Returning to Indigenous world governance

The potential of community land trusts

Filed under: Essays
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In 1974, a group of Mohawk families occupied Moss Lake in New York state. After three years of heavy activism and high tensions, they signed an agreement with the state and were granted the area as a land trust. Source: Ganienkeh.net

by Kanenhariyo

I have a dream that our people will spread out from the reservations we call territories and establish new communities steeped in our languages, laws, traditions and clans. I have had this dream since I was a teenager. I have come to a point in my life where I believe the time for me to be a part of that movement has arrived.

For those of you with the same or similar dream I encourage you to let yourself be known. Let’s join forces and make our dreams of freedom and national independence our reality.

I also recognize community building takes committed people willing to work together to make possible the betterment of everyone’s future generations. I am ready to find solutions together with others to make this dream become reality.

I started to investigate if there was a way to establish a collective land holdings in a collective commons outside of a nation state. If that has been done before I wondered what examples exist and how a group or a collection of groups should go about structuring and organizing and protecting such a land holding.

What my research found was that in fact there are several examples of such land holdings. They are often referred to as “community land trusts” or “land trust protectorates.”

After World War Two several of these sorts of land trusts were established to assist lands and populations who had experienced colonization or relocation establish themselves with protection from other nation-states invading them.

Amazingly a structure and legal apparatus does exists at the international level.

I initiated the process to hire a lawyer prepared and willing to build the nessary legal apparatus to achieve ratification at The Hague. However at the time I had not reached out to others to assist in fundraising and adding to the discussion and development.

I had at the time been too worried about sabotage to put it out there in the world. I was always aware that this sort of project could not be pursued without help so I have come to accept that there will be negative people out there and that we must focus our attention and work with those that seek similar goals and like minded people and not worry about the saboteurs.

Although I do not agree with what has happened in Palestine and Israel, Israel was in fact set up as a collective land trust protectorate.

There currently are several land occupations occurring in Canada by Indigenous people reoccupying their territories. However there are no legal apparatuses protecting these people or their lands.

Thus the road map and international legal apparatus does in fact exist. I propose that we create an Indigenous land trust that we collectively govern together for the protection of the land and of the people living together. And that we hold lands through the globe as an international land protectorate.

There are several land trusts that hold lands in different countries that buy up or accept donations of lands for environmental protections. This is not a new concept. Except in this case we would link arms and hold each others lands and territories in common, and acknowledge each other’s land stewardship in the places across our Mother Earth where we have lived for thousands of years.

I started the process of paying for the legal work to get this done but I can not pay for this all on my own. I simply do not have the means.

Canada and other counties are still operating on the premise of the doctrine of discovery.

There currently are several land occupations occurring in Canada by Indigenous people reoccupying their territories. However there are no legal apparatuses protecting these people or their lands. I continue to hear word that plans for more reoccupations are in the works.

Canada and other counties are still operating on the premise of the doctrine of discovery. They also claim Indigenous people within the territory are citizens and therefore any and all Indigenous issues are perceived in the international community as internal issues. Therefore,  outside nation-states are not able by international law to intervene.

So I’m proposing that we build an international land protectorate forming alliances both with each other and nation-states willing to offer support politically, financially, and militarily. There would be many smaller nations, and a few larger ones that are willing to assist.

It’s not a huge jump—if a jump at all—to recognize that we all have the same Mother Earth. Building protective laws for our mother and the people that live with her isn’t a huge stretch either. I think we would be  wise to build a single collective that touches as many continents and people as possible.

In these  collective territories, we would all have a responsibility to support and protect each other, share resources, knowledge, and improve our collective internal trade.

In practice the land trust organization that would hold all the lands of its members in common would be  made up from all the stewards of each different territory.  Effectively this would be creating an Indigenous United Nations, where each group of Indigenous stewards selects their own representative to carry their interest within the collective land trust.

Together we can affirm each other’s stewardship of lands.  We can create stewardship agreements that ensure autonomy and governance over territory by the stewards so long as they continue to maintain certain “laws” to protect the people and the land.

And we hold these lands we live on and with in common. And we work together to create a constitution that ensures protection for the people and the land. With governance at the local level by the people, in accordance to their cultural practices and values that have protected the land for thousands of years.

Holding lands in trust in this sort of manner would make it harder for a nation-state or corporation to make a treaty with some sideliner or a group looking to forfeit their peoples’ rights to the land for a few bucks.

Right now many or most of us have few protections and continuously struggle with small numbers and the inability to raise the capital or people or defend ourselves against corporate interests and foolish nation-state leaders.

Creating a collective Indigenous land trust with stewardship agreements would greatly reduce this struggle by increasing our numbers, creating protectionary laws, and having the international community’s protections apply to the lands and people within the trust. There are several nation-states willing to support such an effort. It’s good for the Earth. And it’s a different model than the current global structure in many ways.

In a sense I suppose I am proposing a form of Indigenous world governance. Perhaps it is time that we return to it.

 

Kanenhariyo is a co-founder of Real People’s Media and the host of the podcast What’s Going On?  

 

A version of article originally appeared on Real People’s Media.