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US and Indigenous Plurinationalism

How does the U.S. stack up when measured against the movement toward Indigenous Plurinationalism? The U.S. remains in the forefront of democracy.

How does the United States stack up when measured against the recent movement toward Indigenous Plurinationalism? By all means, the United States is a liberal democracy state, with strong emphasis on political equality, market economy, and cultural integration. While many nations of the world have adopted the U.S. model, the United States remains in the forefront of democratic process and market innovation. While during the Cold War, socialist governments, like the USSR, criticized treatment of minorities and Indigenous Peoples by the U.S. government, the movements toward human rights and civil rights have made some progress over the past several decades.

Issues of racial, ethnic, class, and gender equality are widely discussed, if not fully addressed. United Nations diplomats suggest that the 21st century will lead toward greater nation state accommodation of ethnic and cultural identities within a model of shared political identities and government institutions. The U.S. liberal democratic nation state most likely will make reasonable adaptations toward achieving the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic state, while retaining fundamental principles of equality, opportunity, and market economy.

Indigenous nations around the world find, even the more culturally and ethnically nation state models, not fully agreeable with indigenous rights to culturally relevant territory and forms of self-government. The Latin American indigenous movement toward plurinational nation states addresses the absence of respect for indigenous rights presented by current liberal and less-liberal democratic nation states. The movement toward greater civil rights and diverse ethnic-cultural national identities will extend the powers of liberal nation states over indigenous nations.

In the ethnic-cultural diversity view, indigenous nations and individuals are understood as a suppressed ethnic or cultural group with potential rights to full citizenship. Indigenous nations not only are suppressed by the values and goals of the nation state, but also by the emerging ethnic-cultural-racial democratic alliance that exerts cultural-ethnic hegemony over the many diverse indigenous nations.

A more ethnically and culturally diverse nation state, certainly an improvement, does not, however, satisfy Indigenous Peoples. In the United States during the 1950s, Indigenous Peoples generally rejected termination policy, which carried the offer of assimilation and full U.S. citizenship. American Indians, generally, are willing to participate in the national U.S. government, but not at the expense of giving up indigenous rights to land, self-government, and retention of culture.

Recent court cases restrict tribal government jurisdiction over non-Indians on Indian reservations. By law and precedent, Congress has plenary powers, or ultimate decision-making power, over Indian policy. Such external and unilateral decision making powers are culturally foreign to most Indigenous Peoples, and restricts realization of indigenous goals, values, and rights.

The indigenous plurinational movement is an effort to rethink democratic governments to include indigenous rights. Plurinationalism suggests within a nation state there are numerous and diverse national communities composed of distinct cultural-ethnic orientations, which have diverse governmental institutions, diverse ways of managing land and resources, and an inherent right to form their own constitutional governments. The movement does not advocate separation from the nation state, but rather the reorganization of the nation state with recognition and inclusion of indigenous constitutional governments, territories, and cultures within the multi-national organization of the state.

Among Indigenous Peoples, culture, government, land, and community are deeply interrelated. Indigenous nations are fully capable of working cooperatively within multi-cultural and multi-national government processes. Indigenous Peoples, however, want their own rights, cultures, territories, and governments to be respected and included within the nation-state government. A plurinational national government would recognize indigenous rights and values within local forms of indigenous government. Given control over their own ways of life, Indigenous Peoples can make choices about their ways of participation in markets, national government, land and resource management, and within the multi-cultural national community.

This image shows a photograph of Miguel Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo and his daughter that was on display as part of an exhibit at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Trujillo fought in 1948 for the right of American Indians to vote in New Mexico. While Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924, many states still didn’t allow Natives to vote.