The Elusive Promise of Indigenous Development

Rights, Culture, Strategy

The Elusive Promise of Indigenous Development

Book Pages: 424 Illustrations: Published: September 2010

Author: Karen Engle

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Law > Human Rights, Native and Indigenous Studies

Around the world, indigenous peoples use international law to make claims for heritage, territory, and economic development. Karen Engle traces the history of these claims, considering the prevalence of particular legal frameworks and their costs and benefits for indigenous groups. Her vivid account highlights the dilemmas that accompany each legal strategy, as well as the persistent elusiveness of economic development for indigenous peoples. Focusing primarily on the Americas, Engle describes how cultural rights emerged over self-determination as the dominant framework for indigenous advocacy in the late twentieth century, bringing unfortunate, if unintended, consequences.

Conceiving indigenous rights as cultural rights, Engle argues, has largely displaced or deferred many of the economic and political issues that initially motivated much indigenous advocacy. She contends that by asserting static, essentialized notions of indigenous culture, indigenous rights advocates have often made concessions that threaten to exclude many claimants, force others into norms of cultural cohesion, and limit indigenous economic, political, and territorial autonomy.

Engle explores one use of the right to culture outside the context of indigenous rights, through a discussion of a 1993 Colombian law granting collective land title to certain Afro-descendant communities. Following the aspirations for and disappointments in this law, Engle cautions advocates for marginalized communities against learning the wrong lessons from the recent struggles of indigenous peoples at the international level.


The Elusive Promise of Indigenous Development is a ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in international law and native peoples, indigenous politics in the Americas, and ethnodevelopment.” — Shannan Mattiace, Journal of Latin American Studies

“[A] deeply insightful and beautifully crafted volume. Engel shows that several polarities are oddly linked, as in a Mobius strip. Highly localized indigenous groups appeal for assistance and support from international actors and despite their low technology level deploy the Internet. Diversity and uniqueness are pursued in the languages and styles of the West. Emphases on culture and the economic intertwine. Global and local fascinatingly blend. These complexly linked polarities give her narrative a haunting grandeur.” — Charles Crothers, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Engle argues that indigenous rights advocates should abandon essentialized cultural conceptions and move toward ‘a more nuanced (and more ‘real’) understanding of culture’. That attenuated understanding, combined with a measure of strategic creativity, may yield more productive results for indigenous self-determination. With this impressive and truly interdisciplinary approach to international law, historians, anthropologists, and lawyers alike can appreciate Engle’s account of indigenous rights advocacy and move toward a more complex strategy that successfully integrates culture.” — Giselle Barcia, Yale Journal of International Law

“Engle’s work helps to illuminate the complexity of indigenous politics and inter-institutional dynamics. Her book contributes to discussions of indigenous rights an enlightening dynamism that I hope will inspire further work on the politics of indigeneity.” — Kirsty Gover, Melbourne Journal of International Law

The Elusive Promise of Indigenous Development takes the analysis of indigenous rights advocacy and the politics of self-determination to a new level, and it brings legal and cultural struggles together in a breathtaking big picture. It is up to the moment in terms of its political scope, richly historicized, and filled with comparative and critical analysis for rethinking indigenous political movements and their enduring (and sometimes problematic) implications.” — J. Kehaulani Kauanui, author of Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity

“Could culture be, in part, the culprit? This question will not be well received by those interlocutors—activists, scholars and activist intellectuals alike—who are unwilling to subject the premises of their work to sustained critical scrutiny. For the others, Karen Engle’s text will be immensely rewarding: an invitation to take stock of how far indigenous struggles have advanced over the past four decades, with ‘right to culture’ at front and center, and a call to reflect on the limitations of this political-legal approach. She argues that the ‘right to culture’ has indeed become part of the problem, and that an alternative ‘anti-essentialist’ notion of culture could deliver more favorable political results. These are crucial assertions to engage and assess, for those on the front lines of indigenous struggles and, by extension, for scholars as well. We are indebted to Engle for putting them on our agenda with such lucidity.” — Charles R. Hale, Director, Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

“If you are interested in indigenous rights, social lawyering, and the strange alchemy by which identity is transformed into right, you will want to read this book. Karen Engle has written a powerful history of the indigenous rights movement, which is simultaneously a meditation on the nature of identity and a primer on international legal strategy.” — David Kennedy, author of The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karen Engle is the Cecil D. Redford Professor in Law and the Director of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas School of Law. She is an editor of After Identity: A Reader in Law and Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I. International and Transnational Indigenous Movements

1. Setting the Stage for the Transnational Indigenous Rights Movement: Domestic and International Law and Politics 17

2. Indigenous Movements in the Americas in the 1970s: The Fourth World Movement and Pan-indigenism 46

3. International Institutions and Indigenous Advocacy in the 1980s and 1990s: Self-Determination Claims 67

4. International Indigenous Advocacy in the 1980s: Following the Model of a Human Right to Culture 100

Part II. Human Rights and the Uses of Culture in Indigenous Rights Advocacy

5. Culture as Heritage 141

6. Culture as Grounded in Land 162

7. Culture as Development 183

Part III. Indigenous Models in Other Contexts: The Case of Afro-Colombians

8. The History of Law 70: Culture as Heritage, Land, and Development 223

9. The Periphery of Law 70: Afro-Colombians in the Caribbean 254

Conclusion 274

Notes 279

Bibliography 349

Index 383
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, APSA Human Rights Section Best Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4769-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4750-7
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