Listening to Indigenous Peoples: Deference, Power and Insult

Dr. Burke Hendrix
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Many advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere argue that these settler states can only overcome their colonial past if they renegotiate political relationships from a position of equality with indigenous leaders. These advocates argue that just political arrangements must be based on the consent of both sides, where indigenous peoples are allowed to argue in their own idioms and styles of debate, drawing on their own religious and philosophical traditions, and putting forward their own understanding of history. How should those negotiating for states react, however, when indigenous leaders put forward views that seem to them to draw on mistaken causal accounts of the social world, questionable views of science, or problematic views of history? In this presentation, I want to consider two types of reasons for state negotiators to exhibit at least some deference toward indigenous viewpoints. The first argument is epistemological, and suggests that trying to hold indigenous arguments to a very exacting standard will often be counterproductive in reaching a more accurate understanding of what justice consists in. When states and state leaders have been acting based on very mistaken moral, causal, or historical views, the arguments that seem most reasonable to them may actually be the most suspect. The best way to reach the most accurate viewpoint, then, may be to listen holistically to indigenous views with the goal of learning to see past one's own limited horizon.
The second argument focuses on reconciliation and avoiding further insult. On this justification, state negotiators should largely keep objections to indigenous views to themselves to avoid further alienation of indigenous populations. Even if when they find indigenous claims utterly absurd, this argument suggests that state negotiators must take the feelings of the other party seriously, even if not the arguments themselves.

Keywords: Indigenous Peoples, Negotiation, Epistemology, Reconciliation, Alienation, Colonialism
Stream: First Nations, Indigenous Peoples
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Burke Hendrix

Assistant Professor, Department of Government/ Program on Ethics and Public Life, Cornell University

Ref: D05P0350