Indigenous Rights and the Environment: Evolving International Law

40 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2016

See all articles by Cherie Metcalf

Cherie Metcalf

Queen's University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2003


This paper explores the relationship between indigenous peoples' rights in international law and international environmental law. Two models underlie the protection of indigenous environmental rights. A "cultural integrity" model recognizes indigenous peoples' environmental rights as a corollary to the protection and preservation of indigenous culture. In the alternative 'self-determination" model, indigenous peoples' environmental rights flow from their recognition as distinct communities with an inherent degree of autonomy and control over their own development.

Both models have the potential to transform international environmental law. Recognition of indigenous peoples' rights allows principles of international environmental law to pierce the veil of state sovereignty The cultural integrity model offers the potential to broaden the legal framework of international environmental law through the inclusion of human rights instruments. The self-determination model may lead to indigenous peoples' independent participation in international agreements addressing environmental concerns. There is a crucial difference between the models.

The cultural integrity model incorporates a connection between indigenous rights and sustainable environmental management while the self-determination model is based on indigenous peoples' right to choose their own environmental policy. There is no inherent relationship between recognition of indigenous rights and sustainable environmental management in the latter model. The implications for international environmental law are more uncertain.

Suggested Citation

Metcalf, Cherie, Indigenous Rights and the Environment: Evolving International Law (2003). Ottawa Law Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2003, Available at SSRN:

Cherie Metcalf (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Macdonald Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L3N6

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