Abstract

This article is about constitutionalism as an Indigenous tradition. The political idea of constitutionalism is the idea that the process of governing is itself governed by a set of foundational laws or rules. There is ample evidence that Indigenous nations in North America—and in Australia and New Zealand as well—were in this sense constitutionalists. Customary law, cultural norms, and shared protocols provided well understood guidelines for key aspects of governance by shaping both personal and collective action, the behavior of leaders, decision-making, dispute resolution, and relationships with the human, material, and spirit worlds. Today, many of these nations have governing systems imposed by outsiders. As they move to change these systems, they also are reclaiming their own constitutional traditions.

Acknowledgments

This article is part of a research project on Indigenous self-determination, governance, and development in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand, being carried out by the University of Arizona’s Native Nations Institute in conjunction with international partners. My thanks to Steve Hemming, Miriam Jorgensen, Joe Kalt, Mark McMillan, Regis Pecos, Ian Record, Daryle Rigney, Grant Rigney, Diane Smith, Ron Trosper, Alison Vivian, and Rob Williams for relevant conversations and helpful comments, to Cosima Hay Mcrae for her assistance, and to the Ngarrindjeri Nation for its partnership in this research. Work with the Ngarrindjeri Nation was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant to the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). I am indebted to the ARC and UTS for their support of that work.

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