AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 210

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Session 210: Indigenous Citizenship in Asia

Organizer and Chair: Kun-hui Ku, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Discussant: Rex Golub, University of Hawaii, USA

Asia claims to have the largest indigenous populations in the world yet the very category of “indigenous peoples” has been highly contested in different national contexts. With the help of international organs and NGOs, more and more groups claim indigenous status despite the denial of the State. In this panel, we take a historically informed ethnographic approach to examine the similarities and differences in how “indigenous citizenship” is understood and practiced in different contexts. That is, we treat “indigenous people” as social and political category which evolves in interaction with outside forces; we examine the emergence of indigeneity as a process of making and how different States respond to it. This panel will analyze the historical and political nuances of the development (or lack) of this concept and practices in the region in order to contribute to the theoretical discussion on citizenship. Topics include the politics of (non)recognition in Taiwan, paradoxes of indigenous citizenship in post-Soviet Siberia, Upland Minority Struggle for Rights in Thailand, indigenous citizenship and political society in Chharangar India, and marginalization of “local natives” in Indonesia.

The Politics of (non)recognition in Taiwan: Why certain claims to indigeneity succeed while others fail.
Kun-hui Ku, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

After the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, indigenous movements in Taiwan have shifted their focus from individual rights to collective rights. The collective rights of the indigenous peoples were subsequently written into the new constitution in 1997. With the connections to international Fourth World movements, the demand for a law to regulate and protect the rights of indigenous peoples was followed. The Indigenous Basic Law was passed in 2005, modeling after the “draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples” of the United Nations. However, the legal frameworks require a subject that is unambiguous and the request to be listed as official indigenous peoples from various sub-ethnic groups continues. The number of officially recognized groups increased from nine (1954-2000) to fourteen (2008). Yet, the demand from the “lowland” groups was met with resistance and the case was filed to the Human Rights Commission of UN for violation of human rights in April 2010. This paper analyzes the differences and similarities of the claims made by various groups in the past ten years with references to historical complexity of interaction between various states and indigenous groups, and asks why certain claims to indigeneity succeed while others fail. With the criteria of recognition increasingly focusing on cultural distinctiveness which includes the preservation of language and traditions, the lowlanders’ long term contacts with Han people throughout history, which results in the loss of languages and suppression of identity in the past, have cost them their indigenous membership in the new era.

Stiletto Heels and Chinggis Khan’s Boots: Paradoxes of Indigenous Citizenship in Post-Soviet Siberia
Kathryn Graber, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Since the mid-2000s, federal policies in the Russian Federation have increasingly favored administrative centralization at the expense of territories previously based on the principle of ethnonational self-determination. In Siberia, this has meant the dissolution of several ethnic regions and an official decoupling of indigenous citizenship from territory. This paper explains how the category of indigeneity is being mobilized—or not—by members of different Siberian nationalities. I focus on the Buryats of southeastern Siberia, with reference to the Sakha/Yakuts, Ewenki, and “small-numbered peoples of the North,” to highlight two paradoxes: (1) The right to territorial ethnonational self-determination increasingly appears to require that ethnic minorities demonstrate cultural distinctiveness, language preservation, and traditional land use practices on native land—all of which have been seriously undermined over the 19th and 20th centuries. Young urbanites are the best acquainted with this new paradigm and are the most likely to imagine themselves as members of a global community of indigenous peoples, but they are also the least likely to fit its criteria of membership. (2) Soviet categories of indigenous peoples, based on relative development along the Marxist-Leninist evolutionary scale, have left an indelible mark on self-perception in the post-Soviet era. But peoples judged to be the most developed and ‘nation-like’ during the Soviet period have not uniformly claimed indigenous citizenship in the post-Soviet period. I will argue that these paradoxes exemplify the difficulty that modern subjects confront in reconciling historical images of benighted, forest- and tundra-dwelling natives with their own conceptions of state belonging.

“Born Criminals” to “Born Actors”: Indigenous Citizenship and Political Society in Chharangar
P. Kerim Friedman, National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

India’s sixty million Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs) lack a shared identity as indigenous citizens. Variously labeled as Scheduled Tribes or Castes (ST or SC), or Other Backward Castes (OBC), depending on the vagaries of history and geography, few are even aware of the DNT category. Drawn from the ranks of nomads, eunuchs, itinerant workers and private armies who were labeled as “born criminals” under the “Criminal Tribes Acts” of 1871 and 1911, it remains to be seen if a pan-Indian DNT identity will emerge. In this paper I examine how the films and plays of artist-activist Dakxin Bajrange Chhara work to create a coherent pan-Indian DNT identity by challenging stereotypes of DNTs as “habitual offenders.” Drawing on the work of Partha Chatterjee this paper explores how DNTs continue to be treated by the state as a “population” defined by illegal behaviors rather than as full citizens. By focusing on human rights abuses, Bajrange’s work seeks to redefine DNTs as victims rather than criminals. Bajrange is also a co-founder of Budhan Theatre, “a theater for community development.” According to Chatterjee, organizations like Budhan Theater are necessary due to the exclusion of populations from civil society. As a “political society” Budhan Theatre provides a legitimate face for the Chhara in their interactions with both the state and civil society. Political societies endeavor “to give the empirical form of a population group the moral attributes of a community” - exactly what Bajrange seeks to do by turning “born criminals” into “born actors.”

Indigenous People and the State: The Political and Cultural Marginalization of the ‘Local-Natives’ in Indonesia
Ju-Lan Thung, Independent Scholar, Indonesia

In this paper I would like to argue that in Indonesia the state’s political claim of ‘territorial integration’ over numerous localities, as well as of ‘unity’ over diverse ethnic groups known as Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, as problematic for several reasons. Firstly, territorial integration does not include “social integration” among ‘local-natives’ occupying various areas in the country. Secondly, the term ‘local-natives’ indicates a close relationship between the concept of locality and the idea of nativism for ethnic groups in Indonesia. The ‘local’ refers to “a particular community in a particular locality”, while the ‘native’ means that a certain ethnic group is the early settler of a particular area. Traditionally, the local-natives’ definition of ownership was founded on communal properties. Meanwhile, according to the state law, property rights is based on an individual rights. Such a contradictory has created various legal conflicts over land ownership. During the Soeharto’s New Order, the relationship between the state and the ethnic groups has been that of political and cultural marginalization of the latter, because in many cases the local-natives failed to defend their “native” rights. It is only after the collapse of Soeharto’s New Order in 1998, many ethnic groups, particularly those living in the outer islands of Java, could openly demand a recognition as an “indigenous people”. The term indigenous people is not a term commonly used in Indonesia, but since its introduction by international NGOs, it becomes the underlying principle for ethnic groups in Indonesia to redefine their problems vis-á-vis the state. As some local cases will show, the politics of indigeneity is often being materialized as part of the ‘regional autonomy’ brought about by the democratization and decentralization process in Indonesia.

Good Citizens or Good Residents? Terms of the Upland Minority Struggle for Rights in Thailand
Kathleen Gillogly, University of Wisconsin, Parkside, USA

The ethnic minority peoples of Thailand, particularly the ‘hill tribes’ (upland minority peoples) are not generally considered to be citizens of Thailand due to their different history, language, and religious practices. Rather, they are categorized as migrants and intruders into the Thai nation. Policy toward these people focused on containment or supervision through three main paradigms or problematizations: security, opium control, and environmental management. The result is that, denied citizenship, upland peoples are unable to own land or get legal jobs; they are subject to harassment and assumptions of criminality in their interactions with Thai. The political language of indigeneity has gained currency among educated minority youth as a counter-discourse that gives them access to transnational networks and alliances for campaigning for civil rights. There is a disconnect between the language of indigeneity and the situation of upland peoples; for instance, they do not claim to be the ‘first residents’ of this territory. However, as Li (2010) has pointed out, the discourse of indigeneity is closely linked to attempts to prevent dispossession of land and right to livelihood. Claims of indigeneity were not the discourse common among the rural Lisu villagers with whom I worked. Their main concerns were the practicalities of maintaining access to land for cultivation and the right to continue to live in their mountain villages. Rather, they claim to be good residents of Thailand.