Sovereignty as a Social Construct: A Literature Review of Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives

52 Pages Posted: 25 Dec 2012 Last revised: 30 Dec 2012

Date Written: December 24, 2012


The concept of sovereignty is both culturally and historically dependent. Sovereignty evolved within the Western legal tradition as a tool to legitimize imperial conquest over Indigenous peoples, territories and resources. Indigenous peoples, as non-state actors in the international community of sovereigns, have found themselves defined by this narrow and often-violent conception of power, which, at its heart, is contrary to Indigenous peoples’ values and epistemology. This has made it difficult for Indigenous peoples to engage or assert Western sovereignty without also experiencing a form of cultural and epistemological assimilation. An understanding and respect for the values that form the basis of Indigenous sovereignty can ultimately allow for the possibility of genuine social and legal reconciliation within the international legal system.

This literature review allows current narratives regarding Indigenous sovereignty to provide an emerging counterpoint to the dominant legal discourse in order to demonstrate that sovereignty is ultimately a man-made construct. Once we acknowledge sovereignty as a social construct, we can undertake to (re)construct new laws in a manner that no longer legitimizes the domination of imperialist values over Indigenous values.

Keywords: sovereignty, Indigenous, international law, reconciliation

Suggested Citation

Archer, Jennifer L., Sovereignty as a Social Construct: A Literature Review of Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives (December 24, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer L. Archer (Contact Author)

Jennifer L. Archer Consulting ( email )

Vancouver, British Columbia

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