United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Relevant Articles: 3,4,5

Self-determination is the central right of the Declaration. All other rights support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ exercise of self-determination. All Indigenous peoples have this right.

Self-determination can mean different things to different groups of people. At its core, self-determination ‘is concerned with the fundamental right of people to shape their own lives’.   In a practical sense, self-determination means that we have the freedom to live well, to determine what it means to live well according to our own values and beliefs. 

In recognising that Indigenous peoples have this right, governments are required to recognise our collective/group identities such as our nations, language groups, clans, family alliances or communities.

Self-determination means that:

  1. We have choice in determining how our lives are governed and our development paths.
  2. We participate in decisions that affect our lives. This includes a right to formal recognition of our group identities.
  3. We have control over our lives and future including our economic, social and cultural development.

Our citizenship rights and our Indigenous rights cannot be separated. We cannot have one without the other.

Professor Lowitja O’Donoghue

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner conducted a survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s perspectives on the Declaration in 2012. Participants in the survey identified the following examples of how self-determination can be exercised:

  • through our own representative bodies
  • through our own schools, justice systems, health systems
  • by having control over our lives
  • by being able to participate in decisions that affect us
  • through being subject to our own laws
  • by establishing our own government
  • by establishing our own sovereign state.


> Next: Go to Participation in decision-making