Last week the UN released a report entitled State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This report addresses a range of social and economic indicators which present an alarming picture of Indigenous Peoples’ health, education, poverty, and interaction with criminal justice systems. Though many people will be all too familiar with these kinds of statistics, the report usefully brings together data relating to Indigenous Peoples throughout the world and points to issues faced by those communities, whether they be in developing or developed countries. The report is set out in chapters which address poverty and well-being, culture, environment, contemporary education, health, and human rights. The final chapter outlines a number of emerging issues for Indigenous Peoples.
One thing that stands out in the report’s analysis is the stark disparities between Indigenous populations and groups in developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. For example, in relation to Māori in New Zealand the report notes:
“New Zealand is another country ranking high in global comparisons of human development, but where there exist persistent disparities between Maori and non-Maori in areas such as paid work, economic standard of living, housing, health and justice.”
The issues relating to criminal justice are perhaps most overtly connected to the operation of state legal systems. Again, these issues are not new. In the New Zealand context, it has been over 20 years since the publication of Moana Jackson’s, still excellent, report to the Department of Justice entitled Māori and the Criminal Justice System: A New Perspective = He Whaipaanga Hou. Since that time there appears to have been little progress in this area. There have been some attempts by governments to address the findings of Jackson’s report, though, as the Waitangi Tribunal’s report on offender assessment policies highlighted, the implementation of such measures has been problematic. To participants at a 2008 colloquium focusing on Māori justice, many of the issues identified in Jackon’s report were, 20 years on, still relevant and of great concern. (For those who are interested, Juan Tauri provides a helpful commentary on the aims, structure and organization of that colloquium in the New Zealand Sociology journal).
Though criminal justice matters are directly linked to the state legal system, as State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples notes, all of the issues addressed in that report have come about largely as a consequence of the processes of colonization, economic marginalization and the imposition of settler legal systems and clearly all require the urgent attention of governments, legislators, and policy-makers.