Indigenous Peoples montage (Courtesy of United Nations)

Indigenous Peoples montage (Courtesy of United Nations)

Culture and Indigenous Nationality

A remarkable feature about indigenous nations is that they have continued after more than 500 years of colonial efforts to assimilate and dismantle them. Most social theories suggest that Indigenous Peoples will disappear, assimilate, and/or suffer extreme marginalization. Today many indigenous nations are seeking new ways to approach the contemporary world, and assert identity, culture, and political sovereignty.

Rather than vanishing as peoples and communities, indigenous nations will continue to be a part of the national and international environment for the indefinite future. Why after so much pressure to change and assimilate have many indigenous nations persisted and seek to recover more land, cultural identity, and political autonomy in the future?

At least part of an answer to indigenous national persistence lay in the differences of cultural viewpoints and associated political commitments to indigenous community and society. The indigenous nations have unique and distinct cultures, and have strong orientations toward local political government and autonomy. The unique cultures of indigenous nations often are given in creation teachings that support unique community identities and ways of life. Often for time immemorial there is no other form of political government in command of local indigenous governments. Not only do indigenous nations have governments, but that government was seen as completely independent of any other government, including other indigenous governments.

Efforts at conquest by colonizing powers or control through the assimilative strategies of contemporary modernizing nation states, often leads to resistance, non-participation, and refusal to assimilate. While many indigenous nations have made treaties and agreements with national governments, Indigenous Peoples often have not agreed to participate as citizens within the national government, if it means surrendering indigenous identities, territories, and communities. The indigenous position is that Indigenous Peoples have governed themselves from time immemorial, before the formation of present nation states. Indigenous Peoples will continue and resist attempts to dismantle and dispossess them of land, political and cultural autonomy.

Furthermore, the unique cultural and community relations of indigenous nations is so alien to contemporary modernizing democratic governments, that many indigenous people reject national cultures and prefer to live within their own communities and cultures. Indigenous cultures are about promoting community among their own people, and promoting self-government and preservation of spiritual relations with the cosmos, including the spiritual ties to land and place. Indigenous cultural content emphasizes this-worldliness, collective, if not cosmic obligations, for communication and spiritual reciprocities with all the power beings in the cosmos.

Modernizing nations states promote individualism, accumulation of wealth and property, national citizenship, political equality, and consensual participation in national political institutions. While the benefits of modern nation states are widely considered the fruits of the contemporary world, Indigenous Peoples retain strong commitments to their own histories, cultures, and ways of life. Many of the primary cultural features of modernity, such as secular and compartmentalized social, cultural, political and economic relations are rejected by Indigenous Peoples in favor of the holistic relations of indigenous communities. Indigenous collective land management, strong kinship relations, egalitarian redistribution of wealth and resources, egalitarian and consensual political processes contrast directly with the primary features of contemporary national governments and cultural relations.

Consequently, many indigenous persons and nations are reluctant to wholly participate in contemporary national cultural life, and prefer their own forms of society and community. While contemporary life offers everyone, including indigenous community members, choices, for indigenous community members their choices are strongly influenced by pre-existing cultural commitments, preferences and traditions of political and territorial autonomy and spirituality.

Worldwide millions of indigenous individuals, attached to thousands of indigenous nations, choose to live and face the future from within indigenous cultural and community frameworks. Indigenous nations represent the vast diversity of human culture and social and political relations, and are a counter weight to the global homogenization of the human experience. Indigenous Peoples and nations will continue to exist, change, and remain part of the permanent world social and cultural landscape.

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