In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indigenous Peoples and the Global Indigenous Movement

  • Introduction: “Becoming Indigenous”

Geography Indigenous Peoples and the Global Indigenous Movement
Francesca Merlan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0212

Introduction: “Becoming Indigenous”

“Indigenous” names an emergent, collective, globalizing and (increasingly) legally recognized sociopolitical identity, resulting from a social movement which became institutionalized from around 1980. Typically, those now termed “indigenous peoples” were formerly known by local, regional, or national category terms or ethnonyms applied to them by outsiders (e.g., “American Indians,” “Australian Aborigines,” Eskimo, or Aleuts), rather than by terms that they used among themselves. In many cases older terms have been replaced, also from ca. the 1980s by alternative terms emergent from social and political processes of liberalization within particular nation-states or regions (e.g., “First Nations,” “Native Americans,” Adivasi, or Inuit). “Indigenous” is increasingly used of, and by, these peoples in reference to themselves and others, even where other local and regional designations persist. Though forms of the word have a long history, “indigeneity” is relatively recent in internationalist usage. This use grew in relation to a range of circumstances: the interaction of indigenous activism with developing global institutions; Third World decolonization and civil rights activism; political and economic conditions that prompted reorganization by (especially liberal-democratic but also other) states of entitlements to land and resources; and diffusion of measures implicating indigeneity across levels of state and corporate administration. Given indigenous globalization, some authors write of “becoming” indigenous. The recency and selective participation of indigenous people and communities means that there is often a considerable gap between elite relationship to internationalist concepts and activism and more local forms of understanding on the part of indigenous people less engaged at that level. Some states continue to deny the applicability of “indigeneity” to their own situations, while affirming its relevance to states of settler colonial origin. Yet indigenous organizations are emerging even in such countries (e.g., Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, India). The League of Nations and, later, the United Nations, have centrally hosted and promoted globalization of the indigenous category. Concern with those now considered to be “indigenous” took shape after World War I as a matter of labor conditions and human rights affecting “disadvantaged” peoples in “underdeveloped” countries. In the post–World War II period there was concern with “discrimination” against disadvantaged and “indigenous” peoples. In 1982, a Working Group on Indigenous Populations was created within the United Nations. The main product of the working group over twenty-five years was the formulation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (cited under United Nations as a Center of Indigenous Globalization), adopted by the General Assembly in 2007.

General Reference Works

Given the global scope of the indigenous social movement, there are literatures on the phenomenon worldwide that treat specific states, regions, or peoples. This section references works that are of a general character, either in the sense that they address the indigenous movement broadly or attempt general characterization of indigeneity or some aspect of it. Historian and social theorist Clifford 2013, informed by his research in the Pacific, writes about the indigenous resurgence of recent decades. Maybury-Lewis 2001 writes about the indigenous movement and issues on the basis of long-term research and association with lowland South America (with Akwe-Shavante, Ge, and Bororo peoples). Written by a lawyer and anthropologist, Niezen 2003 and Niezen 2008 discuss the indigenous movement broadly, his own research and scholarly center of gravity largely based in Canada and the settler colonial situation; written by an educator, author, and activist, Taiaiake 2005 characterizes indigeneity normatively, his own experience based in the community of Kahnawake (Mohawk, Quebec); Sissons 2005, written by an anthropologist, focuses on Maori of New Zealand, Cook Islands, and Polynesian colonialism and cultural history; Andersen and Maaka 2006 is likewise grounded in New Zealand. De la Cadena and Starn 2007 is written by anthropologists of Peru and Andean culture, and Starn is also of indigenous North American identity. Wilmer 1993 was an early general introduction to the global movement. Certain nationally and regionally focused works, such as Warren 1998 on Guatemala, are of central importance to understanding emerging indigenist globalism from specific vantage points and the effects of international funding and influence on shaping indigenist activism.

  • Andersen, Chris, and Roger Maaka, eds. The Indigenous Experience: Global Perspectives. Ontario: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2006.

    This edited collection brings together some classic (abridged) selections mainly on the Global North (Canada, United States, Norway, Australia, and Japan) but also parts of Latin America and Africa. Thematically sections are colonization (genocide, ethnocide, and questions of intention); social “constructs” of colonialism (nation, criminalization, trope of the “end” of indigenous peoples); indigenous struggle (including questioning of mainstream concepts; e.g., “sovereignty”). The editors’ contribution identifies “constructive engagement” as the future.

  • Clifford, James. Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

    A “collage” of essays that consider processes of pragmatic survival and cultural renewal of indigenous peoples, leaving open ways of understanding them as an historical force. The author’s perspective is broad, but particularly grounded in New Caledonia and the Pacific.

  • De la Cadena, Marisol, and Orin Starn, eds. Indigenous Experience Today. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2007.

    An edited collection that explores the new salience of indigenous peoples in the world. Chapters examine the dynamics of contemporary indigeneity—its forms, acceptances, refusals—around the globe (including Australia, Bolivia, Botswana, Canada, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, and the United States).

  • Maybury-Lewis, David. Indigenous Peoples, Ethnic Groups, and the State. 2d ed. Cultural Survival Studies in Ethnicity and Change. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2001.

    A (second) edition of a classic introductory text by an anthropologist, ethnologist of lowland South America, advocate and activist for indigenous peoples’ human rights, and professor emeritus of Harvard University. In 1972, Maybury-Lewis and wife co-founded Cultural Survival, the leading US-based advocacy and documentation organization devoted to “promoting the rights, voices and visions of indigenous peoples.”

  • Niezen, R. The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520235540.001.0001

    Sees the global emancipatory potential of international indigenism arising from “shared experiences of marginalized groups facing the negative impacts of resource extraction and economic modernity” (p. 9). With shared aspirations for a different future, Niezen sees different groups as able to commonly identify as “indigenous peoples.” The book presupposes the possibility of a (large degree of) autonomy on the part of indigenous peoples.

  • Niezen, Ronald. “The Global Indigenous Movement.” In Handbook of North American Indians: Indians in Contemporary Society. Edited by Garrick Bailey, 438–445. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2008.

    A concise introduction to the global movement, including prior expressions of grievance to higher authorities over the long term, the movement as a transition to self-expression, conditions of its possibility, human rights, the role of religious organizations, population estimates, indigenous definitions and demographic estimates, and the movement’s challenges and futures.

  • Sissons, Jeffrey. First Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and Their Futures. London: Reaktion Books, 2005.

    An introductory text grounded in (but broader than) the author’s engagement with Maori in New Zealand. Sissons argues that “indigeneity” should be applied, in a limited way, to settler colonial contexts. He discusses recent indigenous revival and urges more attention to youth and to the fact that most indigenous people (in Sissons’s sense) are urban dwelling, raising issues of new kinds of indigenous futures.

  • Taiaiake, Alfred. Wasase. Indigenous Pathways to Action and Freedom. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2005.

    Taiaiake calls for recognition and regeneration of distinctively indigenous ways of being, indigenous peoples’ freeing themselves from established privileges, inequalities, the unreformed nature of the colonial state, and the intrusive character of international institutions and bureaucracy. Primary reference is to situations of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Indigenous goals are to protect lands and ways of life.

  • Warren, Kay B. Indigenous Movements and Their Critics: Pan-Maya Activism in Guatemala. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

    A study of Mayan public intellectuals and their efforts to promote Mayan cultural resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s, and efforts to exit from the longer-term situation of Mayan Indians being compelled to pass here, as in other parts of Latin America, as Ladinos (or the equivalent). The book also treats the role of international funding and its aim to strengthen civil society and encourage non-leftist construction of pan-Maya politics.

  • Wilmer, Franke. The Indigenous Voice in World Politics. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE, 1993.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781483326610

    Political scientist and politician Wilmer examine the consolidation of the “Fourth World” and ideas of normative modernization that have excluded and transformed it. Wilmer’s work endured as an early standard reference on indigenous peoples and the internationalist movement. She clearly articulated the idea of indigenous difference from the normative mainstreams of encapsulating nation-states and presented an optimistic view of the restorative nature of the indigenous people’s movement.

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