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Identity and Theory

As in the past, contemporary Native Americans, and national policy makers, need to understand and project the current and future conditions of Native Americans in ways that reflect indigenous values, communities, and institutional relations.

Social theories provide a vision of the world about present conditions and possibilities for the future. Every nation or culture has a vision of social and cultural being, as well as a sense of becoming. Where is the community and the culture heading?

In the old days the vision of the present and future was often given in the creation and moral teachings of the community. In indigenous communities, often those visions emphasized the need for greater moral order, and for greater emphasis on spiritual balance among human nations and the rest of the powers and beings in the cosmic order. Sustaining balance through upholding moral and spiritual order were central themes. Humans struggled to maintain and uphold, improve moral and spiritual balances, since it was the best method for preserving the cultural and physical continuity of the community.

In some worldviews, the history of the world is marked by human efforts to maintain and obtain greater individual and national moral community. The breaking of spiritual law and moral order threatened the future of the community, and often the balance and continuity of the cosmic order. Failure to learn and develop stronger moral relations, in some worldviews, led to destruction of the world, and the formation of new world orders, where any surviving peoples engaged again in the individual and national quest to develop stronger moral relations within the nation and within the cosmic order.

Social theories reflect the fundamental values of a group. A vision of the current organization of the world, its strengths and weaknesses, and the ideal future community are often inherent within the assumptions of a social theory. Often social theories are weapons used to critique the present world and propose alternatives. The theories one chooses, the understanding or conceptualization of the world taken, and processes toward future well-being or community continuity, are critical issues.

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Many theories of marginalization are sympathetic and humanistic, and emphasize injustices perpetrated on Indigenous Peoples. Such theories, however, while focusing on significant economic and political relations, do not conceptualize the thousands of distinct indigenous communities and governments as more than poor and disenfranchised individuals.

In these worldviews, Indigenous Peoples have a future similar to Western working class, which at best suggests greater inclusion of Indigenous Peoples into nation states with greater economic opportunities, citizenship, and civil-human rights. Such theories, however, do not envision an indigenous future, and often assume that an indigenous future is not possible within the trends of developing nation states or economic expansion. Many contemporary theories of injustice emphasize achievement of equal economic and political opportunities, but not rights to self-government, territory, or cultural continuity.

Any theory of indigenous societies and futures must contain a pathway to and vision of the future welling being of Indigenous Peoples and communities. Theories of multi-generational trauma help us understand the social distress found in many indigenous communities, but do not provide a pathway to future healthy indigenous communities. Similarly, anti-colonial theories focus on individual and community efforts at decolonization, but do not put primary focus on indigenous visions of community or describe pathways to the future.

As in the past, contemporary Indigenous Peoples, and national policy makers, need to understand and project the current and future conditions of Indigenous Peoples in ways that reflect indigenous values, communities, and institutional relations. Theories of colonial critique that do not develop or include pathways for the continuity of indigenous communities and cultures, do not serve the interests or values of Indigenous Peoples.

If present-day Western social theories do not include or reflect indigenous views, values, or interests, then Indigenous Peoples should follow their forebears and uphold and create their own understandings and visions of contemporary and future community.