Indigenous peoples regard self-determination as the prerequisite for the exercise and enjoyment of all other human rights. Self-determination is defined as the right of a group to “freely determine [its] political status and freely pursue [its] economic, social, and cultural development.” My personal efforts to enshrine this right in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples began in 1984. That year, I was a member of a group of seven to eight Indigenous representatives primarily from the Americas who had gathered to produce a document that would reflect Indigenous worldviews. We were sequestered in a small room adjacent to the ongoing plenary session of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples at a prominent hotel in Panama City. The intent was to finalize a declaration for the 1985 session of the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which could then be attached...

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