Article Title

Processes of Native Nationhood: The Indigenous Politics of Self-Government


Over the last three decades, Indigenous peoples in the CANZUS countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States) have been reclaiming self-government as an Indigenous right and practice. In the process, they have been asserting various forms of Indigenous nationhood. This article argues that this development involves a common set of activities on the part of Indigenous peoples: (1) identifying as a nation or a people (determining who the appropriate collective “self” is in self-determination and self-government); (2) organizing as a political body (not just as a corporate holder of assets); and (3) acting on behalf of Indigenous goals (asserting and exercising practical decision-making power and responsibility, even in cases where central governments deny recognition). The article compares these activities in the four countries and argues that, while contexts and circumstances differ, the Indigenous politics of self-government show striking commonalities across the four. Among those commonalities: it is a positional as opposed to a distributional politics; while not ignoring individual welfare, it measures success in terms of collective power; and it focuses less on what central governments are willing to do in the way of recognition and rights than on what Indigenous nations or communities can do for themselves.


This paper is one product of a research project on Indigenous nation building carried out by the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) with support from the Australian Research Council (ARC). My thanks to both UTS and the ARC for their support and, especially, to my close colleagues on that project—Steve Hemming, Miriam Jorgensen, Mark McMillan, Daryle Rigney, and Alison Vivian—for the intellectual teamwork that directly shaped this paper and, indeed, made it possible. I am indebted to the Ngarrindjeri Nation and the Gunditjmara Nation for discussions at an inter-nation summit—an integral part of the project—in Kingston SE, South Australia, in October of 2012 that gave birth to some key ideas presented here, and to Alison Vivian for urging me to put my thoughts on paper and then critiquing the result. Her own work (Vivian, 2014) has significantly affected my thinking, as have our subsequent discussions. Thanks also to Angus Frith, Miriam Jorgensen, Daryle Rigney, and Rochelle Coté for valuable feedback on an earlier draft, and to Joseph Kalt and Diane Smith for numerous relevant discussions. Versions of this paper were presented to a workshop on “Theorising Indigenous Sociology” at the University of Sydney in July of 2012 and to another on “Ethnocultural Diversity, Governance, and Forms of Claims-Making” at the Center for American Political Studies, Harvard University, in March of 2014. Thanks especially to Eve Darian-Smith and Jeff Denis for their comments at the latter event. Finally, I am grateful to Cosima Hay McRae for her assistance—and patience.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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