The WCIP and Political Equality between Nations and States

The WCIP and Political Equality between Nations and States

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September 20, 2014

With the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) looming on the horizon–when representatives of UN Member states meet at the United Nations on 22 September–it is worth considering next steps with a goal of achieving political equality between Fourth World nations and UN Member states. After months of discussions and negotiations involving representatives of indigenous nations and UN Member states (UNMS) a Draft WCIP Outcome Statement (UNDOS) has been completed and is being sent for consideration by the conference.

Small Steps toward Political Equality?

The UNDOS released on 15 September declares in Paragraph 3 that states governments affirm their commitment to the principle requiring that states may not make legislative, administrative or policy decisions without the “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) of indigenous nations expressed through their representative institutions. If this principle remains intact Fourth World nations and UN Member states will have the basis for opening dialogue and negotiations in the months and years to come—formalizing their political equality. Yes, it is true there is much to be desired for better language in the UNDOS from the perspective of Fourth World nations (see my article in Intercontinental Cry Magazine), but let’s again note that this is the statement of UN Member states and not a “joint statement” of nations and states. I suggest a new International Protocol agreed to by Nations and states. Still some states may opt out of important parts of the statement by issuing “reservations” changing Fourth World diplomatic calculations.

Fourth World nations must readily recognize that if the UNOS remains significantly unaltered by states’ representatives sitting in the UN General Assembly hall, nations will have secured major concessions from the states’ governments. Even small steps toward full political equality constitute important achievements. This is the nature of Fourth World Geopolitics that must be practiced by all nations and states. (See my discussion in “Fourth World Geopolitics and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” in Intercontinental Cry Magazine – 23 August 2014)

There are some people who may not be familiar with the expression “political equality.” I offer the following brief discussion for readers who may wonder what is meant by this expression, as my friend Steven Newcomb wondered in his Indian Country Today column when he wrote: “Dr. Ryser talks about ‘establishing political equality between nations and states,’ but what does that mean? We cannot possibly know what he means by that statement unless we know how he interprets the phrase ‘political equality between nations and states.’” Thank you for that Steven!

Distribution of Wealth as a power of government

One of the first measures of political equality between nations and states is when states no longer coerce nations to pay taxes. A nation’s authority is predicated on its ability to acquire and distribute wealth. For most nations, that power is acted out in the form of ceremony, giveaway celebrations of childrens’ namings, cultural enforcement through peer pressure to share bounty. Some nations now collect taxes in the form of currency; wildlife catches stored for distribution to people in need and shared labor. States impose taxes on labor, consumption, resource extraction, manufacturing, and the use of land collecting currency for the government’s distribution.

Writing in Fourth World Eye I observed:

In the United States, Indigenous America suffers from the same taxation policies that Britain imposes on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man: Indian nations, Hawaiians and Alaskan Native peoples are taxed on their labor, their businesses, their purchases and on a great deal of their land.  Indeed, the Center for World Indigenous Studies undertook a cursory study nearly two years ago and determined that of the revenues granted and contracted to native peoples under treaties and other agreements most of those funds nearly equaled the amount native people pay the United States and state governments in taxes. In other words, the United States is taxing native people for the promises made under treaties. Indigenous peoples in the United States are paying in taxes for the commitments made to them under treaties.

Most indigenous governments in the United States are under funded by 40% to 60%. That means indigenous peoples in the United States pay the taxes, but they don’t receive the support of their governments or the United States for such minor services as quality health (Indian Health Service is a disaster), land management (the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a disaster), quality of education (the Bureau of Indian Affairs Education is a disaster) or food programs simply make most native peoples ill from diabetes, heart disease, cancers, arthritis and more.

This is the ultimate in “political inequality!”

Treaties and other Agreements

As we all know many Fourth World nations entered into treaties and agreements over the centuries—all of which were “international agreements.” Some of these were forced or coerced treaties. Formal treaty making is one measure of political equality. Some of the treaties were mutually negotiated. All of these agreements were of an international nature no matter what the topic. In my book, “Indigenous Nations and Modern States “(2012, Routledge) I wrote to remind my readers about the extensive diplomatic relationships between nations long before there were states.

In my Oneida Grandfathers’ Corandawana (1670 – 1729) and Sattellihu (1710 – 1774) days of diplomacy the Haudenosaunee intellectual tradition affirmed that nations must maintain a balance between their own needs and the capacity of nature to reproduce abundance to ensure life for the seven generations. Haudenosaunee diplomatic thinking reflects this idea. Based in the Great Law the Haudenosaunee, Abenaki, Lenape, Shawnee, Wyandot and Anishinabek among many other nations observed three basic principles of diplomacy: Gáiwoh (righteousness), Skénon (health), and Gashasdénshaa (power). These are applied in direct dialogue and negotiations.

The first principle of Gáiwoh when practiced properly requires that human beings in society and between nations be just and their relations must be balanced and just. The second principle of Skénon requires a soundness of mind and body and the establishment of peace (becoming one heart, one heart, one body and becoming one people). Finally, the third principle of Gashasdénshaa affirms the centrality of law and custom backed by such force as is found to be necessary to ensure that Gáiwoh prevails. This is the highest and most practical form of diplomacy and means to bring about political equality. I discussed this when I wrote my ITC column on 28 August 2014,

Negotiating treaties and agreements demonstrates political equality. The failure to live up to treaty terms can frequently mean application of the third principle: Gashasdénshaa—the exercise of one nation’s power over another.

The meaning of political equality is that even though the geographic, economic, demographic size and character are different between nations and nations and states they are equal authority to govern themselves and freely determine their social, economic, political, strategic and cultural affairs without external interference. This is not a perfect process, but it involves maintaining effective political relations and applying the three principles.

Equality out of balance

Political equality between many nations and states has fallen out of balance over the last three hundred years. The solution to this imbalance is for Fourth World nations to take proactive initiatives to engage the international community and directly challenge states that now claim them and their territory to come to the negotiating table to reestablish political equality through a new International Protocol. The tenuous language in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, International Labor Organization Convention 169, and other treaties nevertheless constitute openings for the development of Fourth World nation and UN Member State government-to-government dialogue and negotiations.

The UNOS may have some further hoops to jump through at the WCIP since Canada today made it known that while it will not block the UNOS from being adopted Ottawa will issue a “reservation” where it will assert that the principle of FPIC will not be applied to Canada—opting out of Paragraph 3. This may open the door to other states issuing similar reservations. I will be surprised if the United States government does not issue the same reservation as Canada. The principle was the main reason the US originally opposed the UNDRIP.

Given yesterday’s revelations that some states will opt out of clauses there will likely be tough negotiations ahead. Finding international (Fourth World nations and UN Member states) agreement on a United Nations sponsored International Protocol will similarly require tremendous effort as the next step. Just remember, it was thought in the 1970s to be a remote idea that the UN would adopt a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now, the UN’s WCIP is about to adopt the Draft Outcome Statement that may provide further possibilities to establish political equality through an international Protocol between Fourth World nations and states.

Dr. Ryser is the Chairman of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, a former Acting Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, and a former staff member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission. He holds a doctorate in international relations, teaches Fourth World Geopolitics through the CWIS Certificate Program ( and he is the author of “Indigenous Nations and Modern States” published by Routledge in 2012.

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