As indigenous nations and modern states reset their relationship within the context of the evolving international human rights regime, the role of indigenous NGOs — like the Assembly of First Nations in Canada and the National Congress of American Indians in the United States — will also change. Perhaps, as each indigenous nation reasserts its sovereignty in self-determining its internal affairs and territorial jurisdiction, the indigenous NGOs will serve more as deliberating bodies and less as lobbying institutions.
While they played a vital role in helping modern states and indigenous nations lay the groundwork to end the colonial relationship that resulted from power imbalances that accrued between the time of 18th Century treaty-making and the present, they will soon need to serve more in a research and education mode, in order for their constituent indigenous governing bodies to resume their full responsibilities, unencumbered by the misperceptions dominant society and mainstream media associate with such notions as dominion and plenary power. As indigenous nations reacquire their international legal status and resume their concordant responsibilities, they will continue to regroup into more appropriate regional bodies better-suited to their histories and needs, renewing their kinship-based indigenous identities and rejecting the institutional identities imposed on them by the legal constructs of colonial theories, boundaries and jurisdictions.
While the growing pains of political evolution are no doubt uncomfortable for those who’ve grown accustomed to colonial corporate states, the new attire of respectful relations will in time be a better fit. Someday — when tribes, institutions, markets and networks better understand their roles — we will perhaps wonder how we ever managed to get it so wrong.