Globalization and Indian Politics

Globalization and Indian Politics

by Daniel Orr -
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National and state interests have always been more at the center of Indian policy than indigenous interests. Looking back at the Marshall trilogy we see that the Court was actively affirming federal authority over indigenous polities (Johnson), private citizens’ rights (Johnson), and states’ sovereignty (Worcester). But the Cherokee Nation decision was also influenced significantly by international pressures. Marshall’s creation of “domestic dependent nations” and the war-guardian relationship was in part an attempt to preserve a perception of U.S stability and dominion over indigenous peoples, in order to reaffirm the U.S’ international political position.

Early in U.S history therefore, both national and international political interests guided Indian policy. The majority of Indian policy at this time however, appears to have been formulated with the intent of reaffirming federal authority. But Maltz’ comparison of Brown and Tee-Hit-Ton clearly describes how by the mid-twentieth century international interests had become a serious influence in Indian policy. So I wonder whether the guiding  policy interests have shifted along with globalization and U.S international political activities. And I would like to know how these political interests will continue to co-opt the creation and implementation of federal Indian policy, in this post-Cold War era of neoliberal internationalism, where globalization has become the new policy of assimilation, and the entire world has been made into Indian Country.

For example, the Keystone XL pipeline is supposedly a project that would reduce dependence on foreign energy supplies, while strengthening trade relationships between the U.S and Canada. But the project runs directly through Native lands, violates treaties, and threatens the physical and environmental safety of Indians in both countries. Cold War nuclear stockpiling led to mass uranium mining throughout reservations of the western U.S, a process which still continues today. President Obama’s decision to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples rested was also a calculated move to accumulate the moral and political capital that are concomitant with signing (given an understanding that the document has no significant binding powers to uphold the rights and conditions within.) And Idle No More, a movement that originated almost at exactly the same time as Occupy Wallstreet, received minimal media attention, while Occupy became a global (Western) phenomenon. Although Native events are always given less attention, I wonder what degree of the media treatment was influenced by the political threat the movement posed to the very foundation of the U.S and Canadian governments.

It’s nothing new that the federal government has been overriding indigenous rights with national and international political interests. But I wonder if international interests have become more important as the world has undergone economic and political transformation in the process of globalization.