Nations and states: Coexistence throughsubsidiarity
ByJay Taber • Aug 1, 2013 •1 CommentListening to mainstream and alternative media discuss conflicts between Fourth Worldnations and modern states, I think what most newscasters and their listeners havedifficulty grasping is the historical context of the Indigenous liberation movement. As Inoted previously, states formed throughout the last five hundred years of the colonial eraare breaking down along cultural faultlines. Multiculturalism within homogenous states isevolving in fits and starts toward a plurinationalism that respects the sovereignty of Fourth World nations. Taking their cue from state-centric institutions like the UN,newscasters inevitably get it wrong.In some federations of nations like the former Republic of Yugoslavia, the breakdowninto Indigenous nation-states like Slovenia was not precipitated internally, but rather byexternal forces hoping to divide and conquer a functioning socialist republic for the benefit of transnational corporations. In other states like Canada, the Indigenous nationshave been assimilated into a forced dependency from which they now seek to liberatethemselves. In Indigenous nations like Pais Basque or Catalonia, autonomous governancein language, health, trade, policing and education would seem to be sufficient, althoughover time they may seek complete independence from Spain.In the case of empires like the Soviet Union, dissolved into a combination of federationsand independent states based on ancient nationhood — like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — self rule affects varying levels of governance. In states like Bolivia, where theIndigenous population is a majority, autonomous first nations united within a plurinational state seem to have a chance of surviving with their cultures intact.Despite lofty pronouncements like the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN — an institution formed of, by, and for colonial states — isnevertheless actively opposed to the self-determination of Indigenous nations. Indeed, theUN has done all in its power to prevent Fourth World nations from even participating indiscussions about climate change, biological diversity, or sustainable development.As more Fourth World nations gain independence, autonomy, or some degree of self-governance, the ephemeral boundaries of states imposed by colonial powers will continueto shift with the winds of social change. The only thing that will remain constant is theruthless psychological warfare exercised by transnational corporations and globalizedmilitarism seeking to corrupt or undermine Indigenous sovereignty in order to exploittheir resources. As non-Indigenous citizens of modern states formed by the theft of Indigenous territories become active in promoting democracy and opposing fraud, thereis the potential for a powerful alliance between civil society and Indigenous liberation.
Until they conceive of the difference between civil rights and human rights, however, thatalliance will remain tenuous.ReadingIn Pursuit of the Right to Self-Determination,a 2001 anthology edited by Y.N.Kly and D. Kly, the collected papers of the first international conference on the right toself-determination examined in part the indigenous movement as a means of democratizing the UN and the international system. With the 2007 adoption of the UNDeclaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, this movement continues to challengethe modern state system that denies the fulfillment of these rights. As First Nations inCanada threaten to interrupt the flow of timber, oil and hydropower extracted from their territories without their consent, this seems like a propitious time to reflect on the historyof the UN vis-a-vis its role in the development of this aspect of the international humanrights regime.As noted by Andre Frankovits, the words self-determination appear in the 1948 UNCharter as an enunciated principle, as well as in the 1960 preambles to the InternationalCovenants on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights/Civil and Political Rights, but with amajor caveat in the Declaration on the Right to Development, “aimed at preventing anydefinition that is not based on the gaining of independence of the former colonies of theEuropean powers.” Which shifted the focus away from the rights of peoples to those of governments. Nevertheless, the UN did recognize that colonial, foreign and racist domination weresituations in which the right to self-determination is applicable. It just wasn’t prepared atthe time to recognize that indigenous nations were in this situation.As Frederick Kirgis, Jr. wrote, there are degrees of self-determination, the legitimacy of each claim proportional to the level of democratic participation allowed by thegovernment concerned. As Dr. Peter Wilenski observed, realization of the right to self-determination entails the continuing right to participate fully in the political process bywhich they are governed. But, as international legal scholar Christian Tomuschat notes,the emergence of international human rights law amounted to the general recognition thatstates that fundamentally fail to live up to their essential commitments lose legitimacy.Thus, the movement toward codification in constitutions of international human rights,and the creation of international courts and tribunals, has been to encourage stateaccountability.As Erica-Irene A. Daes observed, the fundamental condition for realizing the right of self-determination in practice is trust between peoples, which is impossible withoutcooperation, dialogue and respect. As Kenneth Deer remarked, the whole idea thatindigenous peoples don’t have the right to self-determination is racially based, and isingrained into the very fabric of all the institutions of the Americas.Article 1 of the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that all peoples have the right to self-determination, and by virtue of that right to freelydetermine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural