Philosophical Foundations for Indigenous Economic and Political Rights

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine some influential accounts of the basis for Indigenous rights, consider their strengths and weaknesses, and ascertain whether and in what degree they support effective self-government and self-determination for Indigenous people. Design/methodology/approach: The paper begins with a brief discussion of the emergence of specifically Indigenous rights, the significance of self-determination as a means of improving the economic and social conditions of communities, and the problem such rights pose for late 20th versions of egalitarian liberalism. It then examines the liberal culturalist argument for minority rights developed by Will Kymlicka, before turning to James Tully’s elaboration of the historical approach to the justification of Indigenous rights that draws on the tradition of treaty relations in North American colonialism. Finally, it outlines a third approach based on the political liberalism of John Rawls. Findings: The conditions of legitimate government set out in Rawls’ political liberalism are a better way to provide normative foundations for Indigenous rights in contemporary postcolonial democracies. Research limitations/implications: The discussion of Indigenous rights is confined to those countries established by colonization with largely British political institutions and populations. The arguments for Indigenous rights are confined to those advanced within the liberal tradition of political thought. Originality/value: Some of the criticisms of the liberal culturalist argument and of Tully’s approach are original. The case for Indigenous rights based in the legitimacy requirements of political liberalism is original and based on conceptual work by the author.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1264-1276
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Social Economics
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboriginal and common law system
  • Cultural context of choice
  • Indigenous rights
  • Legitimacy
  • Self-determination


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