What is Indigeneity?

According to the definition provided by the UN Working Group for Indigenous Peoples in 1983 is as followed:

Indigenous populations are composed of the existing descendants of the peoples who inhabited the present territory of a country wholly or partially at the time when persons of a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world, overcame them, by conquest, settlement or other means, reduced them to a non-dominant or colonial condition; who today live more in conformity with their particular social, economic and cultural customs and traditions than with the institutions of the country of which they now form part, under a state structure which incorporates mainly national, social and cultural characteristics of other segments of the population which are predominant.

The definition above seems to be fitting but some may argue that one definition cannot possibly sum what it means to be indigenous. Is that true or in this case is generalization acceptable? There are the complexities of “being” indigenous in public spaces and international indigeneity has not been supported in any absolute way by actions taken in the name of several nation-states that were among its main points of origin. Some examples include but aren’t limited to the Indians of the Americas, the Inuit and Aleutians of the circumpolar region, the Saami of northern Europe, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia and the Maori of New Zealand.

However, in recent decades, this concept has become internationalized, and “indigeneity” has come to also presuppose a sphere of commonality among those who form a world collectivity of “indigenous peoples” in contrast to their various others. But is that really true or the case? Throughout this class, we have read several articles that talk about different indigenous movements throughout the world. The momentum for internationalization of indigeneity can be attributed to the contexts of liberal democratic “political cultures”.

The tensions between the authority and the indigenous people has led to uprisings. These uprisings have continued to gather momentum and support from areas far far away. For example, the Zapatistas movement is an example of such a movement that garnered support from multiple places. It is important to note however, it would be wrongfully to put all indigenous movements into on box because it is important to note that some similarities exist in the treatment of these individuals, their movements each have a distinct identity and set of problems they bring forward.

The global context of indigeneity is still heavily western and northern hemisphere oriented, as compared to truly being global and inclusive. This is where the one shoe doesn’t fit all can perfectly explain the situation. For example, how much do people know about the Kurdish people in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey? Or about the 10 million people indigenous people in Myanmar. But as there is a growing notion that since it has become “globalized” that in a sense that indigeneity is associated with some universalist moral frames and the idea that relationships between peoples and their “others” can be generalized. This mindset is what leads to real problems, because generalization strips away the individual identity and difference of each of these people and their movements. There has been tendency in literatures of settler colonies, at least, to represent indigenous activism as sole authored, or at least not to pay adequate attention to relationships among indigenous activists and elites, professional sectors and governmental institutions of dominant societies, and their conditions of possibilities. To some up, in other words, there is a certain hypostatization of indigeneity, as if it were a free- standing characteristic of a certain “kind” of people.