The Transnationally Indigenous Project uses a world-making perspective, a framework that emphasizes the ways in which humans spend much of their time and creative energy not just resisting oppressive frameworks, but also working in diverse ways towards creating better futures. Using a world-making approach, we argue that Indigenous peoples — their thoughts, actions, and decisions — have shaped the world as we know it in ways that are rarely recognized in dominant society.

World-building is an alternative to victim and resistance frameworks. First, the victim framework criticizes colonization while simultaneously framing Indigenous peoples as passive victims. Meanwhile, the resistance framework focuses on how Indigenous peoples resist colonialism, but in doing so implies that Indigenous thoughts and actions only exist as a response to colonialism. These approaches are important in trying to stress the forms of long-going and still existing violence and dispossession against Indigenous peoples. However, we want instead to emphasize that Indigenous peoples have been continuously exerting diverse forms of agency that include building and maintaining relations with others, both human and more-than-human, through everyday assertions of sovereignty, where being sovereign means having the power and authority to govern and define oneself as a political body. These frameworks exist beyond ideas and practices that act as colonizing perspectives, assuming the legitimacy of the settler-state and reproducing the ideas that 1) Indigenous peoples live on the land without leaving a trace (terra nullius), 2) are unable to participate in the making of history, and 3) are not powerful political actors.

In Canada, the 1876 Indian Act shows colonizing perspectives in action. This law makes Indigenous peoples the legal responsibility of the Federal Government, or wards of the state, and has legislated many ways to control Indigenous peoples, such as the imposition of alien forms of governance as well as barring Indigenous peoples from using the courts to seek justice and land claims. In Japan, the government declared that the Indigenous Ainu — who still have a vibrant, active culture — were fully assimilated in 1899. These examples show how governments frame Indigenous people as stuck in the past or no longer existing, and attempt to constrain the scope of their own world-making projects. Colonizing perspectives are used to maintain settler-colonial systems and structures, such as governments, laws, and institutions that occupy Indigenous lands and reinforce non-Indigenous beliefs and practices. While it can be hard to picture what it would be like to exist without these systems of power, world-making helps us see all of the creative actions that people already do on a daily-basis. By seeing these creative alternatives, we can imagine building a different world beyond oppressive systems and practices. Although colonizing perspectives make the ongoing, daily world-making actions of Indigenous peoples invisible, we know that Indigenous peoples are not spectators and instead have and continue to actively choose and act as sovereign peoples. In fact, Indigenous peoples have travelled and built diplomatic relationships mediated by diverse practices and languages since time immemorial, a term used to refer to events that occurred so long ago that there is no written or oral record. Using a world-making framework, these previously invisible global networks of Indigenous collaboration and diplomacy, which predate Indigenous-settler relations, come alive. 

In phase one, this project will explore two Indigenous-led delegations to China taken in the mid-1970s by Indigenous Ainu from Japan and First Nations delegates from Canada. Indigenous delegates were interested in China both because it seemed to be a beacon of the world anti-colonialist movement and because of its seeming achievements in dismantling capitalism and building a socialist society.

In conclusion, Indigenous peoples are world-makers who continue to take collective and individual actions across legal, political, and economic landscapes. The effects of Indigenous people’s travels and diplomatic efforts are important, and have shaped the development of history as a whole. Whether you’re Indigenous or not, the actions and decisions of Indigenous peoples have affected your life. Using a world-making approach can help us understand how a global, Indigenous active presence can be felt today, and how it is ushering vibrant futures.