Cliff Matias
Veteran Bert Waters is seen here during Grand Entry at the 2015 Shinnecock Pow Wow.

Respecting All Nations and Sustaining Cultures

Duane Champagne

Indigenous Peoples don’t resist they persist. Indigenous nations seek to preserve land, self-government, cultural community, and identity. There is no one pattern, and indigenous nations recognize that all nations are different culturally, socially and spiritually. An Indigenous worldview understands that human nations, as well as animal and plant nations, are autonomous and inherently different.

The task of human action is not to make everything the same, but to appreciate the differences and to respect the ways of all nations. While indigenous nations may be at war or in conflict with each other, usually those actions are not about who has the right form of government, or the best or most appropriate economy, religion or spiritual beliefs.

The differences between nations are inherent, and often given in creation teaching. Each nation has a task, given by the Creator. Each individual within an indigenous nation has a spiritual path that is often unique and given through spiritual communication. Women have coming of age ceremonies, and men have vision quests and coming of age ceremonies where individuals seek their life calling. Nations and individuals are respected because each has a purpose in the universe, and it is not within the power of any nation or government to superimpose its will on another nation or individual. Adult individuals have the right to political participation in indigenous nations, they have the right to be heard and respected for their points of view.

Indigenous nations respect the cultural and spiritual differences of other nations. The differences are all part of the Creator’s plan for the universe. The nations of the world, human and otherwise, are the actors of this plan, often called the Great Spirit. The plan of indigenous nations is not to convert others to their spiritual beliefs and political systems, but rather to carry out the plans and purposes of their own communities. The world that traditional Indians would want to live in is one where nations, human and otherwise, respect each other and work in mutually beneficial spiritual, political, and economic relations.

In colonial contexts, indigenous nations are considered outside of nation-state political and cultural relations. The plan of most nations states is to transform indigenous individuals and nations into citizens, with equal rights with other national citizens. This transition has not been easy or fast, in part because of the holistic internal spiritual, political, economic, and social interrelations of indigenous nations. The spiritual beliefs that indigenous nations have specific tasks to carry out also supports the continuity of indigenous nations, despite the history of marginalization, loss of land, and nation-state actions to dismantle indigenous governments and communities.  Current colonial arguments say that Indigenous Peoples are politically and economically marginalized and they should ally with marginalized groups: women, racial and ethnic minorities, submerged nations, poor people and other disenfranchised groups.

While indigenous nations share many of the disadvantages of other marginalized groups in contemporary nation states, Indigenous Peoples are predisposed toward working with nation states, yet at the same time upholding their own often ignored rights to land, self-government, and cultural choice. Indigenous nations want to have respectful and reciprocal relations with governments and all other human and non-human nations. The colonial context can be defined as one where nation states do not respect or support indigenous self-government, cultural choices, and access to land. A pathway to a more harmonious future is for nation states to understand Indigenous Peoples better, respect and support their ways, and to work with them cooperatively. Colonial disrespect of indigenous cultures has not deterred Indigenous Peoples from their commitments to preserving their self-governance, cultures, and communities. Indigenous Peoples will persist in their ways, while seeking respect and reciprocity with nation states and international institutions.

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