Photo by Alex Hamer
The Hiawatha Belt (lower) and the Two Row Belt (top). Treaties and agreements of friendship were made among Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years before the formation of current nation states. Treaties of friendship required respectful relations, mutual agreements, responsibility, understanding, and predictable future conduct.

Rules of Government: Indigenous Peoples and Nation States Disagree

Duane Champagne
12/5/15

Indigenous Peoples want contemporary nation states to be organized along principles that make sense to them under indigenous rules of political process. The cultural incongruity of political organization and political process between indigenous nations and nation states continues to be a troubling point. Indigenous Peoples have respect for many different cultures, worldviews, and rules of political organization and pass these views and expectations onto the organization of nation states.

During treaty negotiations, Indigenous Peoples expected certain kinds of actions and respect from nation states like the United States and Canada. Treaties and agreements of friendship were made among Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years before the formation of current nation states. Treaties of friendship required respectful relations, mutual agreements, responsibility, understanding, and predictable future conduct. Relations built on trust were central to indigenous political and treaty agreements. Treaties of peace and friendship can be seen as extensions of kinship relations to other nations. By extending kinship ties of mutual respect, sharing, and respectful conduct, treaty agreements were the basis of future conduct, reciprocity, and respect between nations.

When the expression “brother” was used in indigenous political negotiations, the political nations were considered equal, and agreements were analogous to those held between brothers in a kinship group. The expression of brother often extended beyond direct biological brothers, but was an expression of care, responsibility, and respect between family members, clan members, or more broadly kin. The expression of “father” in treaty negotiations required commitments of obligation, responsibility and well-being of the father for his children. Many indigenous nations are matrilineal, and fathers are loved, but are not disciplinarians for their blood children. The European expression for father reflected their own patrilineal kinship system, and the father was disciplinarian and holder of power and responsibility for well-being. Either way, the father had the responsibility of providing for the well being of their children.

Indigenous Peoples also extended expressions of nation and kinship to all beings in their cosmological understandings of the universe. Nations of beings, including human nations, were all interconnected and were relatives within the give and take of the cosmological order and purpose. Contemporary modern nation states are built on different theories and cosmologies. To a large extent, treaties were real estate agreements. Trust responsibility was reduced to holding land under federal protection. Treaties outlined the transfer of goods, services, and money to Indian nations, but were seen by the nation state in a largely contractual basis.

In recent years, diplomats at the United Nations are supporting the future development of culturally pluralist nation states. The recognition of different cultures within democratic nation states would go a long way to ameliorate cultural conflict. The expectation of this position is that nation states will become more cultural plural and democratized when capable of incorporating the rights and views of the multiple cultures present in most contemporary nation states. Indigenous Peoples also call for more cultural plural nation states through their actions and political discussions.

Indigenous Peoples prefer their own political organization and consensus political processes. The Andrés Accords from 1996 suggested that: “The various levels of government and state institutions will not intervene unilaterally in the affairs and decisions of the indigenous towns and communities, in their organizational forms of representation, and in their current strategies for the use of resources.”

RELATED: Lessons From the Andrés Accords

In the contemporary world, both indigenous and nation-states prefer a more culturally democratized form of government. Nation states invite indigenous nations to uphold their cultures within the political processes of the nation state. Indigenous Peoples, however, continue to insist that government and political processes rely upon negotiated agreement, and consent from Indigenous communities. An indigenous pluralist nation state is one built on mutual respect, for differences not only in culture, but also community, economic strategies, kinship, and for negotiated consensus decision making that provides political incorporation and power to decentralized communities. Indigenous Peoples and nation states continue to disagree on the fundamental rules of government.

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