Our Perspectives

Increasing indigenous political representation: an urgent debt for our democracies


 Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. Photo: UNDP in Peru

In recent times, indigenous peoples have questioned current development models and democracies in Latin America and beyond. The main tool for measuring progress remains Gross Domestic Product, which distorts the true meaning of progress and wellbeing. The damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity, have all been excluded from this general assessment.

What’s more, the low representation of indigenous peoples in politics and as part of our human development -- below national averages -- is a clear indication that Latin American democracies and the development model have not fully served their purpose.

However, many indigenous peoples have taken steps to become more involved in current political affairs and question our societies, accusing the latter of being exclusive, racist, and unaware of their history (for example, they often deny the existence of indigenous genocide) while stifling the diversity and existence of social issues based on a different culture and world view.

Paying close attention to such issues and implementing initiatives to enact real change is the challenge faced by democracies. I would like to urge the adoption of a new and rejuvenating approach to issues related to indigenous peoples and their values. The need for such reform of the framework and electoral strategies was evident in the 2013 elections, as outlined in the report presented in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as part of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Ever since the establishment of democratic regimes in Latin America, political participation by indigenous peoples has slowly expanded. Special mention is made of participation by indigenous communities in civic committees and in various expressions of political organization unique to ancient peoples -- as in the case of Mexico and Guatemala.  

Among the main challenges that indigenous peoples have to overcome is the need to influence the necessary  legal, constitutional and electoral reform  for the recognition of their rights and the intercultural nature of States, as well to change the way political parties and campaigns are funded.

Equally important is the need to promote and encourage female and youth leadership.

Furthermore, it is crucial to find binding mechanisms  for dialogue between indigenous peoples, the private sector, and governments in order to minimize conflicts that arise from exploration or exploitation of strategic resources in territories belonging to the indigenous peoples.

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