In 2008 while speaking to Apsáalooke (Crow Nation) citizens President #Obama made a campaign promise to create an annual summit for indigenous leaders within his administration. The promise was realized through the creation of the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference (WHTNC). Today marks the beginning of the final WHTNC. President Obama is certainly to be credited for keeping his campaign promise, and many hardworking indigenous leaders deserve the greater credit for ensuring it was a continuing reality in the Obama administration. To his credit Obama has attended every WHTNC conference during his eight years in office. Undoubtedly, many positive changes have resulted.

Among the initiatives of the WHTNC is the strengthening of indigenous sovereignty, but what is sovereignty?

Sovereignty and the Western European Westphalian state

The concept of sovereignty originates with the “Peace of Westphalia” European settlements that ended the Eighty Year's War and the Thirty Year's War. Most scholars of international relations assert these agreements created the legal foundation for what is termed the Westphalian state including; the sovereignty and self-determination of states, the legal equality of states, and the principle of non-intervention into the internal affairs of other states. This model of human political organization has been termed the “end of history” by US political scientist Francis Fukuyama. The euro-centric model of Westphalian state sovereignty has become an enshrined legal doctrine in modern international law and relations through international legal instruments such as the United Nations Charter.

Top Videos of the Day

This euro-centric model of human political organization refuses to recognize the legitimacy of any alternate model of human political organization. In modern international law and relations, only states are seen as having full international legal personality. Therefore, all peoples who have historically struggled for the international legal right of political self-determination have been forced to argue for the legitimacy of their existence along Westphalian lines. Including indigenous peoples within the claimed territorial boundaries of the US. What does this mean for the WHTNC?

Self-Determination vs Sovereignty

Notice the use of the phrase “tribal” nations, and elsewhere the use of the phrase “federally recognized tribes.” Many indigenous peoples and nations have been successfully indoctrinated to accept this terminology. The words tribe, tribal nation, and nation are not interchangeable. The use of the words “tribe” and “tribal nation” are used to diminish the political status of indigenous nations.

Indigenous nations are nations, period. Nations with the legal capacity to enter into legally binding, bilateral, international legal instruments called treaties. As if it weren't bad enough that indigenous peoples are forced to accept the euro-centric Westphalian state model of sovereignty to assert their political rights, the US has created a number of domestic legal fictions to unilaterally diminish indigenous sovereignty. One, is the idea that indigenous nations do not possess full sovereignty, but a kind of “quasi-sovereignty” called domestic dependence. Moreover, the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act effectively altered traditionally politically organized indigenous nations into what basically amount to federally chartered corporations. The initiatives of the reported WHTNC agenda include things like strengthening tribal sovereignty, but only in so far as indigenous nations are willing to accept a quasi-sovereign dependent political status. This is not consistent with the international legal right of self-determination. Notice the dependent language, each tribe is “allowed” to send one representative to the WHTNC. We do not have to accept this racist notion of domestic dependence. We must assert our identity as indigenous nations possessing the international legal right of self-determination at the WHTNC. #Foreign Policy #Government