The legal rights of the world’s 300 million indigenous peoples  is of particular interest to commoners because both face similar philosophical and strategic challenges in coming to terms with (unresponsive, sometimes hostile) national and international law. In that sense, the legal fights of indigenous peoples may be a bellwether for commoners and a source of guidance.
In general, indigenous peoples are seeking to protect their own distinctive identities, collective resources, cultural commitments to collective law (both formal and informal) and to group stewardship of resources. Some of the more contested aspects of indigenous peoples law include conflicts with nation-states over self-determination (vs. state sovereignty); the preservation of cultural traditions (vs. western consumerism); the preservation of their languages and agroecological practices (vs. intellectual property rights); and compensation (or repatriation) for theft of collectively shared land and property (vs. conventional claims of individual property rights). 
Biocultural rights represent a new legal jurisprudence that aims to protect natural ecosystems and indigenous knowledge and ways of life, especially from the threats of trade treaties. The rights – based on the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity, which has been ratified by 193 nations – have been developed by legal advocates such as Natural Justice in South Africa to give legal protection to a community’s identity, culture, governance system, spirituality and way of life as embedded in a specific landscape. This bold departure in human rights law seeks to validate community-led instruments for recognizing and supporting “ways of life that are based on the sustainable use of biodiversity, according to customary, national and international laws and policies.”
Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH)
A major international effort to facilitate “fair and equitable exchanges” of indigenous knowledge and culture is directed by the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) research project, an international collaboration of archaeologists, indigenous organizations, lawyers, anthropologists, ethicists, policy makers, and others. Based at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, IPinCH explains that its focus is on “archaeology as a primary component of cultural heritage; however, this project is ultimately concerned with larger issues of the nature of knowledge and rights based on culture – how these are defined and used, who has control and access, and especially how fair and appropriate use and access can be achieved to the benefit of all stakeholders in the past.” The project includes fifty researchers and twenty-five partnering organizations from Canada, Australia, United States, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, England, and Switzerland.
The Potato Park
- Broadly defined as peoples whose societies and cultures predated the nation-states that have come to engulf them.
- An extensive overview of indigenous peoples’ law can be found in a web document by Steven C. Perkins, “Researching Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Under International Law,” at http://intelligent-internet.info/law/ipr2.html#Present%20Activities.