Sunday, 25 December 2011

Indigenous identity and settler society: a manipuation somewhere?

Sarah's post in response to Patricia's, about "becoming native", brought to mind the idea of how much indigenousness there is to settler societies in countries such as Australia and Brazil, where the percentage of indigenous peoples, compared to the overall population, is fairly low. I am a Brazilian working in Australia, so I can’t help but try to draw similarities between the two countries, especially as Australia now looks into how to insert language recognizing indigenous peoples into the Australia Constitution. My point being, there is something almost tokenistic to the way indigeneity is addressed in some of these countries. I understand that the rhetoric is mighty important, and that it does help build up to concrete action, but when Australians seem to favor a preamble over a hard provision on the recognition of the contribution of indigenous peoples to Australian society and on safeguards for their culture, it makes me wonder how indigenous identity can be manipulated and appropriated by settler societies to serve certain purposes.

Crossing back to the Americas, take the Organization of American States (OAS) as an example. The OAS has been drafting for many years now its own declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and there is a lot of buzz around it, seen as a vast majority of the world’s indigenous peoples live in the Americas. And there is a lot of language in this OAS draft about how the identity of the American people is different from Europeans precisely because of the indigenous influence. So far, so good. Except that it creates the possibility for an appropriation of indigeneity, or, to be more precise, a certain version of indigeneity that conforms to the goal of “safe differentiation from Europeans” that is problematic, in the sense that non-idealized expressions of indigenous identity will not gain as much recognition, for not being seen as “sufficiently indigenous”, or, what is worse, not “authentic”. Am I against a search for authenticity when it comes to culture? To be quite honest, I go back and forth a lot on this one, but, if the criteria for authenticity are to be set a priori by non-indigenous peoples, then I am against a test of authenticity of any sort. Why? Because it creates an expectation that indigenous peoples’ cultures, in order to receive any support from the government for their development, will have to conform to a certain idyllic way of life, which may well coincide with what they wanted all along, but it may also not. Depriving indigenous peoples of the choice to be what they want is what bothers me.
Which is why, while I am all for recognizing the influence indigenous peoples’ influence on settler societies, I am wary of any attempts at determining, from the outside, what this culture is on the whole. So, let us come home and become a little more native, by all means, but let us prevent ourselves from thinking we can actually comprehend a foreign culture in all its richness, texture, nuance and internal contradictions. We should always aspire to knowing it in full, but we should always be aware we’ll never get there.

Written by Lucas Lixinski.

No comments :