Indigenous freedom will inspire tinyism, direct democracy & mutual aid
“The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.” — Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee)
There’s 476 million indigenous people on Earth, 6.2% of the global population, living in 5,000 distinct groups on 22% of the land’s surface, encompassing 80% of the earth’s biodiversity.
The indigenous, also called Native, Tribals, First Nation, First People, or Aborigine, are the poorest of the poor and and their life expectancy is 20 years lower than non-indigenous people.
Generally, the indigenous are voiceless and hidden from the public eye. Did you know China has 114 million ethnic minorities, India has 84.3 million Adivasis, Indonesia has 50–70 million in 1,128 officially recognized groups? Did you know 90 nations have indigenous tribes, from Saami in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia to Sans in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa, from Naga in India and Myanmar to Amazigh (Berber) in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Niger and Mauritania, from Quechua living high in the Andes of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Argentina, to Badjao boat-dwelling sea nomads in Indonesia and The Philippines?
Overwhelmingly, the indigenous have been persecuted, pushed off their land, exterminated by genocides and rendered politically powerless. Important exceptions exist: Evo Morales (Aymara) was President of Bolivia (62% indigenous) and Benito Juarez (Zapotec) was President of Mexico (14.9% indigenous).
“We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution” — Subcomandante Marcos for the Zapatistas (Mexico)
Today, like a boomerang, the First Peoples are regaining their power; multiple movements defined as ‘decolonizing’ are occurring all over the world.
Indigenous independence organizations are building momentum online via groups like the Indigenous Freedom Movement, First People Worldwide, Organization for Indigenous Autonomy, and the publication Cultural Survival.
On the ground, here’s a partial list of international achievements:
Mexico has 43 autonomous Zapatista centers in Chiapas on over a million acres of land that the indigenous Mayans seized from large landowners in their revolution launched in 1994. EZLN self-determining municipalities are comprised of Tojobales, Tzeltales, Names, Tzotziles, Choles, and Zoques people. Northwest of Chiapas, in Michoacán, the Purepecha tribe (aka Tarascan) have established autonomous communities in the towns of Cheran and Nahuatzen, with nearly 50 other villages aiming to achieve the same goal. In Jalisco, the Huicholes have regained more than 10,000 hectares of their traditional land. Mexico is a potential leader in indigenous independence because the Mexican Constitution “recognizes and guarantees the right of indigenous peoples and communities to self-determination and, [to] Decide on their…social, economic, political and cultural organization.”
Canada — 25 agreements have been signed providing self-government to indigenous groups. Examples are the Inuit in Nunavut of the eastern Arctic, nine Cree communities in northern Quebec, and the Anishinabek Education Agreement in Ontario.
USA tribes have self-government, but violation of land treaties and racism often spiral them downwards (Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota are poorer than anyone in the Western Hemisphere, except Haitians). The Landback movement in the USA and Canada aims to reclaim native territory, with Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills as a major goal. (The geo-sculpture is viewed by indigenous as a “symbol of white supremacy and systems of oppression.”) Landback success includes 241 acres returned to the Wiyot people in California; 300 acres back to the Mashpee Wampanoag in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and 1,700 acres to the Chippewa in Wisconsin.
Peru — The Wampis Nation is their first indigenous autonomous government, composed of 100 communities in a region as large as the state of Connecticut.
Nicaragua — The Miskito and eight other indigenous groups enjoy autonomy in the North and South Caribbean regions. This includes 314 communities, more than 200,000 people in an area that is 31% of the national territory.
Panama — The Kuna have full autonomy in the San Blas archipelago and the Embera have sovereignty over their land.
Colombia — The government granted autonomy and self-government to tribes in the Guainía, Vaupés and Amazonas departments.
North Africa — The Amazigh (Berber) are struggling for autonomy in Libya, and Algeria.
“Water, Forest, Land” — slogan of the Adivasi (India)
India — The indigenous Adivasi or Scheduled Tribes have long been engaged in a violent struggle for independence. The Pathalgari Movement demands the right to self-determination and is primarily active in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In the northeast state of Assam, multiple tribes have existed with “autonomous councils” since 1952.
Indonesia — The West Papuans of New Guinea are battling for full independence.
China has multiple autonomous regions for its ethnic minorities — Tibet, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia — but its legal system grants no right to secede.
Japan — The Okinawans are struggling for self-determination.
Taiwan has granted self-governing rights to majority-indigenous towns everywhere on the island.
Ethiopia — The Sidama nation achieved autonomy in 2020, and ten other groups asked for regional state status.
Australia — Self-governance is granted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people.
“In life, it is always possible to reach agreement in the end” — Taureg proverb, Sahara
What’s all this activity adding up to? This trend towards indigenous self-government and land return to First People? What does the future look like if a large percentage of the world’s 5,000 tribes become independent micro-states? Would this impact the global socio-politics of the non-indigenous?
Yes, indeed. Re-emergence of tribal self-determination will hugely encourage non-indigenous people to mimic three highly desirable, interrelated, and anarchistic features of indigenous governance: tinyism, direct democracy, and mutual aid.
Tinyism (also tinism) — Similar to localism, urbanism, or municipalism — is an emerging political philosophy that advocates smaller-is-better. Designed by a German (“JonahF2014”) two years ago, via reddit, its proponents support secessionist movements and seek to dissolve all oversized and/or contentious nations (like Israel) into village-sized units, similar to the Caracoles of the Zapatistas.
If independent indigenous villages become utopian settings, it’s certain the non-indigenous will imitate this. Already, in Oaxaca, black and mestizo communities have joined the anarcho-Magonismo Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca-Ricardo Flores Magón (CIPO-RFM) to model their governance on Zapotec and Mixtec models. In the USA and Canada, the first groups to go micro-independent might be religious communities, like Hutterite Brethren in Canada, Holmes County (Amish) in Ohio, or Muslim-majority Hamtramck, in Michigan. Towns that want to operate under a different economic or real estate system might also seek full autonomy; perhaps Arden and the other single-tax Georgist hamlets in Delaware.
Improving democracy so citizens feel like they truly have political power is a highly appealing aspect of indigenous society. (The Founding Fathers already did this when they modeled the US Constitution on the Iroquois Confederation). In Chiapas, the Zapatista communities hold consultas in town halls that include the entire community to discuss important issues; the people “meet for hours and hours on end, speaking from their particular vantage point and experience.” General Assemblies of the Occupy Movement already copied this format.
A third crucial amenity in indigenous society is mutual aid. This organizational theory, promoted in anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s books Conquest of Bread and Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, is defined as people working in solidarity to assist one another, in the spirit of “give what you can, take what you need.” Mutual Aid groups are generally member-led, member-organized, inclusive, with a non-hierarchical structure, and they’re enjoying a Renaissance recently, with high-performing relief groups responding to disasters caused by hurricanes Katrina (New Orleans) and Maria (Puerto Rico). PR has two common sayings that help depict mutual aid’s philosophy: “Mándeme más si más me merezco” (send me more if I deserve more), and “solo el pueblo salva al pueblo” (only the people save the people).
Many indigenous communities, like the 26 organized by CIPO-RFRM, are practitioners of mutual aid. In these Oaxaca groups mutual aid transactions are accomplished via barter and tequio (communal work) and “money has little importance… it is mainly used to obtain goods from outside the communities.” Indigenous Mutual Aid, an online information network with an “anti-colonial and anti-capitalist framework,” promotes “Ceremony & Solidarity, Not Charity on Stolen Land” and offers advice on surviving Covid. Kropotkin’s Chapter 3 in Mutual Aid (published in 1902) delivers examples of mutual support in neolithic tribes, the “Bushman”, the “Hottentots”, the Papuans, natives of Australia, Polynesians, “Aleuts” and “Eskimos.”
I always believed the collapse of empire-nations depended on the success of separatist movements (Sudan, Scotland, Biafra, Catalonia, etc.) But now, I view that strategy as incorrect. Support for indigenous autonomy, I now believe, is a vastly superior approach, for multiple reasons:
1) It creates smaller units then the secessionist approach. In the Zapatista territory, the basic governed unit is 300 families.
2) It benefits the most impoverished people on Earth
3) It delivers land control to the best stewards of land, an important consideration in our increasingly chaotic climate.
4) First Peoples can demonstrate to the rest of us how to share power and resources communally.
“Those who lose dreaming are lost” — Aborigine proverb, Australia