The United States Constitution and party political systems sets the basic laws and political processes of U.S. society, but Indigenous Peoples existed for thousands of years before that.

Maintaining Culture Is Not an Act of Violence

Duane Champagne

One of the arguments against indigenous self-government is that it requires special rights and stokes the flames of cultural, political and identity difference. Nation states are built on concepts of individual equality in political and economic life, and uphold consensual commitments to common political institutions and laws.

For example, the United States Constitution and party political systems sets the basic laws and political processes of U.S. society. The indigenous position, however, asserts that Indigenous Peoples existed culturally and politically for thousands of years before the formation of contemporary nation states. Indigenous Peoples are not parties to the formation of nation states, and are not generally consensual citizens of nation states.

Most indigenous peoples maintain their own cultures, communities, and political forms, while outwardly conforming to nation state power. The resistance to full social and political assimilation looks extremely radical to nation states, who fear that the absences of strong and primary political loyalties to the nation state may be a sources of political separation, ethnic violence, and destabilization. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) clearly prohibits Indigenous Peoples to separate from the nation states that currently surround them and enforce their laws and institutions over them.

The indigenous position of maintaining culture, identity, land, and self-government is not an act of violence toward nation states, but rather are acts of cultural continuity and defense. Nevertheless, the strong assimilation trends in contemporary democratic nation states seeks to individualize, detribalize, racialize, and ethnicize Indigenous Peoples. Nation states are better equipped to deal with individual citizens, and more recently better equipped to deal with issues of race, and different cultural and ethnic group identities.

Indigenous Peoples, however, seek to preserve land, economy, political self-government and cultural identity in ways that are significantly different than racial or ethnic groups. Nation states do not have the intellectual or political tools to manage relations with Indigenous Peoples on their own grounds. Nation states are not equipped to democratically manage relations with indigenous communities that do not share the same visions of individual citizenship, separation of church and state, and private economic accumulation. Indigenous Peoples seek to preserve a way of life, a way of being, and want to control their own decisions for the future, their way of becoming.

From the mainstream point of view, having such “radically” different communities within nations states not only stokes fears of separatism but also of ethnic violence. The current version of creating world peace is to develop a world government or confederation with citizens of the world, who all have equal human rights. Such a vision is a generalization of the current modern nation state applied to the entire world. This vision of world peace, however, does not fully account for the religious, culture, indigenous, and institutional diversity of human groups. In this new proposed world, modern world citizens will share in a common civilized cultural order. More recently, U.N. diplomats have proposed that the 21st century will be a period for the emergence of multi-cultural nation states where cultural diversity will be honored, within common agreements of democratic political process and institutions.

The indigenous conception of world peace calls for mutual respect, understanding, and relations between all nations of the world, including indigenous nations. Indigenous Peoples are willing to participate in nation states and world relations as citizens, but not in exchange for sacrificing self-government, land, and cultural identity.

The multicultural view of moving toward world peace does not include Indigenous Peoples, or includes them only as a group of citizens with an ethnic identity. Such a position is resisted by Indigenous Peoples. Any new world order or nation state that does not understand, respect, and create peaceful democratic relations with indigenous nations will have failed to develop a consensual peace, or uphold collective human and indigenous rights. And Indigenous Peoples will continue to seek world peace, beneficial reciprocity, and self-government.

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michaelmack's picture
Submitted by michaelmack on
Most Americans do not understand why American Indians want to hold onto their ancient cultures. Unconsciously most Americans still believe in the basic notions of "manifest destinty" that were founded upon the idea that white, Christian beliefs and ways were the ultimate and ONLY desirable goal for the human race. On one hand, this is understandable because when Europeans and others arrived on these shores they found more opportunities and hope for better futures than their homelands ever provided them and they prospered greatly. Of course, American Indians have always seen them as intruders - still do - and this is what non-Indians can't understand. Non-Indians’ thinking is that since they arrived everything got better - well, it did for them, but not for us. Non-Indians can only see how they prospered as a result of their transplanting themselves here, most cannot comprehend let alone hear that their presence is not only an intrusion but set in motion death and destruction, not only for the natives but for themselves as well. This is where the huge disconnect remains. Some non-Indians understand this, but most do not. The bigger challenge is for Indian Country to educate the majority of non-Indians who are clueless as to their destructive ways - past and present. This education most occur at every level - in wealthier tribes formal government and business relationships - to working with the board members of boards of education - to individuals interpersonal relations in everyday situations. We have to face the reality that in contemporary America, we remain a tiny politically and economically insignificant minority, and therefore our thinking and actions that produce positive public relations and build coalitions are they only real assets we have if we don’t not want to become historical relics or stereotypical plastic Indians. Because neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. political/economic/educational establishments see anything wrong with the status quo - the choice to work to change things is ours.