Indigenous Movements for Autonomy (Part 2)

Asking for freedom, dignity, and respect from an oppressor in a civil manner has never won anybody their sovereignty. This is a paraphrased Frederick Douglas quote popular among organizers. The indigenous people who survived imperialism lived this reality. We are all slaves in a way but for millions of people the slavery is real and painful. Men are slave to masculinity but women are murdered and raped because of it.  The capitalist is slave to the duties of their enterprise but laborers must swallow their pride and dignity for a wage. Colonizers are slaves to their masters but the colonized are murdered, their cultures extinguished. Indigenous groups have faced the reality of their cultures mortality time and again in the history of colonialism.

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The EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) engaged in a violent campaign against the Mexican government in Chiapas with the demand of gaining autonomous control of their state, the most resource rich state of Mexico. The violent uprising was crushed by a national military force. In the long run, the Mexican military collaborated with Chiapaneco peasants who opposed the EZLN’s ideology to control the unrest. The EZLN were responding to the effects that the North American Free Trade Agreement had on their economy. It allowed their land and resources to be brought easier by multinational corporations. It depressed their wages. It made their farms less economically viable. And so the Zapatistans staged an armed insurrection in several of the major cities of Chiapas. They fought and they lost battles but they did gain a degree of autonomy within Chiapas. Today there are armed Zapatistan communities known as Caracoles, there is a Zapatistan university, and there are Zapatistan community governments throughout Chiapas. The leaders still wear their iconic balaclavas and the state still remains in a constant state of tension between the former rebels, the ever-present Mexican military, and the Chiapanecan locals who took the side of the government in the rebellion. The Zapatistan liberation strategy also included a political dimension. Several recognizable members of the Zapatistan leadership travelled to Mexico City to speak in front of the Mexican legislative body, where weak legislation was passed recognizing indigenous rights over their lands.

In 2013, the Murrawarri took a route to autonomy that contrasted with the martial violence and weighed political moves of the EZLN. The Murrawarri went over the heads of their occupiers, the Australian government, in order to declare their autonomy from a chain of governance that eventually led to the British Crown. They drafted a declaration of independence and sent it to the Australian government and the British crown. Upon not hearing back from any of their intended targets a provisional government was set up. Their targets claim they didn’t respond because their was no basis for the Murrawarri’s claim to a sovereign republic. This technically makes the Murrawarri Republic a micronation as it hasn’t been recognized by any outside governments. They took their argument for sovereignty to the UN who also failed to respond to or legitimize their claim. Their Provisional Council of State continues to function, despite a lack of international recognition. The chairman of the council, Fred Hooper, is quoted as saying, “”Today is a historic moment. The Murrawarri Republic now has a formal interim government that is responsible for the governance of the Republic. This day is very significant as it begins to free the Murrawarri Peoples from the tyranny of our colonial oppressors.” The stance of Murrawarri Republic is defiance of their oppressors.

In both the Zapatistan and Murrawarri cases, indigenous communities trapped under the decision-making force of governments who had originally occupied their land, decided that society’s values had changed enough they could regain their sovereignty through defiance. They used different strategies and neither of their claims were entirely met, but both groups now have a government made up of people with a closer developmental history to them, and they have created a model for a move away from colonial imperialism, a model that could provide a map for a more just society.

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