Governing and Demagoguery

Indian Country

November 10, 2014

by Rudolph C. Ryser

Reading the Glenn Morris comment in “Invader-States Hijacked UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” and Steven Newcomb’s “A Response to Glenn Morris’s Column” alongside Vice President Will Micklen’s “World Conference Takes Concrete Action to Benefit Indigenous Peoples” calls to mind the difference between “demagogues” and the people responsible for governing. “Demagogues” are essentially interested in their own narrow perspective at the expense of comity and deliberative agreement—they try to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason. Those who govern a nation either within the framework of a constitution or customary laws have a duty to seek comity and deliberative agreement toward a larger goal. Monsieurs Morris and Newcomb are not accountable to anyone but themselves. Vice President Micklin is responsible to his government and the 29,000 members of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. There is a difference.

In intergovernmental forums such as the United Nations and intertribal bodies such as the National Congress of American Indians one’s accountability counts. Those of us, who head non-governmental organizations, sit as academics, or who study international law may comment or suggest. We cannot and do not exercise the political authority and responsibility of a government. Vice President Micklin and other political leaders participated in the deliberations of the UN leading up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. They had the duty and responsibility to engage the United Nations and individual UN Member states. That duty has deep roots in the foundational culture of each nation.

Demagoguery does perform a function. It can point out the extreme boundaries of social possibilities, excite emotions and often instill hostility in opponents. Monsieurs Morris (FULL DISCLOSURE: Glenn and I have been friends for years. Glenn was listed as a co-editor with Carol Minugh and me for “Indian Self-Governance,” a book published by the Center for World Indigenous Studies in 1989.) and Newcomb both take their turn in written comments to repeat what they have said numerous times in conversation and meetings. They repeat the tired and misleading complaints of the so-called North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC). Each raises his voice to condemn those tribal leaders as illegitimate. Neither demonstrated their willingness during the North American Indigenous Peoples Preparatory Meeting in February-March of 2013 to engage indigenous leaders in a colloquy concerning policy, priorities, or procedure for discussion. They don’t demonstrate that commitment now. Both of these gentlemen have chosen to harangue, speak half-truths, and otherwise demand agreement and compliance with their ideas while ignoring the interests of North American indigenous nations.  These two men, as much as several other unaccountable individuals in the so-called NAIPC deliberately sabotaged the process of developing a truly representative North American Regional body in the winter of 2013 that included indigenous governments in Canada and the United States thus forcing indigenous governments to act on their own.

Vice President Micklin’s Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes, and representatives of other nations (the Navajo Nation, the Quinault Indian Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Mille Lacs Band, Miwok Nation, Oneida Nation Council of Chiefs, Yurok Tribe and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe) to what was supposed to be a North American Indigenous Peoples’ Preparatory Meeting at Sycuan in 2013.  These indigenous governments chose to send delegates to participate with non-representative indigenous people in good faith discussions.  They had the intent to agree to recommended themes and topics for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

What was originally billed as a “Preparatory Meeting” of the North American Region was quickly converted into a NAIPC meeting. An academic and a non-governmental organization director with a preconceived agenda controlled the meeting. The agenda was set by a small group of people including Monsieurs Morris and Newcomb. These two and their colleagues in the so-called NAIPC had preconceived notions for the final outcome of the Preparatory Meeting. They were intent on forcing their views for an outcome.  Those preconceived notions basically involved the small, unaccountable group’s decision to designate its members as THE representatives of North America.  There would be no discussion, compromise or consideration of the views or proposals offered by representatives of indigenous governments. The ruling clique hijacked the Preparatory Meeting. They had already decided what they were going to achieve applying their exclusionary approach to “consensus”—“agree with us or shut up!” The idea and possibility of a North American regional body representative of the indigenous nations and peoples in Canada and North America collapsed in 2013.

Unlike the UN World Conference that was all along a meeting of UN Member states and not a joint meeting with indigenous nations (how indeed could they hijack their own meeting?) the North American Regional Preparatory Meeting was supposed to be a joint meeting of indigenous nations and peoples. A small clique of unaccountable individuals hijacked it. The Preparatory Meeting was billed as an open meeting of delegates from throughout North America and became a meeting of the NAIPC made up of self-selected individuals sitting with indigenous government representatives from a number of nations. The pretense of a representative North American Preparatory meeting evaporated on the first day of the Preparatory Meeting. The so-called NAIPC went on to hold their meeting and claim participation of non-participating indigenous governments. It was a sham!

Indigenous government representatives left the “Preparatory Meeting” with a bitter, foul taste in their mouths having confronted an authoritarian clique of individuals. They were confronted with a group that demanded control and the authority to decide what policies would be offered to the United Nations conference.

The alternative for indigenous governments was to take initiatives on their own to engage the UN and UN Member states whether the conference was fully endorsed by its original proposers or not.  Vice President Micklin’s description reliably describes the results of those initiatives. Those outcomes are significant not only for indigenous peoples in North American, but throughout the world. Indigenous governments and responsible non-governmental organizations took the initiative. Even though I did not wholly agree with the indigenous governments’ strategy or proposals I support their effort. Acting in concert they worked to produce openings for indigenous peoples to achieve new levels of dialogue and negotiations in a world recognizably hostile to the rights of indigenous nations.

When faced with hostility demagogues definitely get the attention of opponents, but too often mislead the less well informed and outside hostility turns to unproductive rage. But indigenous nation leaders who must govern have the duty to seize the opportunity to strengthen and protect the rights and interests of the people they represent.  In so doing they must work to find common ground to convert hostility into accommodation. Vice President Micklin and other political leaders are working to establish political equality with Member UN States (as I described in my ICTMN column on September 22). They have made a first small step in that direction. Patience, political skill, and good timing are critical here. Morris and Newcomb would do well to pay close attention to the political leaders.



[Dr. Rudolph C. Ryser is the Chairman of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, a former Acting Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, a former staff member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission and Advisor to Chief George Manuel then President of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. He holds a doctorate in international relations, teaches Fourth World Geopolitics through the CWIS Certificate Program ( and he is the author of “Indigenous Nations and Modern States” published by Routledge in 2012.]