In the neoliberal era, threats to indigenous ways of life around the world have reached unprecedented levels. Expanding foreign direct investment and the marketization of new areas of life threaten to privatize and commodify indigenous communal lands, resources, livelihoods and culture, as new locations around the world are subject to the laws and logics of neoliberalism. Arising in the same time period, and part of the broader proliferation of international human rights and focus on multiculturalism that began in the 1970s, international indigenous rights law seeks to protect indigenous identities and ways of life by both extending universal human rights mechanisms to indigenous groups, and by creating specialized rights provisions that protect indigenous interests. Since their creation, indigenous rights discourses have been invoked by states, NGOs and grassroots movements made up of indigenous and non-indigenous people alike in the name of indigenous people. Despite the proliferation of indigenous rights instruments, however, many of the inequalities that prompted a greater focus on indigenous interests continue to exist. These ongoing inequalities necessitate a closer look at the origins, and the effects, of using international rights to protect indigenous interests, as well as the relationship between indigenous rights and the neoliberal system. This chapter explores certain limitations of international indigenous rights instruments and examines their role in constructing and reproducing the neoliberal system. While mechanisms of international law have been used historically to justify intervention into, and the subordination of, indigenous communities, what is new under neoliberalism is the way in which the potentially empowering discourses of rights and recognition are implicit in advancing the neoliberal project. This chapter argues that international indigenous rights instruments advance the neoliberal project in two ways. First, by incorporating indigenous people into dominant legal frameworks, indigenous rights assimilate indigenous people into the structures and discourses of the neoliberal system. Second,
by adopting a normative definition of indigeneity that is compatible with the neoliberal paradigm, indigenous rights instruments circumscribe the category of indigeneity, and thereby manage indigenous identity and resistance. This chapter relies on examples from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to illustrate these arguments. The UNDRIP is the main international instrument that outlines indigenous rights and serves as a guiding framework for national indigenous rights legislation. First, this chapter develops a theoretical framework for exploring the characteristics of, and connections between, neoliberalism and human rights. Second, this chapter outlines the history of indigenous rights at the UN, focusing on the UNDRIP. Third, it explores how and why indigenous rights have failed to protect, and improve the conditions of, indigenous people under neoliberalism. Lastly, this chapter argues that instead, by assimilating indigenous people into the neoliberal system and managing indigenous difference, indigenous rights are complicit in constructing and reproducing the neoliberal system.