Indigenous Ideology and Philosophy -- National Congress of American Indians Position Paper
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                         A Position Paper 

Prepared by the National Congress of American Indians for the 
World Council of Indigenous Peoples General Assembly III -
Canberra, Australia - 27 April to 2 May, 1981 


     Indigenous peoples are politically, and culturally distinct 
from all other nationalities of peoples. As peoples they 
constitute individual nationalities where customs, language, 
heritage and historical origins are shared as common 
characteristics of the population. An indigenous nation may be 
made up of many communities, families or tribes which constitute a 
diversification of common customs, language, heritage and 
historical origins. These nations have existed for thousands of 
years in territories which in recent times have been overrun and 
occupied by alien peoples from other parts of the world. 

     The Indigenous nations have been surrounded and fragmented by 
these invading aliens during the last four hundred years. They 
have been subjugated by the alien peoples and forced to deny their 
own nationality, and instead adopt the nationality of the invading 
aliens. By creating and then imposing their own political systems 
on indigenous nations, the alien peoples have eroded and in many 
instances destroyed the national identity of many Indigenous 

Territorial Fragmentation 

     While many Indigenous nations continue to exist they have had 
their territories and peoples seriously fragmented by the forced 
placement of indigenous communities, families or tribes onto small 
parcels of land sometimes referred to as reservations, reserves, 
municipalities or conservation areas. Whole nations of indigenous 
peoples have been geographically divided into enclaves,which are 
neither economically viable nor conducive to dynamic cultural and 
political development. Where the fragmentation of indigenous 
nations has occurred communities, families and tribes have 
been"forced into economic and political dependence on a 
surrounding and often dominating alien nation of people. 

Economic Dislocation 

     Though many Indigenous nations have been dispersed and 
segregated into individual communities, tribes and confederations 
of tribes through geographical dislocation other indigenous 
nations remain intact geographically, but they suffer under 
pressures of economic and social dislocation. Their economic 
institutions have been inundated and largely replaced by western 
cash economic systems. The western or occidental cash economic 
systems are controlled and manipulated by state governments, which 
exclude direct indigenous political participation. Many of these 
governments are former colonial governments which achieved 
independence from western European states. These former colonial 
governments have become neo-colonial governments super-imposing 
their institutions over indigenous nations. In many of these post 
colonial states the Indigenous population is in the majority. 

     While geographic integrity is largely maintained the 
Indigenous populations do not control the use of primary natural 
resources, lands and water. The means to control raw materials, 
land and the economy is often forcefully denied Indigenous 
populations, either through military intervention or through 
social and political intervention. Many Indigenous nations suffer 
from exploitation from a minority of aliens who use violence and 
intimidation as a means to maintain control over the Indigenous 
peoples. Indigenous national identity is suppressed so the 
minority can benefit from indigenous labor and indigenous 

Political Division 

     Finally, Indigenous nations have been divided by the 
imposition of colonial territorial boundaries. Once the colonies 
from Europe established a foothold in Indigenous national 
territories they severed colonial ties with the European kingdoms 
to form new nation-states. The boundaries established between 
colonies became new national boundaries often running through 
indigenous national territories. Despite efforts to prevent the 
political division of their homelands Indigenous nations are now 
divided by boundaries super-imposed over their territories often 
by as many as four nation-states. Such political division and 
annexation of indigenous territories by the new nation-states has 
weakened the Indigenous nations economically, politically, 
culturally and institutionally. By virtue of political division, 
portions of indigenous nations have been reduced to the status of 
minority populations under the powers of a nation-state or 
refugees in their own lands. 

Alternatives for Indigenous Nations 

     In all of the circumstances described above indigenous 
populations have had their national identity fragmented and their 
economic, cultural and political institutions suppressed by an 
invading alien population. Having their economic and political 
strength neutralized the Indigenous populations have been forced 
to deny their own national identity, their own history, languages 
and cultural development so that these things can be replaced 
through the adoption of the alien history, language, culture and 
institutions, Forced assimilation or slow staged assimilation have 
been the policies of all nation-states regarding Indigenous 
nations. The final objective is to eliminate all Indigenous 

     For more than four hundred years Indigenous nations have been 
waging a kind of 'cold war' against the intrusion of colonies and 
nation-states that has occasionally flared into violent 
confrontations. Within this time more than 28 million Indigenous 
people have been destroyed either by direct confrontation, disease 
or the results of social and cultural dislocation. For the 
Indigenous nations the options for survival have been severely 
limited by the on rush of the invading nation-states. Whole 
Indigenous nations or their fragments have moved into less 
hospitable territories, accepted violent confrontation, or 
accepted assimilation into the nation-state. 

     Two other options have more recently been exercised by 
various Indigenous nations: redevelopment of the Indigenous nation 
internally while renewing global recognition of a national 
identity (national autonomy) or pursuing a course of action under 
trusteeships with a nation-state, where fragments of the 
Indigenous nation assert internal sovereignty while adjusting to 
slow assimilation into the nation-state. These latter options have 
the greatest potential for the survival of Indigenous nations or 
the sub-parts of Indigenous nations: communities, tribes and 
families. Under these two options Indigenous nations have the 
greatest possibility for reviving their own economic, political 
and cultural dynamic. The essential reality is that unless 
Indigenous nations reassert their national identity then the 
remnants of their national existence will not survive. 

Rebuilding the Indigenous National Identity 

     The major influences which have caused the decline of 
Indigenous nations have been the loss of control over national 
territory and raw materials, the loss of control over the 
indigenous economy and the loss of control over cultural change. 
These three elements of national existence have one thing in 
common: control within the nation. The nation-states which have 
sought to destroy indigenous national identity have consistently 
worked to undermine indigenous national control over territory, 
the economy and cultural change. To reverse this trend fragments 
of Indigenous nations must first politically reestablish the bonds 
which held the nation together and while so doing define and 
implement an economic and political alternative to the nation-
state as the provider to Indigenous peoples. This means 
establishing Indigenous national governments which institute 
measures to create inter-community or inter-tribal economic 
dependence. This will require establishing a national indigenous 
currency for economic exchange. A fundamental principle for 
rebuilding indigenous national identities is that the indigenous 
population must have an overriding commitment to the idea of the 
nation; they must be committed to the idea that economic hardship 
must be suffered so that the indigenous nation can systematically 
withdraw from the western monetary system at least long enough to 
establish the indigenous alternative economy. The indigenous 
alternative economy must, of necessity, be initially based on 
subsistence, indigenous labor and indigenous raw materials. 

     A second principle which must guide the rebuilding of 
indigenous national identities is that indigenous languages and 
cultural practices must be revived to provide alternative to the 
western system of assimilation. 

     A third principle essential to rebuilding Indigenous nations 
is that re-occupying indigenous territories through reversed 
colonization must be systematically planned and implemented over 

     A fourth principle is that Indigenous nations assert their 
own standards for development and reject the standards established 
by the alien nation-states. This principle must be implemented 
through the establishment of indigenous educational and 
communications institutions which are not dependent upon the 
nation-state for their authority or the nation-state's economy. 

     A fifth principle is that diversity within the Indigenous 
nation is its major strength and its principle source for renewal. 
This diversity must be politically focussed on the achievement of 
national goals: reclaiming national territories, the full 
participation of all Indigenous citizens in national decisions, 
the institution of indigenous culture and language, and the 
institution of a national economy established to insure the 
maximum and equitable distribution of goods and services for the 
benefit of all Indigenous citizens. 

     The sixth principle which must guide national renewal is that 
all raw materials within an indigenous territory must first have a 
direct benefit to the Indigenous citizens before external 
interests are permitted to gain access to these materials for 
their use. The principle also applies to indigenous labor. Such 
labor must be provided first to the nation for the collective 
benefit before it is offered to external interests. In both 
instances the Indigenous population must be made ready to defend 
these resources and their labor against overt or covert efforts by 
nation-states to gain access to these sources of wealth. 

     The seventh principle is that the political and security 
interests of the Indigenous nations must be preserved against the 
interests of the nation-states. 

Trusteeship: Political Association Between Indigenous nations 
             and Nation-States 

      Many fragmented or divided Indigenous nations lack 
sufficient political integration to act in a unified way. This 
weakness need only be temporary if the strongest parts of the 
nations assume the responsibility for rebuilding the nation. 
During the period of rebuilding (again a temporary condition) 
Indigenous nations must maintain or establish a formal political 
association with a nation-state. Such arrangements as trusteeships 
or protected territorial status have long been methods for 
protecting weakened nations. It is essential that such bilateral 
relationships are understood as temporary arrangements. In terms 
of Indigenous nations, such arrangements are quite common. Though 
common, they have been found to be quite dangerous as well. The 
protecting nation-states has often been shown to be far more 
interested in assimilating the Indigenous nation politically 
and/or culturally than it has sought to insure the political and 
economic development of the Indigenous nation. 

      Several principles must guide Indigenous nations as they 
enter into or maintain trusteeship relations with a nation-state: 

      The first principle is that the arrangement is only 
temporary, and the reason for the protective arrangement is to 
insure the dynamic political and cultural development of the 
Indigenous nation. 

      The second principle is that the Indigenous nation or its 
several parts (tribes, communities, families) has an inherent 
sovereignty to regulate and control its internal affairs without 
the nation-state interference. 

      The third principle is that it is the duty of the protecting 
nation-state to preserve, protect and guarantee the Indigenous 
nation's rights and property from external encroachments. It has a 
further duty to aid the Indigenous nation in its efforts to 
achieve political and economic self-determination - a full measure 
of indigenous self-government. 

     The fourth principle is that when the Indigenous nation is 
satisfied that it can decide its own political future it must be 
permitted to choose continued political association with the 
nation-state, full independence as a political state in its own 
right or political absorption into the protecting nation-state. 
The essential point is that the Indigenous nations must choose the 
form of political existence that best suits its needs. 

Final Remark 

     The ultimate goal of any nation of people is either to 
survive as a distinct political entity or to dissolve and 
disappear. For Indigenous nations the alternatives are national 
renewal, fragmentation and continued dependence on nation-states 
or dissolution and assimilation into nation-states. The 
opportunity to reform nation-states does not exist. The only 
opportunity is to reverse the trends which threaten Indigenous 
national destruction by reasserting national identity. 

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