A funny thing happened five years after the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples–customary and constitutional indigenous governments decided to begin a new policy of international engagement. They began to do this after more than forty years absence from the international debate about Indigenous Rights begun in the early 1970s at the Human Rights Commission.
The fact the the Bolivian government’s resolution to have the UN convene a High-Level Plenary Session that they would call the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September of this next year helped get people started. Several leaders of American Indian nations began in 2013 to fashion their own foreign policy dealing with the international community and UN Member States in particular. And the implications of indigenous nations having a foreign policy…indigenous nations directly engageing each other on a government-to-government basis and engaging in direct dialogue with UN member states is beginning to change the international landscape in remarkable ways.
Several states’ governments now seek out constitutional and customary indigenous governments to explore economic, political and cutural cooperation. The Republic of Turkey’s government has a specific policy aimed at establishing near diplomatic relations with indigenous governments. Other states’ governments and indigenous governments are quietly meeting to open a working dialogue that will have significant consequences at the World Conference in 2014 that could have ripple effects in places like Israel/Palestine, Czech Republi/Romani, Spain/Catalonia, and in Canada/First Nations, Mexico/Indian Communities and, yes, in the United States of America.
For more than forty years the international community has been treated to conversations and advice from a growing number of non-governmental organizations and individual activists eager to promote new policies for indigenous peoples. Very few indigenous nations took the initiative to engage international debates on Indigenous Rights. The international community, its individual states’ governments and multi-lateral organizations treated “indigenous rights” solley as a matter of human rights concern that civilt society representatives could comment on in international meetings. Always, such individuals or their organizations were given three minutes or sometimes five minute to speak, and then they were quickly ignored. That will now change.
Indigenous governments, not only in the United States but in Australia, Brazil, Nigeria, China, Russia, France, England, Japan and in many other states must now see that American Indian governments are stepping up to represent themselves. They are not as civil society–but governing authorities representing territories, people, and resources. They will not permit the world community to ignore indigenous civil society and nor will they themselves be ignored.
Indigenous nations acting with their inherent powers of self-government in growing numbers seek now to engage the world on their terms. They seek their seat at the table among governing bodies in the world. They seek to engage other countries in dialogue and they seek to establish new international rules of conduct that may dramatically change the way the world functions in the years to come.