Recognizing the Other Solitude: Aboriginal Views of the Land and Liberal Theories of Cultural Justice

Ayaangwaamizin: The International Journal of Indigenous Philosophy 3 (1):55-88 (2003)
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Disputes over land are the major source of conflict between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples around the globe. According to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, land claims do not simply have to do with economic settlements. They also involve, in a critical sense, respect and recognition for cultural differences regarding culturally distinct self-understandings of land. The Commissioners argue that these disputes will never be wholly resolved unless dialogue and negotiations are "guided by one of the fundamental insights from our hearings: that is, to Aboriginal peoples, land is not just a commodity; it is an inextricable part of Aboriginal identity, deeply rooted in moral and spiritual values" (1996, 430). I would contend that human rights and global justice require that, as the United Nations Charter asserts, formerly colonized peoples have a legitimate claim to pursue their social, economic and cultural interests within the boundaries of a peoples' right to self- determination. I examine a spectrum of dominant liberal theories of justice regarding cultural membership and its relationship to politics with respect to Indigenous demands for self-determination. Specifically, my purpose is to explore which position is best able to accommodate the key aspect of this demand: that they have the power to organize themselves according to their traditional views of the land and that, importantly, they have the power to promote such self-understandings in their social, legal, and political institutions. I demonstrate the manner in which many such liberal theories continue to perpetuate (at times, unwittingly) a neo-colonial agenda in which Indigenous claims would be recognized by a liberal state the degree that Indigenous tribes assimilate to European cultural self-understandings.

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Ashwani Kumar Peetush
Wilfrid Laurier University


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