Is there such a thing as indigenous sovereignty? Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute looks at the meaning behind the two words:
On behalf of Original Nations of Great Turtle Island (“American Indian nations”), people have been attempting to combine a term indicating a subordinated political identity, “indigenous,” with a supremely dominating political identity, “sovereignty.” They have been doing this in an effort to liberate us from a wrongfully imposed political subordination for our nations and peoples. They have been doing this in an effort to free our nations from a conceptually imposed position that is deemed to exist under the dominating power of “the State” with its claimed right of domination.
What most of us have failed to notice is the impossibility of being liberated from a subordinated political identity by continuing to invoke a subordinated political identity. Using the word “sovereignty” preceded by the word “indigenous” does not remove or raise the level of the political subordination, it merely reinforces the subordination. Moreover, as mentioned above, it adopts the concept of domination itself as a model of existence which contradicts our traditional relational systems.
We have been attempting to defend ourselves against those who lay claim to “sovereignty” over us in the name of concepts such as “the Crown,” “the United States,” “Canada,” “the State,” and other categories of domination.