Self-Determination in Western Democracies: Aboriginal Politics in a Comparative Perspective

Self-Determination in Western Democracies: Aboriginal Politics in a Comparative Perspective

Self-Determination in Western Democracies: Aboriginal Politics in a Comparative Perspective

Self-Determination in Western Democracies: Aboriginal Politics in a Comparative Perspective

Synopsis

This interdisciplinary study offers an analytical and theoretical framework for understanding the dynamics of political change and self-determination when indigenous people assert claims of aboriginal status. Werther's findings contradict existing ideas about the location of sovereignty and the basis of political rights in six western democracies, and he analyzes how certain people who represent less than 2 percent of the population, who are poor, dispersed, and on the economic and political periphery of their nations have been able to extract important legislative and constitutional concessions and greater self-determination from large, wealthy, and powerful ethno-national groups.

Excerpt

The self-determination movements of ethnic groups are a salient factor in the politics of most First World (i.e., western) countries. In general, these ethnonational movements have not succeeded in extracting major constitutional or legislative concessions from the state. The exceptions are the self-determination movements of ethnic groups making a claim of aboriginal status. Almost universally, these groups have been able to extract politically significant constitutional or legislative changes that led to even greater self-determination. Current political science theories about ethnonational movements in the First World cannot account for the success of aboriginal peoples, in part because political scientists have usually ignored aboriginal peoples' movements. Even when political scientists have included groups asserting aboriginal status in their studies, they have misunderstood the political significance of the assertion of aboriginal status when a claim for self-determination is pressed. This misunderstanding has led to incomplete theory regarding the factors that influence a successful claim to ethnonational self-determination in the First World. In order to understand the effect that modern claims to aboriginal self-determination have had on the democratic state, this study develops a framework for explaining differences in success among First World ethnic groups demanding self-determination.

Although a large and rapidly expanding literature in law and in anthropology exists on the subject, aboriginal self-determination has traditionally attracted little attention from political scientists (McCulloch 1988; Davis 1985; Kelsey 1985; Tennant 1990). In the United States, for in-

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