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Indigenous Plurinationalism Requires Respect, Understanding

What Indigenous Peoples are seeking in terms of self-governance is more like plurinationalism than the assimilationist blueprints offered by UNDRIP.

What Indigenous Peoples are seeking in terms of self-governance is more akin to plurinationalism than the assimilationist blueprints given by most nation states and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Plurinationalism enables people to form their own constitutions with laws, government, territory, and cultural life that is congruent with their history. Plurinationalism does not require secession from nation states, but rather greater respect, understanding, and empowerment of sub-national groupings.

Indigenous nations find their position within nation states often at odds over territory, resource ownership, justice, culture, and political government. Most Indigenous Peoples don’t want to secede from their host nation state, but at the same time they still want to enjoy and express their own nationality in everyday and political life. The plurinational position is similar to the indigenous position that recognizes that the world, if made up of many different political and cultural peoples, each of which may have a different, often sacred, task to do in the world. Indigenous people long had respected the cultures and governments of other nations, and would like to live in a world where their own cultures, governments and territories would be recognized and respected by nation states.

Plurinational nation states would enable indigenous people to own land, write their own constitutions, manage justice, and empower cultural diversity. In a plurinational nation state there would be multiple self-contained constitutional entities, which would have local jurisdiction, but also be subject to a covering national constitution. Ecuador and Bolivia, influenced by indigenous Andean nations have formed plurinational nation states to better acknowledge and empower indigenous nations.

In a plurinational nation state, land would be legally owned by indigenous governments rather than held in trust or usufruct as it is now held in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The legal argument that Indigenous Peoples do not own land because of the doctrine of discovery is one of the most difficult issues for Indigenous Peoples around the world. Indigenous people often find that they cannot proceed with economic exploitation of natural resources, because nation states make the decisions to buy and sell resources on indigenous territories. The lack of ownership of and by Indigenous Peoples creates the right to consultation, but not the right to denial.

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Indigenous Peoples want to maintain land for long-term sustainability, but are not opposed to development or resource extraction if it is done ecologically soundly and the Indigenous Peoples are fairly benefited. Ownership of the land empowers Indigenous Peoples to make resource agreements directly with governments and corporations. Ownership also enables Indigenous Peoples to directly protect their land, and rightfully gain profits that will enable future social, cultural and economic investments. The absence of land ownership has by itself caused extreme marginalization to Indigenous Peoples for centuries.

The UNDRIP does not provide Indigenous Peoples with self-government or land ownership, and hence does not solve the most basic demands and needs of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP ultimately hands the decisions about indigenous issues back to nation states, who are expected to act morally but according to their own national interests. A plurinational model is one pathway to providing support, respect, and recognition for Indigenous Peoples within a nation state. However, very few nation states have considered or adopted a plurinational framework, and those that have have been influenced by indigenous movements. UNDRIP offers the right to form local government, a municipality, within a federal and departmental legal and political order. Such an arrangement subjects Indigenous Peoples to the laws and power of the nation states, and is, if not directly meant to be, a form of political and cultural assimilation. The plurinational position, originated to a certain extent by indigenous nations themselves, offers more local power in a constitution, and enables relations and cooperation with a national government that can respect and support the indigenous constitutional rights of many specific Indigenous Peoples.