THE COOLANGATTA STATEMENT
World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education
August 6, 1999
to Journal of American Indian Education Article on the Coolangatta Statement]
THE COOLANGATTA STATEMENT
On Indigenous Peoples Rights in
The Coolangatta Statement represents a collective voice of
Indigenous peoples from around the world who support fundamental
principles considered vital to achieving reform and transformation of
education for Indigenous peoples.
The need for such an instrument is self-evident. Over the last 30
years, Indigenous peoples throughout the world have argued that they
have been denied equity in non-Indigenous education systems which has
failed to provide educational services that nurture the whole
Indigenous person inclusive of scholarship, culture and
Most all Indigenous peoples, and in particular, those who have
suffered the impact and effects of colonization, have struggled to
access education that acknowledges, respects and promotes the right
of Indigenous peoples to be indigenous--a right that embraces
Indigenous peoples language, culture, traditions, and
spirituality. This includes the right to self-determination.
This Statement speaks to the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples
as declared in Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic
minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not
be denied the right, in community with the other members of their
group, to enjoy their own culture, and to profess and practice
their own religion, and to use their own language.
As an instrument which derives its vision and strength from
Indigenous Nations and peoples, the Coolangatta Statement on
Indigenous Peoples Rights in Education is and will remain a
living document which addresses the educational rights of Indigenous
peoples now and into the future.
I. INDIGENOUS EDUCATION: A GLOBAL OVERVIEW
1.1 There exists a proliferation of international
charters, conventions and other instruments that recognize the
basic human rights of all peoples, amongst which is the right to
education. Some of these instruments have been analyzed in the
preparation of this statement. These include:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
- International Covenant on Civil and Political
- Declaration on the Elimination of all
Forms of Racial Discrimination;
- Discrimination (Employment & Occupation)
- Convention Against Discrimination in Education;
- Working Group on Indigenous Populations - Draft
Declaration on Indigenous Rights;
- Kari-Oca Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter.
1.2 Indigenous peoples acknowledge that select principles and
articles from international human rights instruments provide some
basis for recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples to
1.2.1 For example, Article 26 of the United Nations
Declaration of Human Rights states:
i. Everyone has the right to education.
Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and
fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be
compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be
made generally available and higher education shall be
equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
ii. Education shall be directed to the full development
of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote
understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations,
racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities
of the United Nation for the maintenance of peace.
iii. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of
education that shall be given to their children.
1.2.2 Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights further states:
In those States in which ethnic, religious or
linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such
minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with
the other members of their group, to enjoy their own
culture, and to profess and practice their own religion, and
to use their own language.
1.3 Although the capacity for such instruments provides some
basis for recognizing rights of Indigenous peoples, the 1999 WIPCE
asserts that such instruments are limited in their capacity to
recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Human rights, by definition, are inalienable, inviolable and
innate. The freedom to enjoy and indeed celebrate these rights has
been, and continues to be, denied and obstructed for Indigenous
peoples throughout the world.
Specific limitations include the extent to which these
- Protect the right of Indigenous peoples to equal access
to education systems;
- Ensure that Indigenous parents have a prior right to
choose the kind of education that shall be given to their
- Promote the right of Indigenous peoples to enjoy their
own cultures in community with other members of their
- Provide conditions that are conducive to the use and
maintenance of Indigenous languages.
1.3.1 Historically, Indigenous peoples have insisted upon
the right of access to education. Invariably the nature, and
consequently the outcome, of this education has been
constructed through and measured by non-Indigenous standards,
values and philosophies. Ultimately the purpose of this
education has been to assimilate Indigenous peoples into
non-Indigenous cultures and societies.
Volumes of studies, research and reports dealing with
Indigenous peoples in non-Indigenous educational systems paint
a familiar picture of failure and despair. When measured in
non-Indigenous terms, the educational outcomes of Indigenous
peoples are still far below that of non-Indigenous peoples.
This fact exists not because Indigenous peoples are less
intelligent, but because educational theories and practices are
developed and controlled by non-Indigenous peoples. Thus, in
more recent times, due to the involvement of Indigenous
peoples, research shows that failure is indeed present, but
that this failure is that of the system, not of Indigenous
In this context the so-called "dropout rates and failures"
of Indigenous peoples within non-Indigenous educational systems
must be viewed for what they really are--rejection rates.
1.3.2 The rights of Indigenous peoples to access
education--even when these rights are recognized in treaties
and other instruments--are often interpreted to read that
Indigenous peoples only want access to non-Indigenous
education. Presumably it is considered that the core of
Indigenous cultural values, standards and wisdom is abandoned
or withering in the wilderness of Indigenous societies.
Yet, Indigenous peoples across the world are demanding and,
in some cases, achieving the establishment of systems of
education which reflect, respect and embrace Indigenous
cultural values, philosophies and ideologies--the same values,
philosophies and ideologies which shaped, nurtured and
sustained Indigenous peoples for tens of thousands of
One of the greatest challenges confronting Indigenous
peoples in the final year of the twentieth century is how to
promote, protect and nurture Indigenous cultures in an
ever-changing modern society. This is of particular concern for
Indigenous peoples who are forced into cities and away from
1.4 It is of concern to the 1999 WIPCE that many international
instruments have a limited capacity to recognize the most
fundamental human right of Indigenous peoples -- the right to be
Indigenous. The right to be Indigenous involves the freedom of
Indigenous peoples themselves to determine who is Indigenous; what
it means to be Indigenous; and, how education relates to
1.4.1 Recently a number of international documents
prepared in response to the limited capacity of international
human rights instruments recognize and protect the right of
Indigenous peoples to be Indigenous. The 1999 WIPCE
acknowledges and supports such documents, which include the
Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the
Kari-Oca Indigenous Peoples' Earth Charter.
1.4.2 The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, as revised by the members of the Working Group on
Indigenous Populations in July 1993, asserts:
Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By
virtue of that right they freely determine their political
statutes and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural
development. (Article 3)
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully, if
they so wish, in the political, economic, social and cultural
life of the state, while maintaining their distinct political,
economical, social and cultural characteristics, as well as
their legal systems. (Article 4)
The draft declaration goes on to add:
Indigenous peoples have the right to all levels and
forms of education. They also have the right to establish and
control their educational systems and institutions providing
education in their own language. (Article 14)
Indigenous peoples have the right to have the dignity and
diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and
aspirations appropriately reflected in all forms of education
and public information. States shall take effective measures,
in consultation with Indigenous peoples, in eliminating
prejudice and to promote tolerance, understanding and good
relations. (Article 15)
1.4.3 The Kari-Oca Declaration entitled "Indigenous Peoples'
Earth Charter" (formulated in Brazil in May 1993) includes the
following statements on Indigenous education:
Indigenous peoples should have the right to their own
knowledge, languages and culturally appropriate education,
including bicultural and bilingual education. Through
recognizing both formal and informal ways the participation of
family and community is guaranteed.
Indigenous peoples must have the necessary resources and
control over their own education systems. Elders must be
recognized and respected as teachers of the young people.
Indigenous wisdom must be recognized and encouraged.
The use of existing Indigenous languages is our right. These
languages must be protected. At local, national, and
international levels, governments must commit funds to new and
existing resources to education and training for Indigenous
peoples to achieve their sustainable development, to contribute
and to participate in sustainable and equitable development at
all levels. Particular attention should be given to Indigenous
women, children and youth.
The United Nations should promote research into Indigenous
knowledge and develop a network of Indigenous sciences. As
creators and carriers of civilizations which have given and
continue to share knowledge, experience and values with
humanity, we require that our right to intellectual and
cultural properties be guaranteed and that the mechanism for
each implementation be in favor of our people and studies in
depth be implemented.
1.5 Evident from recent international documents on the Rights
of Indigenous peoples, the right to be indigenous is an essential
prerequisite to developing and maintaining culturally appropriate
and sustainable education for Indigenous peoples.
Also evident, the educational struggles of Indigenous peoples
of the world involve more than the struggle for access to and
participation in both non-Indigenous education systems and
culturally appropriate education. The educational struggles of
Indigenous peoples are fundamentally and unequivocally concerned
with the right of Indigenous peoples to be indigenous.
1.6 Youth and the young have a special place and responsibility
in the struggle to nurture and protect Indigenous cultures. It is
to them that truth and wisdom is bequeathed. When Indigenous youth
and the young are separated from their cultural base and
communities, Indigenous cultures and peoples are threatened with
1.6.1 The forced removal of Indigenous children from
their families and communities was a favored policy and
practice of colonial powers throughout the world. The pain and
emotional scars that are the legacy of this insidious form of
cultural genocide continues to torment many of today's
1.6.2 Acknowledging and respecting their role and
responsibilities, delegates from the World Indigenous Youth
Conference held in Darwin, Australia in July 1993,
- We, Indigenous youth, believe we must maintain our right
to self-determination. Our people have the right to decide
our own forms of government, the use of our lands, to one
day raise and educate our children in our own cultural
identities without interference.
- We, Indigenous youth must have the freedom to learn our
true histories. We make a call to our elders to open the way
for us to learn about our heritages--to help us reclaim our
past, so that we may claim our future.
- We, Indigenous youth, recognize our languages as an
important link to maintaining our cultures. Indigenous
languages must be maintained at a local level.
1.7 The 1999 WIPCE recognizes an existence of a commonality of
purpose and desire amongst the Indigenous peoples of the world for
education. It further recognizes that this commonality involves a
shared belief that education must be scholarly and empowering
whilst at the same time the processes of education must be
embedded in Indigenous culture and wisdom.
1.7.1. Meaningful, empowering and culturally
sustainable education for Indigenous peoples will be possible
only when Indigenous peoples have the control (a fundamental
right) and the resources (an inarguable responsibility of
States/governments) to develop educational theories, curriculum
and practices that are indigenous and are able to determine the
environment within which this education can best occur.
1.7.2 Indigenous self-determination involves choice and
diversity. If an Indigenous person chooses to access an
Indigenous education system, then this is a choice, which must
be respected. If an Indigenous person chooses to access
non-Indigenous education, than this choice must also be
respected. If an Indigenous person chooses to access both
non-Indigenous and Indigenous systems of education, then this
choice too must be respected. Not to do so is in itself a
violation of a basic human right.
II. RIGHTS IN INDIGENOUS EDUCATION
2.1 The right to be Indigenous is the most fundamental
and important of all Human Rights.
2.2 The right to be Indigenous is a precursor to
self-determination. The right to self-determination and the
achievement of other inherent rights and freedoms for Indigenous
peoples is inextricably connected to the physical and spiritual
phenomenon of what most call "the earth." The sense of
connectedness and belonging to Mother Earth is similar to the
special bonds that unite parent and child. As a child's hopes and
securities, aspirations and comforts are fundamental to its
relationships with its parents, so too are Indigenous peoples'
hopes and securities, aspirations and comforts fundamental in
their relationship to Mother Earth.
2.2.1 Non-Indigenous peoples and their representative
governments must accept this parent relationship with Mother
Earth that characterizes Indigenous cultures. This relationship
enables Indigenous peoples to negotiate, use and maintain the
land, and to build and rebuild the social structures needed for
2.2.2 There are no single, simple or common answers to the
question of Indigenous self-determination. Only Indigenous
peoples who are spiritually focused and land-based.
2.2.3 The provision and application of material and
political responses by Nation States to the right of Indigenous
peoples to self-determination, governance and control over
Indigenous life and futures must cease.
2.2.4 Self-determination in Indigenous education embodies
the right of Indigenous people:
- To control/govern Indigenous education systems;
- To establish schools and other learning facilities that
recognize, respect and promote Indigenous values,
philosophies and ideologies;
- To develop and implement culturally inclusive
- To utilize the essential wisdom of Indigenous elders in
the education process;
- To establish the criterion for educational evaluation
- To define and identify standards for the gifted and
- To promote the use of Indigenous languages in
- To establish the parameters and ethics within which
Indigenous education research should be conducted;
- To design and deliver culturally appropriate and
sensitive teacher training programs;
- To participate in teacher certification and
- To develop criterion for the registration and operation
of schools and other learning facilities; and,
- To choose the nature and scope of education without
2.3 Indigenous peoples have strong feelings and thoughts about
landforms, the very basis of their cultural identity. Land gives
life to language and culture.
2.3.1 Indigenous languages in all forms are legitimate
and valid means of communication for Indigenous peoples.
2.3.2 Language is a social construct; it is a blueprint for
thought, behavior, social and cultural interaction and
2.3.3 Language is the medium for transmitting culture from
the past to the present and into the future. Acknowledging that
many Indigenous languages have been destroyed, the 1999 WIPCE
asserts that Indigenous languages are the best way to teach
Indigenous knowledge and values.
2.3.4 Languages are the foundations for the liberation of
thoughts that provide direction for social, political and
economic change and development.
2.3.5 The survival and revival of Indigenous languages is
imperative for the protection, transmission, maintenance and
preservation of Indigenous knowledge, cultural values, and
2.4 Pedagogy is the interrelationship between learning styles
and teaching methods. There are pedagogical principles shared by
all Indigenous peoples, but there are also those that are
characteristic to the specific cultures, languages, environment
and circumstances of Indigenous peoples across the world.
Indigenous peoples and cultures are not homogenous.
2.4.1 Indigenous pedagogical principles are holistic,
connected, valid, cultural, value-based, thematic and
experiential. They promote and reward cooperative learning and
the unified co-operation of learner and teacher in a single
educational enterprise. They describe who teaches, as well as,
how and when teaching occurs. Indigenous pedagogical
principles, unlike western paradigms, recognize the important
role of non-verbal communication in the learning-teaching
2.4.2 Indigenous learning is clothed in the medium of
spirituality. Notions of well being/wellness and ethos are
important in the process of learning.
2.4.3 The teacher is a facilitator of learning, one who
promotes achievement and success. In this context culturally
appropriate environments are employed to reinforce knowledge
being imparted to the learner, reaffirming the learner's
significant place in the world.
2.4.4 The involvement of community in all pedagogical
processes is valued.
2.5 Indigenous peoples at the local level must determine how
and to what degree non-Indigenous peoples are involved in
Indigenous education. Once this role is determined it is the
responsibility of non-Indigenous peoples to respect and adhere to
the wishes of the local community.
2.5.1 Non-Indigenous peoples come from a different
cultural background. Since Indigenous education is centered in
Indigenous culture, non-Indigenous people must only be involved
in the process of achieving educational objectives as
determined by Indigenous peoples. Non-Indigenous peoples should
not involve themselves in the processes of Indigenous
2.5.2 Non-Indigenous peoples through the various levels of
government and bureaucracy have an over-riding responsibility
to accept and uphold the educational rights of Indigenous
peoples and to know that these rights and freedoms are
3.1 Indigenous peoples throughout the world survive policies and practices
ranging from extermination and genocide to protection and assimilation. Perhaps
more than any other feat, survival is the greatest of all Indigenous peoples'
3.2 Indigenous peoples have the right to be Indigenous. They cannot exist
as images and reflections of a non-Indigenous society.
3.3 Indigenous education, as a medium for both personal development and intellectual
empowerment, is critical for the continuance and celebration of Indigenous
3.4 To be Indigenous is both a privilege and a birthright. It is therefore
the responsibility of all Indigenous peoples to ensure that their respective
cultures, philosophies and ideologies remain strong and continue to grow.
3.5 We, the Indigenous peoples of the world, assert our inherent right to
self-determination in all matters. Self-determination is about making informed
choices and decisions and creating appropriate structures for the transmission
of culture, knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of each of our respective
cultures. Education for our communities and each individual is central to
the preservation of our cultures and for the development of the skills and
expertise we need in order to be a vital part of the twenty-first century.