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The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    The Origins of Indigenism
    Book Description:

    "International indigenism" may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it is indeed a global phenomenon and a growing form of activism. In his fluent and accessible narrative, Ronald Niezen examines the ways the relatively recent emergence of an internationally recognized identity—"indigenous peoples"—intersects with another relatively recent international movement—the development of universal human rights laws and principles. This movement makes use of human rights instruments and the international organizations of states to resist the political, cultural, and economic incursions of individual states. The concept "indigenous peoples" gained currency in the social reform efforts of the International Labor Organization in the 1950s, was taken up by indigenous nongovernmental organizations, and is now fully integrated into human rights initiatives and international organizations. Those who today call themselves indigenous peoples share significant similarities in their colonial and postcolonial experiences, such as loss of land and subsistence, abrogation of treaties, and the imposition of psychologically and socially destructive assimilation policies. Niezen shows how, from a new position of legitimacy and influence, they are striving for greater recognition of collective rights, in particular their rights to self-determination in international law. These efforts are influencing local politics in turn and encouraging more ambitious goals of autonomy in indigenous communities worldwide.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93669-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. 1 A New Global Phenomenon?
    (pp. 1-28)

    Anthropology is known for its tendency to focus on social microcosms, and the microcosm that I as an anthropologist have chosen to study is the world. Twenty or more years ago this would have made little sense. The bounded, preferably isolated, community would have been virtually the only option, the only way to establish one’s credentials, to do respectable “fieldwork.” Today, the broader goal of my work can be understood by most with an interest in social research as somehow reflecting the phenomenon of global “shrinking,” associated with such things as the increasing mobility of people and the relatively instantaneous...

  6. 2 The Origins of the International Movement of Indigenous Peoples
    (pp. 29-52)

    It can be argued that relations between indigenous peoples and colonial powers have always been international, since the signing of treaties included a tacit or explicit acknowledgment that the original inhabitants of a territory were “nations,” to be dealt with through existing mechanisms of international negotiation, conquest, and secession of land and sovereignty through treaties. Only as the balance of power shifted in favor of immigrant peoples with a growing settler population, increased military power, and the decimation of indigenous populations through diseases of European origin was the status of indigenous peoples as nations reappraised and legally diluted. Thus, in...

  7. 3 Sources of Global Identity
    (pp. 53-93)

    The very logic of the early colonial encounter, with European ambitions to settle and “improve” territory occupied by people very different from themselves, entailed the possibility of several courses of action, each with catastrophic implications. Those who were inconveniently present were sometimes conquered and put to the sword (the “ethnic cleansing” option). At other times, original inhabitants were bought out, negotiated with, and offered benevolence, protection, and enlightenment as they were shown the value of “civilization” (the “ethnocidal” option). The latter approach to what was sometimes referred to in the Americas as the “Indian question,” though occasionally well intentioned, has...

  8. 4 Relativism and Rights
    (pp. 94-144)

    This chapter deals with the two most important theoretical/philosophical problems facing the human rights movement: relativism and collective rights. The two are closely related. If we profess the relativist idea of cultural contingency in moral standards, and conversely reject any form of ethical universality, we are likely also to support the notion that discrete societies are themselves the best source of values, guidance, and growth for individuals. Collective rights are an obvious corollary because cultures, as the collective embodiment of the most important human values, cannot be protected any better way. If, on the other hand, we admit to a...

  9. 5 The New Politics of Resistance
    (pp. 145-192)

    In the previous chapter the issues of relativism and collective versus individual rights revealed the pervasiveness of sovereignty as a point of contestation between indigenous peoples and states. Antirelativism does not commonly consider parties other than states to be moral actors, at least not in the practice of human rights, and thus it unintentionally denies the self-determination claims of minority peoples through a limited vision of moral agency and responsibility. The individual rights argument is similarly statist in orientation, reluctant to see beyond states as the parties responsible for respecting (or violating) individual human rights. Neither the antirelativist nor the...

  10. 6 Indigenism, Ethnicity, and the State
    (pp. 193-214)

    The human world is not just a cultural patchwork but also a political one. Tremendous numbers of men and women owe their allegiance not just, and sometimes not principally, to the state but also, or above all, to an entirely different “nation,” one that is often oppressed, maligned, castigated, and sometimes threatened with extinction, for no other reason than the mere fact of existing simultaneously with one or more nation-states.

    This community-oriented dimension of human identity and membership, and the monistic tendencies of actual or aspiring nation-states to swallow it up or react to it with violence, has given human...

  11. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 215-222)

    In a sense, states have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to earning and keeping the loyalty of their citizens. They are usually too large to offer the kind of comfort and moral security often provided by small communities, and at the same time they are incapable, without developing expansionist ambitions, of providing a universal vision of moral order.

    The international movement of indigenous peoples attempts to simultaneously provide its members with three levels of moral certitude and social empowerment. It affirms above all local claims of difference, using such concepts as treaty rights, regional autonomy, and self-determination....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 223-246)
  13. References
    (pp. 247-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-272)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)