I want to thank Russell Diabo for his most recent edition of the “First Nations Strategic Bulletin" and the raising of the critical issue contained in the phrase "Choosing A Path: Self Determination or Re-Colonization". Ever since the first UN/NGO conference on Indigenous nations and peoples in 1977 there has been a long simmering tension that is reflected in this phrase. It is a tension that exists between the positions taken by Indigenous nationalists and what I term "Indigenous Accommodationists" - those who are arguing with the settlers to be more accommodating to our presence and rights but want to stay within some sort of settler defined framework.
This tension has become ever more pronounced with the inclusion of Indigenous peoples from other regions. One of the defining differences is that we have treaties throughout North America where in most parts of the rest of the world there are none. Another difference arises in the fact that many so-called Indigenous peoples - particularly from Africa and Asia - come from countries that are no longer colonies or settler states such as we have in North America. That struggle is very different from ours and the origin of the issues lies in the fact that they liberated or de-colonized the colonial imposed countries that have nothing to do with the original nations in those regions. It doesn’t appear that any effort has been made to re-constitute the original nations so what exists is an Indigenous imposed re-colonization of the territory mostly to the benefit of the majority Indigenous within those colonial boundaries. Definitely a lesson we need to learn and a trap we need to avoid.
I have watched a steady eroding of the Indigenous nationalist position over the years. This erosion has been insidious because of the various ways it occurs. First, there is the representation of Indigenous nation issues by organizations and not the nations themselves. Nation voices have been methodically and systematically diminished by the actions of organizations and individuals purporting to be acting on behalf of nations.
The second, and even more insidious erosion, has been political correctness. "Unity" and "solidarity" have become the saboteurs of Indigenous nationalism because all too often nationalist are having to give up key positions and principles for the sake of unity and/or solidarity with non-nationalists. The tyranny of "being united" or "showing a common front" has cost the efforts of nationalists dearly. Precious time has been lost hammering out accommodations and concessions with the non-nationalists that ultimately do not advance a nationalist agenda or the liberation of our nations.
“Liberation” is a very scary word for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. For Indigenous folks who still harbor deep seated fears of the settlers the word invokes images of being at war, or some form of violent repression by the settlers.
For non-Indigenous it’s a word that reminds them that their presence in and occupation of our territories and homelands is still at question. To try and safeguard themselves from Indigenous efforts at re-establishing our nations they have fought for and gotten such terminology as found in Article 46 1. of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.”
There are some important UN reports on self-determination and its relationship to the issues and rights of Indigenous nations and peoples. In his 2013 report to the UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur Alfred-Maurice de Zayas made the following observations: “In its essence, the right of self-determination means that individuals and peoples should be in control of their destinies and should be able to live out their identities, whether within the boundaries of existing States or through independence… Although territorial integrity is a reasonable principle of international stability, it is not an immutable norm of international relations and must be balanced against other principles, including human rights and self-determination, which are also conditions for international stability.”
These issues had been raised as early as 1980 as found in the report by Special Rapporteur Hector Gros Espiell in which he states: “The Special Rapporteur refers to this specific subject of secession in another part of his study (see para. 90). Despite their variations, these replies reveal a common view which the Special Rapporteur shares: that “colonial and alien domination” means any kind of domination, whatever form it may take, which the people concerned freely regards as such. It entails denial of the right to self-determination, to a people possessing that right, by an external, alien source. Conversely, colonial and alien domination does not exist where a people lives freely and voluntarily under the legal order of a State, whose territorial integrity must he respected, provided it is real and not merely a legal fiction...”
Both Canada and the U.S. have made moves to diminish the international concept of self-determination in its application to Indigenous nations and peoples. And they have fought against its application to our issues since 1977.
We've reached a point where we need to choose a path, and be clear about the choice we make. We've been shown this in our prophecies and teachings such as those shared by the Hopi or the Haudenosaunee Two Row Wampum. This needs to be sorted out in North America where the tension is most pronounced. If one wants to continue to beseech the settlers and the international system to be more accommodating of the presence of Indigenous peoples, fine. But those who choose that path need not stand in the way of those who choose a national liberation path, or require the setting aside of the national liberation agenda for the sake of a short term unity that is untenable over the long term.
When this world was created each of our nations and peoples were placed exactly where they were intended to be. With this placement came our rights and responsibilities regarding our relations to all other Life and that part of our Mother we are born from. This is the basis of our inherent rights and sovereignty. And no other human has the right to try and extinguish our existence or our rights which flow from the fact of our creation.
Mike Myers is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures, a Native non-profit that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations internationally. The network's mission is to support sustainable development and nation re-building through providing of technical assistance, training and consulting.