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Self-government, Nations and States

Published: August 31, 2007, Author: MHirch

There has been a revolution in the Fourth World, of sorts, underway for the better portion of the last twenty-five years: Self-governing nations recognized by individual states’ governments and even in the international community.

This last Spring the Catalan’s–more than six million strong–claimed and received Spanish governmental recognition of their status as a nation. The significance of this status is that a state like Spain was not claiming nation status for itself, but rather recognizing such a status of a separate polity in Spain while Spain claims the status of a state. The Catalan nation exercises extensive self-governing powers (taxation, limited foreign affairs, control over police and the courts regulation of civil and criminal affairs, administration of infrastructure, etc.) won for itself in the last twenty-seven years since the death of Dictator Francisco Franco. The Catalan nation is a superb example of a nation working in relation to a state according to the European Union’s principle of subsidiarty.

Seven years ago the Palestinians formed a government that to this day exercises most powers of self-government, functions as an observer at the United Nations and enjoys the recognition of many states and nations in the world including those in Europe, the United States, Russia and China. While it is true that there are many unresolved issues concerning the stability of this government, the fact remains that the Palestinian nations has a government of its own making. The Palestinian nation is not a recognized state, but they have all of the powers of a recognized nation.

There are still many other Fourth World nations in the world exercising different degrees of self-government not derived from a state, but originating as inherent to their political identity as a nation. Among the nations striving for full nation status and recognized self-governing authority are the Tamil, Karen, Naga, Chechen, Tibetans, Uygurs and Manchurians in China, the thirteen nations that are the original occupants of Taiwan including the Atayal, Paiwan, Ami, Bunun, Tsou and the Saisiyats. The nations of Taiwan are seeking now to negotiate self-governing status with the Taiwan-Republic of China government originally formed in the 1940s when Han Chinese set up operations among the Taiwanese Fourth World nations. Land and natural resources are the central issues of debate between the Taiwan (ROC) government and Taiwan’s original nations that occupy most of the territory.

During the last 15 years the First Nations of western Canada have been engaged in a tug-of-war with the Canadians over the negotiation of permanent self-government treaties. Most such negotiations remain stalled in large measure due to a difference in viewpoint. The Canadians, without historical or legal foundation, claim the very lands on which nations like the Nuxalk, Kitimat, and Wuikinuxv have long maintained their original presence in their own territories. The Canadian government wants to insist that these nations become secondary beneficiaries from their own lands and resources while Canada takes these lands and resources as its own. Needless to say, the First nations reject this loopy thinking. “How,” they ask “can a state like Canada that only legally came into being in April of 1982 have ownership of lands on which nations have resided for thousands of years?” Canada can’t, and that is why the negotiations for a self-government arrangement between First Nations and Canada have stalled. When Canada comes to its senses and recognizes that it is the new boy on the block it will seriously negotiate treaties that recognize the prime and paramount rights of First Nations to their own lands and to their own laws and governing authority these treaties will be possible to negotiate fairly. These nations will have true self-government…not merely a fiction created by Canada.

On Tuesday 25 August this week, the Igbo, Igaw, Ogoni, Igbibo and other peoples announced their decision to form a provisional government of the Republic of Biafra. The 40 million citizens of Biafra–southeast of Nigeria astride the river delta including the city of Port Harcourt. The new provisional government includes representation from all of the key leaders and organizations making it a strong consensus government. Announced at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. by Provisional President Dr. Emmanuel Enekwechi the Provisional government of the Republic of Biafra establishes a bicameral legislative system, independent judiciary and a civilian executive branch. With a new government in Nigeria the opportunity now exists for a non-violent political transformation of a region of Nigeria into a recognize Biafran nations exercising the powers of self-government. These powers eminate from the inherent powers of the Biafran peoples and not the Nigerian government. This is an opportunity that Nigeria and the Biafran must now wrap their arms around. Here we have another example of a Fourth World nation moving to govern itself. The state of Nigeria may attempt to prevent the impulse of self-government, but as the last 39 years since the war between Nigeria and Biafra demonstrate…the desire to be free and govern oneself does not disappear–it remains a bedrock reality for the people of Biafra.

More than three hundred nations in the United States began negotiating with the US government in 1991 bi-lateral Compacts on Self-Government. These Compacts have been operating under the separately recognized sovereignties–each nation and the state of the United States of America. After generations of attempts by the United States government to “get out of the business of Indian Affairs” Indian nations took the initiative to force negotiations of Self-government Compacts on a “government-to-government” basis thus attempting to fulfill the reasonable argument offered by the American Jurist Felix S. Cohen in the Handbook of Federal Indian Law: Indian self-government is the only alternative to rule by a government dept and administrative oppression. The decided cases hold that Indian self-government includes the power of an Indian tribe to adopt and operate under a form of government of the Indians’ choosing, to define conditions of membership, to regulate domestic relations of members, to prescribe rules of inheritance, to levy taxes, to regulate property within the jurisdiction of the tribe, to control the conduct of member by municipal legislation, and to administer justice.” for more than fifteen years, these nations have begun to evolve new self-governing institutions though they labor under antiquated bureaucratic structures introduced into each nation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs–the “government dept and administrative oppression” referred to by Mr. Cohen. Some nation’s governments are so choked by bureaucracy there is sometimes a sense that the nation’s government is merely an extension of the US government.

The Miskito, Sumo and Rama fought a war from 1981 to 1990 to win control over their territory and their inherent powers of self-government. The Maya of Chiapas in Mexico and Guatemala (1994–) have also fought a war that continues to secure control over their territory and their powers of self-government. The Maori of New Zealand and the Mapuche of Chile are also among those Fourth World nations pressing to exercise their inherent powers of self-government.

The question of Fourth World nations exercising governmental powers derived from their own people and the power to use and dispose their own land and resources for the health and benefit of their people is central to international law going before the United Nations General Assembly in the Fall of 2007. (The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples I have noted in an earlier essay is facing serious obstacles by the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia and other states fearful of Fourth World nations exercising self-determination) This question is also central to virtually every regional and subregional conflict between Fourth World nations and states’ governments throughout the world.

The self-government revolution is well underway shaking some states’ governments while others see an opportunity to build a collaboration between Fourth World, self-governing nations and self-governing states. The persistence of bedrock nations to secure their powers of government and their territories does not appear to be slowing, but rather speeding up.

(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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