Who is indigenous?

Bryan James Gordon linguista at GMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 1 21:38:37 UTC 2013


I'm a little perplexed, too. I think it's just right to consider
indigeneity a political/social construct. But we are social scientists, so
I don't understand the distinction between this and technical/scientific
indigeneity.

If I may attempt to offer a bit of clarity (probably poorly), I think we're
dealing with the good ole material/ideal divide here. There are certain
facts which, once recognised, can perhaps reduce some of the confusion
here:

   1. Indigeneity is political, because resource and land claims are at the
   heart of it.
   2. Political is both ideal and material.
   3. Indigeneity's material-political elements include both goals (claims)
   and histories (warm bodies living in certain places)
   4. Indigeneity is social, because social actors construct it in their
   discourses.
   5. The material-political, ideal-political and social-construction
   elements of indigeneity are all empirically observable and theorisable
   entities. They are not "unscientific".
   6. The use of "indigenous" as a scientific classificatory item is
   suspect, but so is the use of any other social/political label. Fortunately
   this has not brought sociology, anthropology, political science or
   economics to an end.

In the sites where I work, the meaning of indigeneity for
indigenous-identified people is complex, but clear in application. It has
to do with which cultural group (and sometimes which bloodline) was present
where before the great invasion of Europeans. The "where" part is complex
because it is understood that people moved around a lot. It's not about who
was where first, because the link between "who" and "where" was much more
disrupted by the European invasion than, say, by the Athabascan invasion or
the Aztec invasion that occurred before.

Of course, different people are free to construct indigeneity in different
ways. Some cultures put more emphasis on biological descent, others on
cultural descent. Some cultures include neighbouring cultures as equally
"indigenous", while other cultures exclude cultures that moved into the
area even before the European invasion. Descendants of settlers often claim
indigeneity as a way to trivialise the claims of the descendants of those
against whom settlers committed genocide. As social scientists we can
analyse these competing claims without having to get rid of indigeneity as
a concept.

Bryan James Gordon
University of Arizona


2013/1/21 Carl E. Anderson <carl.anderson at unisabana.edu.co>

> I find the “firestorm” over the term a bit curious – and the fact that
> such a firestorm even exists should alert us to the fact that we are
> dealing with a “political” issue rather than a “scientific” one. *
> Technically*, of course, *everyone* is “indigenous” with respect to *some*location, in the dictionary sense of “having originated in and being
> produced, growing, or living naturally in a particular region or
> environment”. *Technically*, a baby born to Asian immigrants in Amsterdam
> is as “indigenous” as a baby born to parents whose ancestors have lived in
> Holland since “time immemorial”, or a baby born to parents who are
> participants in the English-speaking “mainstream” culture of New York City
> is as “indigenous” as a baby born on a reservation to parents whose
> ancestors lived in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, etc. and
> etc. And given that – since “time immemorial” (which itself is a pretty
> vague and even changeable concept) – some people have always moved around
> or adopted new or multiple identities, it is difficult to escape the sense
> that the term is not much use from a technical/scientific viewpoint, and
> that might well be a better argument than what Kuper offered for indeed
> abandoning it in technical/scientific/academic contexts.****
>
> ** **
>
> Even if we try to define indigenous peoples in the sense of “the first
> inhabitants ever (known)”, and *also* peoples whose culture and identity
> sharply differ from those of the (local [though how “local”?]) majority, *
> and* also whose history includes colonization, dispossession,
> marginalization, subjugation, etc. we are really wrapping so many
> ultimately distinct conditions into the term that we are probably diluting
> whatever value it may have (had) to the point of uselessness. ****
>
> ** **
>
> Even people who are “indigenous” in the sense of “(descendants) of the
> first inhabitants ever (known)" …. Well, who those first inhabitants really
> were may be debatable, or the information about them may change; and people
> who are their descendants may also have other ancestors from other places,
> and so forth and so on. The extent to which any of this matters in the
> socio-cultural construct of “indigenousness” by different people is
> inevitably going to be variable (we can readily find various “indigenous
> groups” whose own criteria for what qualifies a group member varies
> markedly), and thus we have the situation that all sorts of people with
> widely varying conditions and agendas can claim “indigeneity” or
> self-identify as “indigenous”. IMO, the concept as used in the contemporary
> world is simply too vague, too diverse, to enable any useful universal
> application.****
>
> ** **
>
> Is it not finally the case that we are probably really talking about
> political, social, and cultural issues of “endangered minority ethnic
> and/or cultural and/or linguistic groups”? After all, it would be difficult
> to identify the Romani as “indigenous” (except, in a technical sense,
> perhaps ultimately to the region of the NW Indian subcontinent, where none
> I think now live!) except to the location where a given individual was born
> (which could have been in anyone of a number of countries or continents),
> yet in political/social/cultural terms the Romani are surely affected by
> many of the same issues that affect people belonging to what one might more
> customarily consider to be “indigenous” groups (whether Sámi or Navajo or
> Ainu or whoever).  ****
>
> ** **
>
> For good or for ill, I cannot see how the claim of “indigeneity” by living
> persons can be construed as something other than political/social construct
> – and, probably, as long as we remember that socio-political “indigeneity”
> is (or can be) quite different from (if conceptually related to)
> technical/scientific “indigeneity”, perhaps we will be OK. I’m not sure I
> see any other readily solution or definition.****
>
> ** **
>
> Cheers,
> Carl****
>
> ** **
>
> --****
>
> Carl Edlund Anderson****
>
> Dept. of Languages & Cultures****
>
> Universidad de La Sabana****
>
> http://unisabana.academia.edu/CarlAnderson****
>
> http://lenguas.unisabana.edu.co/****
>
> http://laclil.unisabana.edu.co/****
>
> ** **
>
> *From:* Endangered Languages List [mailto:
> ENDANGERED-LANGUAGES-L at listserv.linguistlist.org] *On Behalf Of *Johanna
> Laakso
> *Sent:* Monday, January 21, 2013 2:26 AM
> *To:* ENDANGERED-LANGUAGES-L at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG
> *Subject:* Re: Who is indigenous?****
>
> ** **
>
> Dear Frank & All,****
>
> ** **
>
> in our case, one central issue was the position of the Sámi as "the only
> indigenous people of the EU", in contrast to other old minorities of
> Europe. As it seems, the "definitions" of indigenitude (as I wrote, the ILO
> convention actually does not provide a definition in the strict sense of
> the word) is largely motivated by the colonisation of non-European areas by
> Europeans, and its consequences. Within Europe, the situation is more
> complicated, as there often are many old ethnic and linguistic groups all
> inhabiting the same regions "from times immemorial", and whether the
> "timeline in a specific geographical location extends back further than any
> other ethnic or linguistic group in that location" cannot always be
> unanimously determined.****
>
> ** **
>
> Best****
>
> Johanna****
>
> --****
>
> Univ.Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso****
>
> Universität Wien, Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach- und
> Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL)****
>
> Abteilung Finno-Ugristik****
>
> Campus AAKH Spitalgasse 2-4 Hof 7****
>
> A-1090 Wien****
>
> johanna.laakso at univie.ac.athttp://homepage.univie.ac.at/Johanna.Laakso/
> ****
>
> Project ELDIA: http://www.eldia-project.org/ ****
>
> ** **
>
>
>
> ****
>
> ** **
>
> Frank DiSalle kirjoitti 19.1.2013 kello 14.03:****
>
>
>
> ****
>
> ** **
>
> On Sat, Jan 19, 2013 at 4:09 AM, Johanna Laakso <
> johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at> wrote:****
>
> Indigenous peoples are "First Nations" in the sense of "the first
> inhabitants ever (known)", and ALSO peoples whose culture and identity
> sharply differ from those of the majority and whose history includes
> colonisation, dispossession, marginalisation or subjugation. ****
>
> ** **
>
> I'd be very interested in hearing (reading) the justification for
> including the following in a definition of "indigenous":
> Their culture and identity sharply differ from those of the majority AND
> Their history includes colonisation, dispossession, marginalisation or
> subjugation. ****
>
> I think the simpler definition of indigenous would be the cultural (i.e.,
> ethnic or linguistic) group whose timeline in a specific geographical
> location extends back further than any other ethnic or linguistic group in
> that location. ****
>
> Respectfully,****
>
> Frank DiSalle ****
>
> ** **
>
>
>
> -- ****
>
> The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape
> finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
>  ~ Marcus Aurelius
>  ****
>
> ** **
>



-- 
***********************************************************
Bryan James Gordon, MA
Joint PhD Program in Linguistics and Anthropology
University of Arizona
***********************************************************
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