Indigenous Peoples and the Modern State/Self Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans

Article excerpt

Champagne, D., K. Torjesen & S. Steiner (Eds.). Indigenous Peoples and the Modem State, Toronto, Alta Mira Press, 2005. pp. 172. ISBN 978-0759-1079-91. $26.95.

Anderson, T., B. Benson & T. Flanagan (Eds.) Self Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. pp. 346. ISBN 978-0804-754415. $35.00.

These two publications represent bi-polar conceptualizations about Aboriginal people in North America. How such different views of Aboriginal life emerge reflects both the disciplines and the literature read by the contributing authors. The contributors in Indigenous Peoples and the Modern State have, without exception, read extensively in the history and legal aspects of Aboriginal studies and engaged in field research focusing on Aboriginal issues for most of their academic careers in disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, and history. On the other hand, the contributors to Self Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans represent scholars from the fields of economics, law, and business who have engaged in a narrow review of Aboriginal issues. There is little overlap in the list of citations between the two texts, confirming that the two sets of authors had drawn their ideas from vastly different sources.

Indigenous Peoples is comparative in that it presents material from Canadian, American, and Mexican perspectives on various issues facing Aboriginal people. The material also reflects a trans-disciplinary approach by the authors as they tackle issues such as sovereignty, Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous identity, culture and economics, language and education. The issue of colonization trauma is foremost on the minds of these authors as they couch their explanations within that historical context. The emergence of a stateless Indigenous identity and community looms large in their view of the poverty and marginalization exhibited by Aboriginal people.

The emerging Indigenous leadership and entrepreneurial activities of Aboriginal people are well documented. Other economic, justice and legal issues also are dealt with. The authors note that the national narrative in each country presumes an ever receding frontier in which, as one author put it, "the 'wild and primitive' were replaced by the 'tame and civilized."' These narratives are as deeply embedded in the academy as in North American popular culture. In short, these "Grand Narratives" are those that all of us learned in grade school and continue to be the ones most people know, and that unfortunately tell only one side of the story. Until bridges are built between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, the dominant national narratives will continue to construct an exclusively heroic European settler profile and an ideology that continues to insist that Aboriginal people must come to resemble them.

The latter portion of the book is devoted to a discussion of the Mexican Aboriginal experience in a section titled "Trilateral Discussion: Canada, the United States and Mexico." Mexican scholars discuss how the Indigenous people of Mexico focus on the role of the United Nations as a counter to the biopiracy of other nations and transnational corporations. Language issues are crucial to the Mexican Indigenous people as well as environmental pollution, loss of forests, and the destruction of Indigenous social and community organizations.

Policy analyses carried out in each region reveal how Indigenous people are impacted by very different policies. In the end, the material provides innovative and substantive materials related to enhancing our understanding of Aboriginal people and their role in these three nation states. The formal papers are carefully crafted, well-organized and presented. Unfortunately, in between the sections of the book, the editors included short dialogues amongst the contributors. These were not edited and as a result can have major errors. For example, the Lubicon Indians are mistakenly located in Ontario rather than in Alberta. …