A common attack against Indigenous sovereignty claims is that Indigenous peoples themselves must have come from somewhere else in the past. (After all, humans all came from Africa.) But this is irrelevant.
What matters is the history of violent settler colonialism, forced assimilation, and land theft shared by Indigenous peoples throughout the world. Most of these things happened quite recently. In fact, they are still happening!
Indigenous peoples around the world have thousands of different cultures, political structures, and unique local histories, but they all share similar histories of colonialism. What it means to be “Indigenous” is different from what it means to be Cree, Inuit, Māori, Pangcah…
These varied groups adopted the term “Indigenous” in the 80s and 90s in order to highlight these similarities and to join together in a global alliance to fight for their rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This is also a crucial distinction for understanding why Indigenous claims to sovereignty are substantively different from those of settler states which make ethno-nationalist claims based on blood and soil.
The concept of Indigenous sovereignty also serves as an alternative to multiculturalist approaches to minority rights, which sublimate Indigenous cultures within an individualist and consumerist model of identity. Ethno-nationalists are not threatened by such multiculturalisms.
The diversity of Indigenous experiences makes it hard to make any generalizations, but the colonial and ethno-nationalist forces they are up against are surprisingly uniform in their logic and techniques of domination. Capitalism is the reason for these similarities.
For these reasons, modern nation states that arose out of anti-colonial (even revolutionary) movements are still settler states if they are capitalist and ethno-nationalist, regardless of their origin stories.
Some book recommendations for more on these issues:
- Coulthard, Glen Sean. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.
- Niezen, R. 2003. The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity. University of California Press.
- Wolfe, Patrick. 2016. Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race. Verso.