RPGI Indigenous Politics -- Introduction

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This syllabus was curated by Alyana Vera, Politics, Groups, and Identities’ social media editorial assistant, on the occupied land of the Pauquunaukit (Wampanoag) people. It brings together articles from Politics, Groups, and Identities and is intended to be read as primer for those looking to inform research and teaching on the political lives of Indigenous people around the world.

Indigenous people have been engaged in anti-colonial resistance ever since colonizers first threatened their way of life. Both the history of Indigenous resistance and the ongoing struggle against settler-colonialism deserve the same attention and academic rigor as any other subject, and these topics that are only made more urgent by a recent string of events. In July 2020, Indigenous rights activists accomplished a series of monumental wins in the span of a week: the Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma upheld a 19th century treaty declaring most of eastern Oklahoma Muscogee (Creek) land, a court decision revoked the Dakota Access Pipeline’s easement, and the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. There have also been a number of wins outside of the courts, including the announcement that same week that Washington D.C.’s NFL team would finally change its racist name and mascot. In addition, last year Native Hawaiians successfully postponed the construction of a telescope on top of Mauna Kea, the result of a years-long campaign that continues to this day.

These events represent new developments in the complex and under-researched campaigns for land back and tribal sovereignty. As Anna Krausová rightfully points out, social scientists and the American public fail to understand Native nations as distinct entities that have continuously struggled against and been changed by settler-colonialism. By neglecting Indigenous politics, we fail to understand the many ways in which Indigenous people are wrapped up in the same political questions as everyone else. When the the Wet’suwet’en people’s elected council approved of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Canada, but their hereditary chiefs opposed it, suddenly the issue of tribal sovereignty was made more complex by the politics of representation: who can speak for and represent the Wet’suwet’en people? The question of representation is not new to politics, but by applying an Indigenous lens we are able to sharpen our inquiry: can a colonial institution ever truly represent us? Indigenous politics doesn’t just teach us more about politics in general; it can also illuminate new ways of thinking about sovereignty, property, and liberation.

Political science has much to learn from reading, writing, and thinking about how Indigenous people have negotiated their relationships with settler-colonial institutions. These articles from Politics, Groups, and Identities represent an effort to contribute to the conversation and encourage a deeper understanding of the various fights for self-determination and sovereignty by Indigenous people. This syllabus starts with a theoretical understanding of Indigenous citizenship and nation-building before exploring the various ways the fight for self-determination manifests politically; from land claims and independence movements to political representation, participation, and inclusion. The articles also reflect how understanding Indigenous politics is essential for understanding a variety of other fields, such as environmental politics and gender politics. The scope of this syllabus is intentionally global in order to reflect the diversity of tactics Indigenous people have employed in their fight for self-determination, and how geographic context can influence how that manifests. From Bolivia to Palestine, Indigenous people are actively resisting and fighting against settler-colonialism—and if we wish to understand these mobilizations, then we must devote as much time to Indigenous politics as anything else.

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