Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Nations are Governing Authorities, Not NGOs

Published: February 6, 2009, Author: MHirch

On 13 September 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Like other UN declarations adopted in the past, the UNDRIP elevated an obscure…no invisible…matter of domestic concern to the level of international concern. In the forty years it took to achieve the UNDRIP the world’s original nations rose from invisibility to the status of “non-governmental organizations” or “indigenous groups.” Sometimes estimated to comprise nearly half the world’s population, the world’s original nations have been relegated to the status of mere advocacy groups from “civil society.”

The world’s original nations have laws, cultures and governing authorities.  They are not incorporated under the authority of a state. They draw their authority from their inherent powers as distinct peoples.

The laws of nations govern human relations, institutions and relations between people and the earth on every continent. The laws of states compete with the laws of nations and it is this very fact that demands changing the way states and the world’s original nations deal with each other.  On matters as complex as territorieal security, climate change, economic trade, cultural relations, social development, and health management state and nation cooperation is essential. Instead of subordinating nations, the international community must agree to deal with nations on a plain equal to that of states’ governments.  Nations govern and states govern.

The world’s first nations are not non-governing organizations.  They are governing authorities that exercise political and policing powers over nearly 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They also govern nations that make up the bulk of about 3 billion people. Non-governmental organizations are a class of civil organization that ranks as a subordinate entity to the state. NGOs advise and advocate but cannot decide.  They cannot determine policy by political decision.  They can only attempt to influence decision-making of governing bodies. When the world’s original nations are treated as NGOs they are denied the proper role of co-equal governing entities. Such denial undermines the world’s ability to solve complex problems.  Nations must join states at the table of decision-making and not remain in the back room waving their arms. “If you are not seated at the table, you are probably on the menu,” as the saying goes.  Governing authorities must all sit at the table of global decision-making.

The time has come for the world’s first nations to elevate themselves, stop functioning as NGOs and begin acting as the governing authorities they are.  States’ governments and multi-lateral states’ bodies must deal with nations on their terms, but with full understanding that they are governing nations. When this leveling of the playing field is achieved, nations and states will be able to directly address the challenges that test human kind.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

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