would disappear as distinct communities -- they were considered "vanishing races" who could not survive the rigours of the modern world -- and were treated as wards of the state, incapable of running their own lives. Under this paternalistic and assimilationist framework, indigenous peoples had their land rights taken away from them, their autonomous legal and political institutions were suppressed, and they were subjected to assimilationist forms of education. Since the 1970s however, many Western states have come to accept that indigenous peoples are a permanent feature of the political and constitutional landscape, that they have a right to maintain themselves and to govern themselves as distinct societies on their traditional territories, and that they need a wide range of indigenous rights to ensure their survival and development.

Our MCP Index for Indigenous Peoples is intended to track the extent of this shift over the past three decades, by examining the adoption of the following nine policies detailed on the Decision Rules page:

  1. recognition of land rights/title
  2. recognition of self-government rights
  3. upholding historic treaties and/or signing new treaties
  4. recognition of cultural rights (language; hunting/fishing)
  5. recognition of customary law
  6. guarantees of representation/consultation in the central government
  7. constitutional or legislative affirmation of the distinct status of indigenous peoples
  8. support/ratification for international instruments on indigenous rights
  9. affirmative action

This is not an exhaustive list of every possible form of public policy intended to recognize or accommodate the distinctive status of indigenous peoples. However,we believe that this list captures core elements of the `multiculturalist turn" in relation to such groups.

The country scores in the Index reveals considerable variation across times and across countries in the strength of these policies. However, the basic trend line is clear: there has been a consistent increase in the average score of Western democracies from 1980 to 2000 to 2010, with virtually no reverses or retreats.