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Tribalism within the new internationalism

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Tribal communities are increasingly engaged in international issues and will play a significant part in the unfolding of any new world order. The international world has become increasingly dangerous, with many conflicts based on religion, ethnicity, political power and economic resources. All peoples of the world are affected by the world market and international politics, as well as national and local cultural and political issues. Now, for example, the conflicts in the Middle East affect the price of heating oil in North Dakota. If current international trends continue, then peoples, including tribal communities, will become more interdependent and our destinies will become more intertwined. This new world of fast travel and technology has the promise of a better life for many people. However, the conflicts of nations, ethnicities and religions, as well as conflicting economic and political interests, threaten to engulf the world in warfare and continual conflict on scales never known before.

Will the future of the world realize greater well-being for humankind, or great and continual conflict? Will political conflict and economic interests lead to the suppression of the many in favor of the few? Will conflict lead to destabilization, social and political chaos, and either to breakdown or to authoritarian stability? The German sociologist Max Weber argued that there are two central trends in history, one leading to centralized authoritarian rule, as in the case of the Roman Empire or, in more recent history, the centralized government and economic organization of the Soviet Union. Weber argues that greater freedom and democracy is available through a free market, where competition and choice foster innovation and social and economic change. In recent history, the competitive market has prevailed over bureaucratic centralized government, but the market does not seem to solve problems of stable democracy, uneven distribution of wealth, religious and national conflicts, or the overconsumption of natural resources.

Indigenous peoples are not strangers to the globalization of the world. The history of colonialism is, in one sense, the story of globalization and the extension of nation-states, market economy and non-indigenous culture over Native peoples. In the eyes of the colonists, globalization brought civilization and culture to indigenous peoples. In more contemporary terms, economists and others argue that the world is heading for a common culture called modernity. According to modernization theory, all cultures of the world will throw off their ancient customs and ways, and adopt the new ways of markets, nation-state government and civic culture. Many communities, including indigenous nations, challenged the modernization views and rejected a common culture, community and government form for all peoples. Indigenous peoples and many ethnic groups wanted to maintain significant aspects of their cultures and traditions, and wanted to incorporate their own values into institutions and solutions to market competition, government and international relations.

In the United States, the rejection of the paternalistic bureaucracy of the 1880s to 1934 and the more recent self-determination movement underscores that American Indian communities are struggling to uphold their own cultures, traditions and forms of government and carry significant aspects of their communities into the 21st century and beyond. Indigenous peoples are choosing greater self-government, continuity of culture and their own community-based approaches to the globalized market. The recent passage by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2007 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is further proof of political recognition and entry of indigenous peoples into the international arena.

Since the 1950s, if not before, American Indians have actively played a role in the political processes and government of the United States. When threatened by congressional termination policies, the National Congress of American Indians and other national organizations rallied to oppose those policies; and during the 1960s, American Indian leaders and organizations searched for and developed alternative policies that focused on greater autonomy and self-government. American Indian groups, tribes and organizations actively lobbied in Congress, pursued legal cases and provided voice for changes in policy. American Indians became active players in American political processes and are wholly participant in the U.S. civil society, the politically active groups and organizations within the nation.

Since the 1970s, American Indians and indigenous peoples around the world have protested, led U.N. conferences, gained nongovernmental organization status, helped create two international decades devoted to issues of indigenous peoples, created the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and succeeded in gaining international acceptance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples have become part of the groups and organizations that are politically active in the international arena. In other words, indigenous peoples and organizations are active players in the international civil society - the groups and organizations that are actively engaged in defining human rights and establishing international law, and which have now acknowledged indigenous rights. The power of the international civil society does not lay in the military or economic power of nation-states, but in the development of international consensus about basic rights, moral codes and law. The international civil society forms the basis of consensual community-building and international agreement.

If there is any peaceful future for the world, then the international community needs to develop rules, laws and moral bases for the actions of nations and peoples. Indigenous peoples have taken the long road to international moral consensus and recognition of indigenous rights. Without recognition of indigenous rights, no solution to a consensually based world order would be complete. Indigenous peoples chose the route to international consensual action and recognition because such a path is compatible with their own values of respecting individuals, groups, nations and cultures. The values of consensus and respect for others and differences is central to most indigenous political cultures. If the new world order is not going to break down into a series of destructive wars, it will need a strong international moral community. Indigenous cultures and political actions can play a significant role in promoting consensual international relations and building consensual relations within nation-states.