Indigenous Minorities and the Shadow of Injustice Past

This paper explores the grounds for claims of compensation based on past injustice, with particular attention to indigenous minorities.

ARENA Working Paper 07/1998 (html)

Andreas Føllesdal

Heads of state and other representatives of political communities sometimes apologize for injustice perpetrated by previous generations. Thus Queen Elizabeth II recently apologized to the Maoris of New Zealand for their mistreatment by the British in the 19th century. This phenomenon raises perplexing questions concerning the basis and scope of present claims of compensation for past wrongs -- particularly committed against indigenous populations. A theory of such reparation is the topic of this paper. Our concern here is not with the very real injustices committed and perpetrated today against many indigenous populations, but rather with the implications of injustices committed in the past. Furthermore, to be sure, indigenous and other minority populations may have other grounds for claims to territory, use of the land, or special control over decisions, in addition to past injustice – e.g. based on the need to maintain culture. Finally, the issue of reparation - correcting for past injustice - not only arise in the context of treaty-based agreements struck between residents and newcomers, even though violations of treaties and injurious treaties are but two important cases. Focusing on the agreement aspect, this paper sketches some challenges to a contractualist theory of reparation as laid out in liberal contractualism, the normative framework brought to bear on this issue. Towards the end we return to consider arguments in favor of the position that past injustices matter.

Tags: minorities, fundamental/human rights, normative political theory
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM