Beyond DACA: Toward a Native Understanding of Nationhood

Tupac Enrique Acosta (right) teaches youth as part of TONATIERRA’s Indigenous cultural education programs known as Xinachtli (Seed). Courtesy Image.

Last week, Deceleration ran an article by Bettie Lyons of the American Indian Law Alliance calling on people of conscience to understand DACA from an Indigenous People’s perspective. To delve more deeply into the geopolitical underpinnings of this call, Deceleration co-editor Marisol Cortez spoke with Tupac Enrique Acosta of TONATIERRA, a grassroots Indigenous Peoples Self Determination movement organization that grew out of decades of community organizing among undocumented workers and families in Arizona.

Enrique-Acosta challenges the colonial conceptualizations of nationhood and citizenship in the Americas that contextualize most of the conversation about US immigration policies, even among those seeking to defend and uphold “immigrant rights” from virulent white nationalists like Arpaio and Trump. In Enrique-Acosta’s words, the descendants of the original nations of Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (or Turtle Island) could never be “immigrants on our own continent.”

For Enrique-Acosta, the frontline in the struggle to defend the Human Rights of “immigrant constituencies” from an indigenous perspective is conceptual, requiring a “cognitive revolution”  that takes us down to the very roots of Western colonial thought structures, the schema of nationhood, citizenship, community and culture.

“For us,” he says, “our constitution of nationhood is planetary. And specific, according to our own particular languages, traditions, and most importantly, ecological responsibilities to the territories that are our homelands. So there’s a completely different conception [and] terminology when we speak of our migrations and our responsibilities. And based on that, we confront the government state system at the UN—including the US, including Mexico, including Canada—and we challenge them to clarify that point. Yes, your governments; yes, your states. We, however, are really the nations. Because we emerge, nacemos, every day, every dawn, from the sacred relationship to the land, the water, the air, and the fire. And that is our constitution. It’s our reality. And it’s also very scientific. As well as having a very spiritual inflection.

“It has to do with this, exactly this, the fundamental question: What is it to constitute a constituency of human society that is not a derivative of colonization?”

Acosta ends with a call for Deceleration listeners to shift their own understanding of immigrant rights as Indigenous rights as universal and inalienable human rights:

“The US government is party to the United Nations Human Rights Declaration, and since 2007 our rights as Indigenous people have been given recognition as being equal in terms of human rights to any other people in the world. We’re asking your listeners to rally, if they consider it appropriate … to say human rights cannot be deferred.”

Listen to the full podcast conversation here: