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Philosophy and Approach

The Indigenous Peoples' Rights Program began with the belief that a major university with a strong and prestigious tradition in the field of human rights-such as Columbia University-has an important role to play both in academia and beyond in promoting awareness and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples’ issues and rights.


FIMI 2016
Indigenous women leaders from around the world attend a seminar at Columbia University.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program has a strong international focus and is committed to promoting inter-culturality, i.e. dialogue among cultures on the basis of equality. This requires two core elements in terms of approach:

  1. Indigenous Peoples should not be relegated to the past, as lost history, or as art that belongs only in and to museums. Indigenous issues should also be taught to demonstrate the continuing existence, importance, and contributions of Indigenous Peoples, including through their own traditional knowledge and governance systems.
  2. There should be cross-fertilization of conventional academic thought via collaboration with Indigenous Peoples themselves, contributing their knowledge and perspectives. This means facilitating access of indigenous scholars, experts and practitioners to our University and also creating opportunities for Columbia’s community of students and teachers to spend time in academic institutions and with organizations in indigenous parts of the world. There cannot be a meaningful Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program at Columbia without the voices of Indigenous Peoples themselves being heard.

Goals of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program

The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program seeks to develop human rights capacity, particularly regarding Indigenous Peoples’ rights of the following groups:

  • The student body at Columbia University, through the integration of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the human rights curricula of the University;
  • Indigenous human rights advocates through their participation in ISHR’s Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) and its Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability Program (AHDA), as well as through other initiatives at Columbia University.


Summer Program 2016
Elsa Stamatopoulou leads a summer course.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program promotes the exchange among academics and experts, both indigenous and non-indigenous, through the organization of international conferences and workshops on cutting edge indigenous issues that explore current and ongoing challenges pertaining to Indigenous Peoples’ rights and well-being. The program collaborates with relevant international organizations, academic institutions and indigenous and other civil society organizations to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to current issues in Indigenous Peoples’ studies.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program promotes multidisciplinary research, much of which has broad public policy implications. This research is inspired by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and the challenges in its implementation, as well as the broad lines of study identified by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, among others.