Equals Not Subordinates

Equals Not Subordinates

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April 27, 2014

Like markets that seek to monopolize niches of property, institutions seek to monopolize territories of power. Contesting these monopolies of property and power are tribes and networks, both of which seek more dispersed organization of ownership and control.

In the international arena where these contests occur, the agencies of the United Nations play a key role. The World Intellectual Property Organization, Security Council and World Bank to name a few.

As this contest between markets, institutions, tribes and networks intensifies alongside the depletion of natural resources, religious hysteria and climate change, how these four forms organize themselves determines outcomes that affect all. NATO, the G20 and the European Court of Human Rights, for example, impact both the exercise of power and the acquisition of property.

With the recognition of human rights, however, the four forms of human organization have, over the last half century, initiated international venues for the expression and resolution of grievances. Not surprisingly, most of these venues have been designed by, and are controlled by, modern states, with restricted participation by indigenous nations.

Since the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, modern states have accommodated indigenous NGOs through the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, while at the same time excluding indigenous nations from participation in discussions of property or power. In September 2014, the UN is hosting a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to address implementing the 2007 declaration, but participation remains controversial.

Forty years ago, in April 1974, indigenous nations from four continents met in Guyana to prepare for a world conference the following year. The international conference of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, that met in October 1975 in Canada, was the first formal international body dedicated to having concepts of aboriginal rights accepted on a worldwide scale. With observer status in the United Nations, the WCIP secretariat represented sixty million indigenous peoples.

Since the dissolution of the WCIP in 1996, indigenous nations on all continents have organized regional associations to carry on the work initiated in 1974. With the assistance of networks, tribes have organized against further incursions into their territories by markets, as well as in opposition to further power consolidation by institutions. From the Amazon to the Andes, Africa to the Arctic, indigenous nations are creating a new future for themselves as equals to, rather than subordinates of, modern states. As such, successful diplomatic initiatives to implement the 2007 declaration will come from them, not modern states.

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