One version of how the world in the twentieth century became a "society" as a result of the historical processes of the previous five centuries is the version told by indigenous peoples, whose political activism--and effectiveness--is increasing in local, national, regional and global spheres (Akwesasne Notes 1978, Burger 1987, Aga Kahn and bin Talal 1987, Wilmer 1993). It is told, for the most part, not in textbooks, nor in much of the academic research reported in western-dominated societies, (Burger 1987, Wilmer 1993, Wilmer 1994) but by indigenous peoples themselves in a variety of political and social settings, some local and within their own communities, and a growing number of them national, regional and global, both intergovernmental and nongovernmental, some called by indigenous representatives, some in institutional settings controlled by western elites.
According to indigenous peoples, the present world society is a primarily a product of normative forces which not only gave rise to a certain kind of materialistic technology, but certain beliefs about how it should be used and distributed, arising out of sociohistorical experiences of western Europeans. This perspective intersects in some important ways with perspectives from the Third World, primarily in its reference to colonial/imperialistic nature of the present system, and thus indigenous peoples of the Fourth World find some solidarity with postcolonial thinkers and activists. It also intersects with some of the assertions made by critical thinkers within the First World--some (but not all) of those concerned with threats to the environment, some feminist thinkers, and in some ways with postmortem thinkers as well (Wilmer 1996).
But indigenous perspectives are also distinct from these other critical discourses in many other ways. For instance, in comparison with the Third World, indigenous peoples remain colonized and have not been acknowledged to have an internationally grounded right of self-determination--the simple right of control over their own political destiny (which they enjoyed 'since time immemorial' before European colonization) and therefore maximum control over their own processes of cultural adaptation and survival. In contrast with environmentalists, indigenous peoples' environmental ethics are not newfound, but have always been central to their world views, and cannot be separated from other concerns of life, cultural and physical survival. And in contrast with feminists, critical theorists/thinkers, and posmodem thinkers, indigenous peoples' versions of these ideologies have been part of their continually evolving cultural experiences--not a reaction to the relatively recent and western experience of domination and modemization.
We cannot understand peace without also attempting to understand sources of conflict. According to Pat Patfort's formulation (1995), the non-violent position constitutes walking a "middle path" between defending one's rights on the one hand, and seeking non-violent or the least violent ways, or of doing so on the other. Domination is a violation of the rights of the subjugated peoples. Resistance is therefore a response to domination, and an appropriate defense of rights. The least violent way of defending one's rights is through the use of legal and political systems. Problems occur, of course, when available legal and political systems do not yet acknowledge the rights of some people (and this is particularly so when issues of collective rights are involved), or when they are ineffective in remedying violations of rights. In the case of indigenous peoples, legal and political structures themselves have often been mobilized specifically to marginalize, and thus violate, the rights of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples' resistance has a long history of non-violence as well as resorts to violence in the absence of effective discursive, legal and political channels for defense and remedy. However, within the present century, as assaults on indigenous peoples' rights continue in the First World, and in many areas of the Third World have just begun, indigenous activists overwhelmingly opt for the least violent means of defending their rights. The "hot" war in Chiapas is the exception rather than the rule. An example of the worst case may be the continuing civil war in Guatemala where some sixty percent of the population self-identifies as Native or indigenous. And although there are definitional distinctions made between indigenous peoples colonized as a result of European imperialism, the Turkish government's cultural suppression and physical violence against the large Kurdish population attests to the way in which the importation of western colonial rhetoric into the modernizing processes in much of the Third world has replicated patterns of oppression based on a modem/traditional dichotomy.
In this article I will briefly review recent developments related to
indigenous resistance, and then analyze that resistance within the socio-historical
context of the emergence of a world society over the past several centuries
with most of the emphasis on contemporary issues, struggles and configurations
of power. The framework employed derives from theoretical work on the issue
of moral exclusion, which I utilize as a way of understanding the intergroup,
intercultural conflicts which attend political community formation. It
will then take up the question of what the phenomenon of indigenous activism
suggests about the present state of that society, and how the entrance
of indigenous peoples into global discourses alters those same discourses.
Before the 1970s, the term "indigenous" was popularly and academically applied n general terms to people, plants, animals descended from those believed to be original to a particular place. However, the local and global political activism of Native, aboriginal, indigenous peoples in the 1970s led to the appropriation of the term by a certain international sector of peoples. This was a result of numerous and increasing contacts among those peoples as they pressed their claims and aired their grievances in a variety of political forums. The term "indigenous" is now well-established at the term preferred by Native, aboriginal, indigenous peoples specifically in relation to their political and legal claims vis-a-vis their relationship with governments created as a direct result of European imperialism and settlement. While legalistic western thinkers may bicker over whether the term applies to a particular group, indigenous representatives at the United Nations have been successful in obtaining recognition of several characteristics which apply to their experiences as indigenous peoples. Thus, the U.N. working definition of indigenous peoples identifies them as
Cohesive societies who today wish to live more in conformity with their own continually adapting traditions than with those of the dominant (conquering) society;
Societies which have been placed under the control of State structures which incorporate national, social and cultural characteristics alien to theirs.
A second factor limiting the effectiveness of indigenous resistance during the earliest period of European conquest was the much debated and widely discussed demographic consequences of indigenous contact with European diseases. However much of the consequence was unintentional, there are also well documented cases of the deliberate spreading of diseases that would, often within the span of several generations, decimate whole societies of indigenous peoples (Thomton 1987). Furthermore, the dynamics of this process have been documented in cases of more recent contact in parts of South America (Lizot 1976). There is in this more modem account no doubt that little care is taken to protect indigenous peoples from the ravaging effects of alien-born endemic diseases which have, for example, killed some eighty percent of the Anemone in the past few decades (Wilmer 1993). Other health-related variables include the changes in diets introduced by foreigners and the deliberate destruction of indigenous economic bases, often in order to accelerate their dependence on conquering societies (Wilmer 1993).
A third factor is that by the seventeenth and through most of the nineteenth century, Europeans and the governments of settler states had begun the practice of entering into treaties with indigenous peoples. These treaties were typically presented to indigenous peoples as guarantees that they would both be able to retain rights to subsistence economic practices (hunting and fishing) and be aided in a process of adapting to new methods of economic subsistence via what has come to be known as the "trust relationship." The treaties are best known, of course, as guarantors of retained sovereignty over territories occupied by or to which indigenous peoples were "relocated." On virtually all of these counts -- rights to traditional subsistence, assistance in a transition to new forms of subsistence, and sovereignty over (reserved) territories, the treaties have been repeatedly challenged, tested and often broken by the governments of the European settler states. The effect this had on resistance is that, in the terms presented to them by treaty agreements, indigenous leaders generally understood that their societies would retain control over their own direction and processes of adaptation to the presence of new peoples, and that they would retain control of sufficient resources while being provided with others (educational, for example) to do so (Boldt 1993) Many, no doubt, also understood the magnitude of the invasion. Resistance would not necessarily have been viewed as a viable or necessary option.
Strategic variables also figure into the issue of indigenous resistance which pertains to conquest. European conquest ("manifest destiny" in late eighteenth century rhetoric)--or settlement as it was more benignly called -- occurred in a piecemeal fashion. It took nearly three centuries for Europeans to establish a dominant North American presence from east to west. On the indigenous side of the relationship, few indigenous societies were organized for large scale warfare, whereas European historical experience had been distinguished by accumulated practices specifically..grounded in a history of conquest-dating to the Roman Empire. The Iroquois and later a Lakota-led military alliance of the Plains tribes, as far as we know now, were the most likely and able to mount a concerted, confederated defense and for many of the other reasons noted previously, there were other factors mitigating against this (Jennings 1984, Brown 1970).
It is inherently problematic to analyze indigenous responses to European assertions of conquest by using terminologies and concepts that have been developed to describe the international and political behavior of European polities and their leaders. For example, to talk about indigenous resistance in military terms supposes that "military" as understood in western discourse is a term applicable to indigenous uses of force in intergroup relations. It has been the habit of western analysts to universalize the norms directing the mobilization and use of force as well as the political and legal institutional relationships in European society rather than to admit ignorance of the very different cultural and ideological norms, institutions and institutional relationships among indigenous peoples. So, for instance, the "failure" of indigenous peoples to resist invasion and conquest is often attributed (as much by implication) to things like the effects of diseases on the indigenous population, the lack of coordinated and highly centralized military institutions, the lack of hierarchically organized arrangements through which large populations could be incorporated and mobilized for strategic purposes.
This kind of thinking also serves to obscure a more obvious reason for the European conquest/indigenous failure to defend: European societies (at least those which embarked upon the discovery and conquest of non-European peoples) were organized precisely for the purpose of conquest and domination. Even a cursory knowledge of Irish and Scottish history as these peoples confronted the determination of the English to dominate and rule over all of the peoples of Britain will affirm this assertion, while centuries of inter-European wars involving Britain, France and Spain had certainly socialized and historicized their peoples and institutions in service to the necessities of the garrison state.
Admitting that we (western scholars) have no idea why indigenous social systems were primarily localized and why they did not organize a concerted military response to European invasion leaves rather denuded the historical realities of the early European-indigenous relationship. Europeans negotiated agreements with the indigenous peoples -- wampum, in the customary law of the Iroquois and other peoples of the Atlantic coastal regions. One of the earliest (with the Dutch) is what the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee Confederacy still call the "tworow" wampum, a large beaded (with beads made from shells) belt-shaped tapestry in which two rows of dark beads flow side by side, said to symbolize an agreement that the two peoples -European and Native--agreed to coexist peacefully without assimilating one into the other.
We know that the Iroquois and others took their negotiated relationship
with the Europeans very seriously and that by the turn of the nineteenth
to twentieth century North American as well as Maori Natives were organizing
and sending missions to the government of the British Commonwealth to protest
Canadian and New Zealand breaches of the negotiated, treaty relationship
(Wilmer 1993). Such international appeals continued when the League of
Nations formed, although no redress was forthcoming from either the Commonwealth
or the League of Nations. It was not, in fact, until the 1970s that the
United Nations finally seriously admitted the issue of indigenous peoples'
rights onto the agenda of the international body, when a working group
was formed within the Economic and Social Council to study the problem
of indigenous peoples. The Working Group's efforts produced not only a
study, but yearly meetings attended by hundred of indigenous representatives
and nongovernmental organizations, and ultimately a set of draft principles
for a "Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous
activists also organized their own international and regional meetings.
Nearly a dozen indigenous groups obtained consultative status at the United
The project of remaking non-western peoples into the "image of the white man" is central to the process of colonization. "Nations" are conglomerations of people descended from peoples once united by bonds of kinship but transformed through economic processes of incorporation, division of labor, and commercialization into hierarchically organized classes of people bonded by ideologies and bounded by jurisdictional units in which a single ideology is coterminous with the geographic boundaries of "states." Thus "modem" polities become "nation-states" with imagined continuity arising out of past transformations from small, traditional "tribal" societies into modem, economically and politically incorporated civil societies administered by a set of institutions functioning as states. Conveniently overlooked in this narrative of "nations into states" based on a certain historical interpretation of the European experience, is the fact that such transformations took place gradually and were interceded by a long history of oppressive feudalism and the fact that these transformations were accomplished by extraordinarily violent means, both institutionalized in the form of war and revolution, and structural in the form of the deprivation and oppression of the masses of lower class peoples. The roots of modem nation-statehood are to be found in the centuries of conquest, war and oppression emanating from Rome, Persia, and Western Europe itself.
Indigenous peoples refer to this process as one which produced "artificial entities called nations" (Burger 1987:15). Furthermore, the economic imperative of the process which created these artificial entities is understood from an indigenous perspective as one which destroyed a relationship of responsible connection between humans and the natural environment on which they depend for their continued existence. And it is understood as an expansionary process based on an ideology that -compels its advocates toward excessive and unrestrained materialism as well as domination -- of both the Earth's natural processes and the peoples who would preserve a way of life conscious of them:
It is not difficult to apply the model of moral exclusion to the case of western imperialism in general and the treatment of indigenous peoples in particular. The state-building process in the United States offers a particularly well-documented example (Wilmer 1993). Early encounters with indigenous peoples, as mentioned earlier, spawned debates about the moral disposition of non-Christianized people and thus whether or not they were entitled to the same moral (and therefore legal) respect applicable to relations among different European peoples (Williams 1990). However ennobled they became in the romanticizing European mind by the eighteenth century, indigenous peoples remained "savages"--a term connoting clearly defined boundaries of moral inferiority. American Indian policy throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century was aimed at "civilizing" indigenous peoples by assimilating them (forcibly in many cases) into Christianity and by forcing them to abandon their own economic practices in order to be "hard-working" agriculturalists and industrialists. These were undeniably violent, abusive and cruel practices, where children were removed from their families to be socialized and educated far away in boarding schools, and where those remaining within the boundaries of reserves were deprived of any means of subsistence other than that doled out by the dominant society's government and subjected to administrators hell-bent on convincing them of their savageness and inherent inferiority. Eduardo and Bonnie Duran, like Franz Fanon, has characterized the effects of these practices as "psychological colonization" (Duran and Duran 1995).
Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were, with minor variations, dispossessed of their land base, forcibly removed to reserves or removed by treaty agreements which were subsequently and invariably breached resulting in further land reductions, "placed" under guardianship on the basis of a "trust responsibility" arising out of the morally superior position of western settlers, and subjected to programs aimed at eliminating their cultural distinctiveness while reforming their identities as citizens of the new states. In practical terms, this normally means their forced removal from areas of "development" and their "retraining" for industrial sector labor. They may usually continue to practice something of their native culture--particularly if this is appealing to to