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Fourth World Eye Blog

Autonomy, Self-government vs. Power and Wealth

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Fourth World nations throughout the world, after more than fifty years of struggle against forces of power and money, push now for autonomy and the power to govern themselves and their territories. Some nations such as the Naga in Northeastern India, Karen in eastern Burma, Papuans claimed by Indonesia, Chechens claimed by Russia, nations in the Caprivi Strip claimed by Namibia and the Miskito, Sumo and Rama in eastern Nicaragua have fought or continue to fight low intensity wars to achieve autonomy--control over their territories and peoples. Still many hundreds of other Fourth World nations press by means of political pressure and public protest for self-government. Without acceptable solutions to this building controversy, instability is most likely.

In two states (Canada and Bolivia), where one would think the idea of Fourth World nations exercising autonomous powers of government the struggle by nations to be free of state control and domination is heating up. Canada has offered itself to the world as an enlightened country advocating human righrts and encouraging freedom. Bolivia recently elected an Aymara president and has a population the majority of which is Ayamara and Quecheua--Fourth World nations.

Aymara in eastern Bolivia belonging to the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples from Eastern Bolivia (CIDOB)--36 different nations have been pressing the Bolivian Constituent Assembly to recognize their authority to govern themselves. None of these peoples are pressing to separate from Bolivia. No, indeed, they are simply pushing for a kind of federalism that spreads power from the center of Bolivia to the outlying areas. The great opposition to this ordinarily reasonable concept comes from the powerful land owners, corporations and those who want to control natural resources to enhance their personal wealth. The public argument is over whether the new Bolivian constitution ought to be organized around departments that are under the control of the powerful and wealthy, or around the specific Fourth World nations--the underlying issue is control over land and resources.

Many political leaders in Bolivia and elsewhere wish to portray the controversy over Fourth World autonomy as destabilizing the state and threatening the authority of the state. When stripped away, this argument is really about the powerful and wealthy who have stolen, confiscated or otherwise controlled the wealth that naturally belongs to the original peoples in the various territories. The State claims are not about sharing wealth and power, but about maintaining a small elite at the expense of everyone else.

This problem is not isolated to Bolivia which has a President who happens to be Ayamara (the Constituent Assembly is dominated by settler decedents). In Canada we see exactly the same pattern of behavior.

For the last fourteen or so years, the government of Canada and the councils of many First Nations (particularly those surrounded by the province of British Columbia) have been "negotiating" treaties of self-government. After all of these years, very few such treaties have actually been concluded; and no wonder. Canada hands each of the First Nations a more than 100 page treaty proposal as a fait accompli. "Negotiators" are encouraged to nibble around the edges of the proposed agreement that ultimately favors Canadian control over natural resources, lands and most of First Nations' civil and criminal life. In other words, what Canada calls a proposal is actually the final shape of government control over First Nations and subordination of these nations into a kind of political oblivion. What is at stake? Trillions of dollars and virtually all of the natural resources inside traditional First Nation territories that Canada seeks to control. What is being described as self-government for First Nations is nothing more than a rouse for stealing lands and natural resources to sustain the powers of an elite class of settler decedents.

State's government's are simply going to have to revise their approach and recognize the power and authority of Fourth World nations to govern themselves. Not to do so is to promote instability and violence from the State and from the Fourth World nations that serves no one's ultimate interests.

(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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