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Adjudicating Culture, Politicizing Law:
Legal Strategies for Black and Indigenous Land Rights Struggles in the Americas

The University of Texas at Austin
April 28–29

Concept

Photo of Amita Baviskar
Amita Baviskar delivered the opening talk, "Law, Land and Citizenship: Claiming Indigeneity in India" (archived streaming video now available in Windows Media format)

The goal of this workshop will be "agenda setting," with the bulk of the time devoted to discussion on different facets of the broad topic of Black and indigenous land rights in Latin America. The principal expected product is greater conceptual clarity with regard to an ongoing line of work on the relationship between human rights and culture within the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. Although much of the focus is on Latin America, we are inviting participants who have worked on and in a variety of regions, to learn from their experiences as well as with the hope of aiding in the production of knowledge that will assist in indigenous struggles throughout the world.

In August 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its first opinion on indigenous land claims in a case entitled The Case of the Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua. That decision, which ruled on behalf of the indigenous claim, even in the absence of proof of ancestral ties, is both a result of and an impetus for increasing interest in the adjudication of indigenous land and sovereignty claims in Latin America. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which brought the Awas Tingni's claim to the Court, is currently investigating a number of claims that have largely been articulated under international legal norms and treaties protecting indigenous culture and land tied to that culture. Consequently, much of the Court's jurisprudence over the next decade is certain to attend to indigenous rights claims, in part by defining "indigenous" and "culture" and delimiting rights that attach to those categories. Similar processes of definition are at work in the national arenas in a number of Latin American countries where constitutional reforms have been implemented, or are being sought, that recognize some form of indigenous rights. Although there has been some attempt to create a research network among those who are working on different cases and in different populations throughout Latin America, there has been little opportunity for critical discussion about legal and political strategies for making indigenous rights claims. We plan to provide such a forum with this workshop.

A principal tenet of the workshop, and of the work of the Center in general, is the crucial importance of dialog between legal scholars and social scientists, on one hand, and university-based and activist intellectuals, on the other. This first meeting will be with university-based intellectuals, with the understanding that future work will emphasize dialog across the university-based/activist divide. The participants will not be asked to give formal papers; rather, discussion will be organized around three themes, with one or more persons serving as facilitators of the discussion. We will ask these facilitators to assist in pulling together a small packet of key readings on the topics in question. We will also ask each participant to suggest one recently written essay of his or her own, which we could all read in preparation for the discussion.