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Original Peoples

Published: August 8, 2008, Author: JayTaber

The Indigenous Movement is a term used to describe original peoples whose culture is still extant, that continue to perceive themselves as a distinct nation or tribe in opposition to the dominant structures and narratives of state-centric and market-oriented systems of social organization. One characteristic these ancient political entities share are systems of governance, cosmology, and economics that precede modern states, religions, and other such institutions.

At the 1999 UN Development Programme workshop on indigenous peoples, Fourth World participants observed that as long as Western society doesn’t understand their need to protect the environment from capital interests still exploiting their natural resources, no resolution on development is possible. To illustrate their common philosophy, indigenous representatives from around the world made presentations highlighting indigenous peoples’ spirituality and the special relationship that exists between spirituality and the environment—the spirituality that makes indigenous peoples particular as a group.

The sacredness natural resources hold in their communities and the constant threat by government sponsored economic interests, they noted, is what motivated the indigenous movement to work in partnership with the UNDP, explaining to the international institution how to own things collectively, “because it is the owning and the becoming rich that has been destroying the earth for the last few hundred years.”

With the resurgence of indigenous leadership in North and South America in recent years, the critical mass of the world’s unrepresented ancient nations and original peoples is finally beginning to dismantle the 500-year-old wall of denial. And despite all the distortion and deception mustered by modern states like Russia, China, and the US, the authentic message of peoples close to nature is getting through. That message — that they, as the ancient seed of later migrations, are the proprietors of a natural consciousness vital to the survival of mankind, and perhaps more importantly, are ready to share this knowledge with anyone willing to treat them with respect — comes none too soon.

As we witness the collapse of the planetary ecosystem and the breakdown of modern states built on foundations of aggression, this act of generosity by the Fourth World is one we would be wise to accept. But whether or not we enter into this new relationship with the world’s 7,000 surviving aboriginal societies, depends largely on our willingness to listen attentively to their stories and to learn to navigate the sacred dimensions of human relationships summarized by author Jamake Highwater as follows: “Freedom is not the right to express yourself, but the far more fundamental right to be yourself…The abiding principle of tribalism is the vision of both nature and a society which provides a place for absolutely everything and everyone.”

For the Maori, Saami, Bushmen and Basques, the World Indigenous Movement — catalyzed thirty years ago by First Nations in British Columbia — is now gaining recognition in international fora like the EU, UN, and International Criminal Court; how we respond to this moral challenge will determine whether our future is one of rapprochement and coexistence, or one of violence and misery.

The World Indigenous Movement is now fighting what Fourth World nations perceive as the final battles to protect their lands, knowledge, and ways of life from total annihilation. All the world’s natural resources, governing institutions, and economic structures are involved in this conflict. Absent satisfactory resolution of this fundamental disagreement, no modern societies will long be able to meet their basic needs in terms of mobility, energy, security, food, or water.

(Jay Taber — recipient of the Defender of Democracy award — is an author, columnist, and research analyst at Public Good Project.)

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.

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