My colleague Heidi Bruce writes in “Paved with Bad Intentions” a piece recounting the Ñatho (Otomî) efforts to stop construction of the Toluca-Naucalpan Super Highway by the Mexican government, “lasting change that honors the government-to-government relationship Indigenous nations deserve to have with states’ governments, will only come when states and nations sit at the same negotiating table–both as active participants.” Meeting with Council members in the Ñatho comunidad of San Francisco Xochicuatla she encouragingly called attention to a practical reality the Fourth World nations throughout the world must recognize is true for them, “The majority of the world’s current conflicts are not actually between states’ governments. Rather they are between nations and the states that surround them. It is this reality that provides Indigenous nations with a great deal more political leverage than they assume.”
This “reality” is not only demonstrated by the experience of Xochicuatla, but also the Shan in Northern Burma where the state is wielding a heavy military hammer against the Shan nation that does not wish to be part of Burma. The battles involve one indigenous nations using the power of the state to dominate and control other nations such as the Shan and Karen. You can read a more detailed discussion of about violence against Indigenous nations in Burma here. Burma is one of scores of states engaged in violence (cold wars, warm wars and hot wars) against Fourth World nations. High way construction at Xochicuatla, Canada’s gas pipeline through Saik’uz First Nation and other first nation territories, Indonesia’s mining in Freeport contaminating Papuan lands and peoples are all examples of “development violence” against Fourth World nations.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNDRIP) (made up of sixteen members (8) selected indigenous nominated and (8) states’ government nominated) sits as an advisory body to the UN Economic and Social Council. Dalee Sambo-Dorough, an attorney and Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Alaska (USA) and Megan Davis, an attorney and Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law Centre, University of New South Wales (AUS) penned a study on the possible development of an optional protocol [here Eng] [here [ES] or [here AR] to establish a UNDRIP monitoring mechanism and system for indigenous peoples’ claims against states governments. The June 2013 Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference (organized to offer theme and topic recommendations to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples) issued its outcome document (Alta Document [Eng]) (Alta Document [Span]). The GIPC called for establish a monitoring mechanism to evaluate how states are doing to implement the UNDRIP. Virtually all of the UNDRIP emphasis, that of the GIPC, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and organized indigenous peoples’ advocates focus their attention on “What can the UN do?” and “How to ensure that the human rights of indigenous peoples will be achieved.” The UNDRIP is described by states governments such as the US, Australia, Canada, Russia, South Africa and others, somewhat derisively, as merely a human rights document that does not have the force of law. The human rights focus of “indigenous rights” initiatives would seem to be misplaced given the enormous violence being done to indigenous peoples, their lands and their way of life. Merely pushing for the UN to monitor states indigenous peoples advocates may well take Heidi Bruce’s advice and organize “a great deal more political leverage” than has been mustered by non-governmental organizations and a few interested Fourth World government leaders.
Given the actual circumstances of “development violence” as well as military violence against Fourth World nations it seems appropriate that Fourth World nation leaders and activist advocates for indigenous peoples get more realistic and recognize that there is a major conflict between the interests of Fourth World nations and UN member states. And, I would suggest further, merely offering “recommendations” to a United Nations system that cannot enforce declarations, conventions and treaties that purport to advance human rights will not achieve the more serious political objectives suggested by the Alta Conference outcome document and scores of declarations offered by Fourth World conferences convened around the world over the last forty years.
Fourth World nations, supporting non-governmental organizations, and individual activists need to formulate a more appropriate strategy than simply lobbying states’ governments and multi-lateral organizations (though this is useful if only in a minimal way).
Indigenous governments have only tentatively stepped into the breech of very limited indigenous government engagement in the global dialogue. Since indigenous governments technically and in principle have the same sovereign authority of states their presence in the arena involves no more than a dozen or so out of thousands. Since Indigenous Nations are the legitimate sovereigns over territories, peoples and resources claimed by states, the logical question is what is the political goal of indigenous nations seeking to exercise THERE RIGHTS (as is generally put) or as I put it their LEGITIMATE POWERS? If indigenous governments are counseled or take the position that they can only recommend instead of taking their own actions, then there is not much to be achieved. On the other hand, if indigenous governments seek political parity (i.e., recognized position in the UN system), then they will have to answer questions like: Will each indigenous government adopt the UN Charter and the conventions (genocide, decolonization, political rights, etc) and implement those agreements in their own territories? There are many other questions, but this one certainly needs to be addressed right away since without an affirmative response, what will be the position of indigenous governments in the UN–something between a non-governmental organizations and an observer?
How will this weakness be overcome? I suggest a solution in the strategy below.
Elements of a Strategy to achieve goals in 2015 and beyond:
1. I suggest that a strategy emphasize developing a strong contingent of indigenous governments who pledge to advance an agenda and enforce that agenda once agreed to–each indigenous government designate two or three contact persons one of whom has policy authority to engage states’ governments and their organs.
2. I suggest that a core of advisers be designated with the agreement of indigenous governments to formulate policies and initiatives that signal a systematic process of indigenous government engagement with at least a dozen specific states governments not only at the UN but with their foreign ministries in the home capital. (Countries to be determined on the basis of the relative strengths of each indigenous government group mentioned in 1 so at least one indigenous nation is located in each of the targeted countries.
4. Non-governmental organizations (ILRC, NCAI, NARF, CWIS, NCAI and others) specifically offer technical support to the indigenous governments’ group (1) including the publication of analysis, provide research (intelligence as well as substantive data) and provide that information to each government with followup online web conferences.
5. Establish several political goals of indigenous governments and indigenous peoples for 2015 and beyond reaching beyond a UN monitoring body, violence against indigenous women and children, and Indigenous government standing in the UN (these three should be pursued primarily by non-governmental organizations) and political goals such as establishment of country specific/indigenous nation specific mechanisms for conducting government-to-government dialogue and negotiations with in the framework of free, prior and informed consent” to implement Outcome document mandates and commitments from the WCIP.
6. The few American Indian governments that do engage in the group teleconferences and the international environment must meet and consider a proposal to form a coalition of indigenous governments (Cherokee, Navajo, Haudenosaunee, Quapaw, Xochiquatla, Rohingya, Sami, Tlingit & Haida could serve as the initial core). That coalition of indigenous governments would establish a set of principles for conducting the coalition and then reach out to certain strategic indigenous governments in selected countries to make up a coalition of perhaps 12 to 15 nations. These governments would not pretend to represent all indigenous peoples, but only their own constituencies. The coalition would sponsor a compact that announces a purpose and a set of political goals and objectives between the coalition governments and invite non-governmental organizations to provide technical assistance and some advisers to assist.
This strategy basically emphasizes a support role for advisers and non-governmental organizations (except in the three goal areas) and a paramount role for indigenous governments (group in 1) advancing a working mechanism between indigenous governments and specific states’ governments to advance the key mandates.
It is essential that indigenous governments recognize that if they are to engage this process in the next two years, they will have to exercise their sovereign powers and their powers of government on a level beyond being subordinate to a state. They will have to accept and reject existing international laws and implement or not implement those laws internally; and they will have to enact their own internal laws and external agreements that are enforceable and enforced.
See Spanish version on the CWIS page.
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.access here