Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage Indians after Coolidge signed the bill granting Indians full citizenship.

Indigenous and 21st Century Nationalisms

Duane Champagne

The goal for indigenous political management was to achieve reciprocal, respectful, and balanced relations with all nations of power beings, including the human nations. In some sense the indigenous vision of nation was like a separate species of animals, or distinct patterns of phenomena that have repeated and recognized personalities and effects. Humans are not the center of the universe, but are one of many power beings who have a role to play within the cosmic order and future unfolding of life and history.

Indigenous institutions are overlapping, interrelated, and holistic composites of spiritual, political, kinship, economic, and community relations. Political relations are not separable from economic, spiritual, or kinship issues. Western secular democratic nation states compartmentalize and separate government, religion, economy, community, and individuality. The worldviews and organization of Indigenous Peoples significantly interferes with assimilation and acceptance of nation state citizenship and government.

While many Indigenous Peoples participate as individual citizens in the nation state, Indigenous Peoples do not want to give up their own forms of government, territory, and interrelated worldviews and institutional relations. While nation states prefer to recognize only individual citizens, Indigenous Peoples want to be recognized as the holistic nations with powers of self-government and territorial rights.

United Nation diplomats suggest and hope that the 21st century will be characterized by increasing development of multicultural and multi-national states. Such developments would suggest progress over single culture nation states. However, many Indigenous Peoples will continue to resist even the new multicultural and multi-national state formations, because most indigenous nations in practice do not separate culture, government, land, and economy. Multi-national and multi-cultural nation states assume individual citizens will accept the rules of the secular nation state, but that is exactly what many Indigenous Peoples refuse to do entirely and continue to defend their own forms of self-government, cultures, and territories.

The absence of shared understandings of government, land, culture, institutional relations, and associated identities will ensure continued contested relations between Indigenous Peoples and nation states.


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davidche-weilee's picture
Submitted by davidche-weilee on
Dear Duane, Thank you for your explicit essay. You have made a cogent ontological statement of the differences of human rights, Indigenous rights, and civil rights, between Indigenous Peoples and non-indigenous nation-states (their citizens). Your argument is an unarguable ontology, that is, the nature of reality of Indigenous Peoples (i.e., indigenous languages, histories, territories, so forth), which already exists for millennia before any invasions, regardless of being in certain forms and at various levels. Rigorously speaking, unless the host states' governments are sincerely willing and able to understand this ontology (the nature of Indigenous reality), recognize it, and conform to government-to-government relations (e.g., treaty rights or trust relations), the goal/ideal of a peaceful symbiotic relationship will not achieve easily. In many cases, the I would argue that this ontology is a fundamental premise of ways of knowing, doing, seeing, and being when dealing with Indigenous affairs now and in the future. If we can respect indigenous ontology authentically, then the righteous axiology (i.e., the nature of ethical behavior) will come along with its healthy premise. I sincerely hope that the contemporary states' governments can really recognize and value this positive symbiotic relationship. Because a sound symbiotic relationship will promote our reciprocal knowing, mutual learning, and transforming under the condition of mutual fair and equal status. Sincerely, Che-Wei Lee