The Destruction of Identity: Cultural Genocide and Indigenous Peoples

  • Citation: Kingston, Lindsey. “The Destruction of Identity: Cultural Genocide and Indigenous Peoples.” Journal of Human Rights 14, no. 1 (2015): 63–83.
    • Topics:
    • Movements for Inclusion
    • Keywords:
    • international law
    • cultural genocide
    • Winnemem Wintu tribe
    • Inuit

International law defines genocide in terms of violence committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” yet this approach fails to acknowledge the full impacts of cultural destruction. There is insufficient international discussion of “cultural genocide,” which is a particular threat to the world’s indigenous minorities. Despite the recent adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which acknowledges the rights to culture, diversity, and self-determination, claims of cultural genocide are often derided, and their indicators dismissed as benign effects of modernity and indigenous cultural diffusion. This article considers the destruction of indigenous cultures and the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples through the analytical lens of genocide. Two case studies—the federally unrecognized Winnemem Wintu tribe in northern California and the Inuit of northern Canada—are highlighted as illustrative examples of groups facing these challenges. Ultimately, this article seeks to prompt serious discussion of cultural rights violations, which often do not involve direct physical killing or violence, and consideration of the concept “cultural genocide” as a tool for human rights promotion and protection.