Ethics and Identity

It is said that ethics and values define the nature and character of an identity. This implies that for living ethics to be responsive and relevant, identity has to be autonomous and free. When a people's freedom is stolen and their culture is denied from evolving naturally, so too is their ethical worldview. The struggle for freedom is further compounded by alien power structures, which is the source of fragmentation. The practice of imposing divisions, specifically fragmenting indigenous peoples, opposes the very basic tenets of all indigenous ethical philosophies. 

In essence the people’s very ethical framework has been diluted. As a result, indigenous peoples became weak, vulnerable and their capacity to meet their present needs have been compromised. The people’s power and ability to adapt with the growing modern developments around the world based on their own terms and conditions have been negated. In effect the indigenous mind is colonized and the worldview dogmatic.

In order to survive their present circumstances, some have stopped honoring the principles and values, which increases their vulnerability to accept external influences without any critical thought and assessment. These conditions have led to an unhealthy and increasing dependency on the state. This can be seen in many examples around the world in which the once self-reliant indigenous peoples are now dependent on the State for their basic survival. Alfred Taiaiake described this as, ‘… the forced dependence on a central government for provision of sustenance that lie at the root of injustice in the indigenous mind.’

Dependency is intrinsically connected to identity. When a people become dependent on others for their mere existence, they cease being who they truly are. The growth and development of their values and principles are stunted. The people stop determining their day-to-day existence and the path to the future. These conditions adversely affect how they interact with nature, the land, and their value systems. Eventually, the emergence of socio-economic classes emerges that are very status consciousness and segregated which contradict the ethical framework of a society which strives for equality and dignity. 

Such a forced environment leads to the emergence of a new set of political identities based on political power and how territorial space is organized. Mahmood Mamdani states that ‘Political identities are the consequence of how power is organized. The organization of power not only defines the parameters of the political community, telling us who is included and who is left out, it also differentiates the bounded political community internally.’ This serves as a mechanism of co-optation and assimilation into the dominant society. Indigenous identities become more fragmented, which in turn weakens and divides the indigenous political aspirations.  

Pulling Together: A Guide for Researchers says, ‘While there is much diversity among Indigenous Peoples and Nations overall, Indigenous ethics resonate with the values of honour, trust, honesty, and humility. They reflect commitment to the collective and embody a respectful relationship with the land.’ For indigenous peoples to be whole again, their own set ethics must evolve which empowers critical thought processes and knowledge systems to emerge. It is in their capacity and capability to be creators of their own value-based praxis that they catalyze their vision to become a life giving society which determine the course of life. In the end, a peoples’ identity would be meaningless unless it is founded on ethics that values and respects all of human life and human worth.