Preserving Indigenous Democracy
When Europeans first came to the Americas they took note of the democratic processes they observed in most indigenous nations. Indigenous political relations were usually decentralized, consensus based, and inclusive. Indigenous democracies may not seem remarkable by contemporary standards, but when Europeans arrived their governments were not democratic. Most of Europe was characterized by centralized absolutist states dominated by class structures, where the majority of people did not participate in the political process. Wars of independence, starting with the United States in 1775 and then throughout Latin and South America during the early 1800s, enabled creation of democratic states after overthrowing European colonial governments. The new democratic American states engaged market economies, and retained class structure, albeit within a nation of individual citizens.
While the influence of indigenous political cultures on American democracies is heatedly debated, contemporary indigenous nations seek respect, compatibility, acceptance, and mutually beneficial relations within contemporary democratic nation states. Indigenous political processes often remain based on kinship, community, culture, and territory. Most nation states do not recognize indigenous nations as political entities, and prefer to incorporate Indigenous Peoples into the body politic as individual citizens. Such a position is consistent with the values of equality, individual citizenship, and inclusive political processes that characterize modern liberal democratic states, but are not consistent with most contemporary indigenous political processes based on family, community, and territory. Many indigenous people want to participate in the nation as citizens, but at the same time retain loyalties to their ancient cultural and political communities. Gaining nation state recognition of the political rights and powers of indigenous governments has been extremely difficult.
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