AP Photo/Juan Karita
In this January 21, 2016, photo, an Aymara man holding a Wiphala flag is silhouetted against an early morning sky as he waits for the arrival of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales to take part in an Andean ritual honoring the 10 years Morales has served as leader of the South American country, at the archaeological site Tiwanaku, Bolivia. Morales elevated the status of the multi-colored flag that represents the people of the Andes, making it the co-official flag of Bolivia.

UNDRIP and Plurinationalism Can Accommodate Indigenous Political Needs

Duane Champagne

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) provides a framework for Indigenous Peoples to form local governments and cooperate with national political organization and institutions. The method outlined in UNDRIP suggests that nation states provide to Indigenous Peoples assurances of full citizenship and the right to organize local governments within the constitutional framework of the nation state. This model, unfortunately to a large extent, is a replay of the municipal government form that originates in Spain, and was used to incorporate Indigenous Peoples into the political government of the Spanish empire.

Many contemporary Latin and Central American countries, at best, offer a similar municipal form of indigenous political self-government. Indigenous Peoples most likely will not see the realization of indigenous government, land and culture within a modernized colonial political order designed for incorporation and assimilation, if not continued political domination. Municipal governments are subject to regional and federal government. Federal and departmental (or state) law will prevail over local municipal law. Therefore local indigenous law will be subject to state and federal political decision-making, bureaucratic management, and legal court decisions. Land is within the powers of the state. Indigenous Peoples are not recognized to have aboriginal title, and require a grant from the nation state, or some prior colonial entity.

In the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, Indigenous Peoples have trust lands based on treaties. The land is not considered within the predominant control of Indigenous peoples. Land accrues to nation states by colonial rights of discovery, leaving the Indigenous Peoples without say in the matter of land ownership or control over minerals rights. For many nations, UNDRIP does not give direction for new ways of implementing, just ways of administering and protecting indigenous land and resources. UNDRIP, in many ways, preserves the existing political, legal, and territorial relations between Indigenous Peoples and nation states.

The saving grace as well as a downfall of UNDRIP is that nation states are left to make their own decisions about addressing indigenous rights. The model of equality and inclusive citizenship fits most contemporary models of democratic government, but at the same time democratic nation states deprive Indigenous Peoples of the right to maintain traditional ways of self-government, and engage in culturally informed development and land management. One might think that UNDRIP’s open door for nation states to develop more accommodating ways of addressing and preserving indigenous rights results in innovative change. However, nation states most likely will move slowly or not at all to accommodate indigenous rights to land, self-government and culture that run counter to democratic nation state fundamental values of equality, cultural consensus, and shared political and economic institutions.

Plurinationalism can be step toward accommodating indigenous political and territorial needs. The movement toward plurinational government arises from Andean Indigenous Peoples in both Ecuador and Bolivia. Plurinational constitutions have the advantage of recognizing multiple worldviews, many indigenous forms of government and economy, and greater legal power over collective land. A plurinational constitutional order recognizes many peoples and constitutional-cultural orders. Nevertheles, all the constitutional governments must live under one overall agreed upon constitutional government. Most likely then, within a plurinational constitutional nation state, Indigenous Peoples can form a constitutional government according to their traditions and interests, while giving their consent to shared law and constraints within the supra-national covering constitution.

Most indigenous people recognize it is not possible to live in isolation from nation states and the rest of the world, and will agree to national constraints, but want the power to give their consent and approach the world from within their own cultural and political interests. Indigenous Peoples are not separatists or isolationists, but rather want to preserve self-government, land, and cultural orientations, while engaging in a nation and world of mutual respect, consent, and cooperation. 

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