Evan Vucci/AP Images
Brayden White of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, right, and Tatiana Ticknor of the Yup’ik/Tlingit/Dena’ina listen as President Barack Obama speaks during the 2015 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

Plural Ethnicity or Plural Indigeneity?

Duane Champagne

A central challenge in nation-states is how to address multiplicities, cultures, and indigeneity and simultaneously preserve equality and equal opportunity. Modernism, following the Western and Protestant traditions, see the institutional world created by agreement among a community of free individuals who are trying to realize their interests and cultures. In modernist view, the agreement of traditions is left to the side, in favor of creating rational, efficient, equal, and productive opportunities.

The goal is to create greater and equal opportunity, and assumes that all players are socially and culturally in agreement to the basic rules. The interests and cultural orientations of free choosing individuals, however, cannot be too far apart. It is assumed that there is common understanding about the rules of the game of institutional relations. If some groups decide to go in a different way then there is little basis for agreement, and the institutional success is limited.

A country that has internal consensus and agreement may have competitive political and economic advantages over those nations that do not. Modernizing nation states are many, but there are few nations that form of agreement suggested by modernists. The United States, with its Protestant institutions and traditions, is culturally compatible with other countries that give lip service to democracy and equal opportunity. The leading economic role of the United States is in part owing to its cultural and institutional support for a market economy.

A problem with such an optimistic view is that most nations of the world are not ethnically or cultural homogeneous, and hence obtaining institutional and cultural agreements is difficult. Modernizing nation states need to find ways to include diversity into their government’s policies while at the same time accommodating their interests and cultural objectives to obtain and remain economically and politically competitive. Most solutions to including diversity, however, do not bend the basic cultural and institutional rules and incentives that have generated national political and economic productivity.

One solution to achieving accommodation for diversity and modernizing tradition is to accept greater diversity in cultural activities and identity, somewhat like tolerating a new Christian denomination, as long as the members agree to the fundamental economic and political rules. The inclusion of greater diversity requires separation and compartmentalization of culture, identity, and ethnicity from political and economic opportunities. Culture is seen as a personal choice, rather then as a collective choice. Many ethnic and migrant groups have accepted such positions, which can preserve economic opportunity, civil rights, as well as cultural identities.

When groups, like many Indigenous Peoples, do not share the modernist worldview, and have strong attachments to traditions and ways of life that are holistically different than the mainstream modernist view, what then is possible? Strong differences in institutional and cultural ways, is often not grounds for agreement or cooperation. Yet, both modernists and Indigenous Peoples want cooperation and agreement, and both find it in different ways within their internal relations. The plurinational position, where Indigenous Peoples have separate constitutions, does not satisfy the condition of predominance of a single constitution order within a modernizing state.

Plural national solutions suggest that indigenous nations should have the right to create their own constitutions that reflect their interests, values, and worldviews. Indigenous Peoples want to accommodate the inclusion, equality, and cooperation with nation states through patterns that preserve indigenous rights to land, culture, and self-government. Multiple constitutions within a single nation state would be difficult to entertain in most instances, although many nations states are only artificially held together with force or shaky agreements. Even the European Union suffers from cultural and national diversity issues that inhibit political and economic unity.

Finding pathways to agreeable economic, political and cultural grounds within nation states is a central issue of future political, economic and cultural stability and well-being. Indigenous and modernizing nations will need to search for new ways of accommodating cooperative ways of self-government, market competitiveness, and cultural autonomy.

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Sammy7's picture
Submitted by Sammy7 on
Very interesting writing Duane, thank you. The thoughts that I put forward are those from the study of change in the broad area of Future Studies. Historically, the Nations with the most diversity have the shortest lives. Not just coping, but thriving in modern hyper culture, requires “decentralized” thinking and structures. By lowering the barriers to communication in all directions, up, down, and sideways, the intellectual talent pool available provides the greatest potential for making order out of chaos, and doing so in the shortest time period. An overall governing structure, the broad brushstroke model, must contain values that successfully accommodate the diverse cultures of which it is made. Developing and modeling that broad value structure and further modifying it over time, may lead to rich and diverse outcome. Now “centralization” of power becomes the enemy because of its top down structure. In other words, racial or ethnic supremacy must be avoided. Narrow economic supremacy too is the enemy, as is cultural and religious supremacy. Centralization and extremism must be managed to avoid imbalance. Cooperation and consensus must be strongly encouraged. Unfortunately Peoples’ seem unwilling to make the necessary changes for the greater good. So I expect that we Peoples’ will most likely be called upon to walk through the "cauldron" to mold a better future. I’m not sure what form the cauldron will take but I do sense its nearing presence. If we are lucky that cauldron will appear before the Sixth Extinction Event.

turbojesus's picture
Submitted by turbojesus on
We don't need a legal constitution because we're held together by a physical constitution. Blood is thicker than water, and this land with our blood was bought.