500 years ago, when colonizers first arrived on indigenous lands, they began spreading lies and instituting ideologies predicated on the notion that indigenous peoples were “inferior” within every category of existence. During manifest destiny, the doctrine of discovery, and western expansion, the non-indigenous world deemed indigenous peoples too primitive and therefore, incapable of operating an “advanced nation.”
The question here is, what exactly is an advanced nation?
Since settler-colonial arrival, indigenous peoples have defended their homelands, nations, and water ways. During this time, indigenous cultures were interpreted as wasting natural resources and entire continents because they did not consume or develop them in the name of “western progress.” However, for many indigenous nations, the prosperity of nature is a key tenet of nationhood. Indigenous principles of nationhood predate colonial nations.
Maliciously to strategically, the colonizer began consuming nature, subjugating, and enslaving human beings under the assumption that it was the way a “superior nation” behaved. Indigenous peoples went the other way on this, they saw the protection of all life as a key fundamental responsibility in the universe. Indigenous nationhood not only recognizes the territorial integrity of sovereign nations, but of Mother Earth, a commonly understood indigenous principle that in some countries has been encoded into their constitutions, Bolivia is a prime example.
Today, it is appallingly apparent how western capitalism has turned towards the devouring of nature, and why colonizers 500 years ago have increasingly failed their nations since then. Colonial Nations heavily invested in the extractive industry are responsible for increasing global warming, climate change, and the depletion of the world’s biodiversity that have crossed crucial thresholds prompting many of them to take corrective action. Yet, current trends have proven disastrous for human rights. It is time for a change.
Turning the page to recent events, Indigenous Nations have enabled 80 percent of the world’s richest and rarest biodiversity of land and water to survive the ravages of colonialism, owning and managing one-fourth of the world’s land base outside of Antarctica while continuing to lead the 500 year resistance to protect Mother Earth for humanity and all life. When indigenous peoples’ human rights are respected and protected, rates for ecological survival and biodiversity increase.
The global community is increasingly taking notice of the vast importance of indigenous leadership on sustainability across all sectors and levels of decision-making, a trend that needs more momentum. In fact, one of the most powerful fronts against climate change and global warming is to support indigenous peoples.
From what I have just written here, these are some lessons that can be derived from Indigenous Nations:
An advanced nation regards key principles of ‘all life’ and ‘future generations’ within decision-making at all levels ensuring that there will always be a sustainable future. Had colonial nations followed suit, they too would have known what the oldest nations understood 500 years ago, that all life deserved respect, dignity, and rights.
Indigenous Nations are the oldest nations because they have always maintained their relationship with Mother Earth, proving themselves as the most sustainable. They have the oldest time-honored, nature-based traditions and environmental movements in existence.
Recognizing Mother Earth as the driving force of nationhood has been the most democratic and meaningful economic, social, and political plan in existence that enables the participation of all life and acknowledges that human beings are not the sole authors of the master narrative.
Long before humans ever arrived here, there was already a story unraveling. The story of Mother Earth. Understanding democracy means learning how to effectively participate in her story.
Indigenous principles of nationhood have set a model precedence for how the Family of Nations ought to conduct themselves. Today, the wisdom and principles of indigenous peoples represents one of the greatest opportunities for global transformation. They are the elders among nations of the world, and there is still much more to learn from them.
Wakinyan Skye LaPointe, Sicangu Lakota, is an advocate for indigenous human rights, who works on local and international indigenous-led projects, and for the revitalization of Lakota culture and language.