Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination

Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination

Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination

Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination

Synopsis

Sovereignty Matters investigates the multiple perspectives that exist within indigenous communities regarding the significance of sovereignty as a category of intellectual, political, and cultural work. Much scholarship to date has treated sovereignty in geographical and political matters solely in terms of relationships between indigenous groups and their colonial states or with a bias toward American contexts. This groundbreaking anthology of essays by indigenous peoples from the Americas and the Pacific offers multiple perspectives on the significance of sovereignty. The noted Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred provides a landmark essay on the philosophical foundations of sovereignty and the need for the decolonization of indigenous thinking about governance. Other essays explore the role of sovereignty in fueling cultural memory, theories of history and change, spiritual connections to the land, language revitalization, and repatriation efforts. These topics are examined in varied yet related contexts of indigenous struggles for self-determination, including those of the Chamorro of Guam, the Taíno of Puerto Rico, the Quechua of the Andes, the Mäori of New Zealand (Aotearoa), the Samoan Islanders, and the Kanaka Maoli and the Makah of the United States. Several essays also consider the politics of identity and identification. Sovereignty Matters emphasizes the relatedness of indigenous peoples' experiences of genocide, dispossession, and assimilation as well as the multiplicity of indigenous political and cultural agendas and perspectives regarding sovereignty.

Excerpt

Joanne Barker (Lenape)

For Whom Sovereignty Matters

As a category of scholarship, activism, governance, and cultural work, sovereignty matters in consequential ways to understanding the political agendas, strategies, and cultural perspectives of indigenous peoples in the Americas and the Pacific. This is not to suggest that all indigenous peoples within these diverse regions share the same understanding of what sovereignty is or how it matters, nor that all of their concerns and labor can be reduced to sovereignty as a kind of raison d'être. Rather, following World War II, sovereignty emerged not as a new but as a particularly valued term within indigenous discourses to signify a multiplicity of legal and social rights to political, economic, and cultural self-determination. It was a term around which social movements formed and political agendas for decolonization and social justice were articulated. It has come to mark the complexities of global indigenous efforts to reverse ongoing experiences of colonialism as well as to signify local efforts at the reclamation of specific territories, resources, governments, and cultural knowledge and practices.

At the same time and owing much to its proliferation, sovereignty has become notoriously generalized to stand in for all of the inherent rights of indigenous peoples. Certainly many take for granted what sovereignty means and how it is important. As a result sovereignty can be both confused and confusing, especially as its normalization masks its own ideological origins in colonial legal-religious discourses as well as the heterogeneity of its contemporary histories, meanings, and identities for indigenous peoples.

Origins

In “Self-Determination and the Concept of Sovereignty,” Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., writes that sovereignty originated as a theological term within early east Asian and European discourses: “Sovereignty is an ancient idea, once . . .

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