Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Re-founding Nation-states

Published: March 4, 2008, Author: JayTaber

There are other indigenous movements that do not demand autonomies but the re-founding of nation-states based on indigenous cultures. This is the tendency most apparent in the various movements in the Andean region of the continent, especially among the Aymara in Bolivia.

With the decision to build autonomies, indigenous peoples seek to disperse power in order to achieve its direct exercise by the indigenous communities that demand it. It is a sort of decentralization that has nothing to do with that pushed by the government with the support of international institutions, which actually endeavors to enhance government control over society. The decentralization we are talking about, the one that indigenous peoples and communities advancing toward autonomy are showing us, includes the creation of paralegal forms to exercise power that are different from government entities, where communities can strengthen themselves and make their own decisions.

When indigenous peoples decide to build autonomies, they have made a decision that goes against state policies and forces those who choose that path to begin political processes to build networks of power capable of withstanding state attack, counter-powers that will allow them to establish themselves as a force with which governance must be negotiated, and alternative powers that will oblige the state to take them into account. In other words, indigenous communities must become political subjects with capacity and desire to fight for their collective rights, must understand the social, economic, political, and cultural reality in which they are immersed, as well as the various factors that contribute to their subordination and those that can be used to transcend that situation in such a way that they can take a position on their actions.

Indigenous peoples, by appealing to their culture and identifying practices in order to mobilize in defense of their rights, are questioning vertical political forms even as they offer horizontal forms that work for them, because they have tested them over centuries of resistance to colonialism. These are practices that come into play precisely at a moment when traditional organizations of political parties, syndicates, or others that are class-based and representative, are entering into a crisis, and society no longer sees itself reflected in them.

Therefore, we must celebrate that many indigenous peoples and communities have decided not to wait passively for changes to come from the outside and have enlisted in the construction of autonomous governments, unleashing processes where they test new forms of understanding rights, imagine other ways to exercise power, and create other types of citizenships.

Building Autonomies by Francisco López Bárcenas

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

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