Guest post by Morgan Keay
This post is an analytical literature review, with bibliography, of recent sources that use anthropological methods to explore threats to indigenous peoples, the implications of the threats/factors, and the responses of indigenous groups. It was originally prepared for a graduate seminar at George Washington University on “Culture, Risk and Security” in spring 2009.
A broad range of factors — including those alleged to threaten land, identity, rights, reputation — and a broad geographic scope — ranging from Siberia to Papua New Guinea — are featured in this essay. This breadth illustrates the diversity of threats faced by indigenous peoples and how indigenous people perceive and respond to these threats in widely divergent contexts. Trends and themes will be discussed with regard to who assesses or identifies threat, the nature of the threat, and the subsequent threat-response strategy of indigenous communities.
Who Assesses Threat?
With regard to factors that affect indigenous peoples, what is perceived as threatening by one party may be benign to another. Non indigenous actors such as indigenous rights activists, NGOs, or anthropologists may be quick to raise alarms over the very same factor indigenous peoples actively seek out (Donahoe 2008, Errington and Gewertz 1996). Anthropologists, for example, may assess the practice of neo-shamanism by Anglo Americans and Europeans as a form of cultural appropriation and thus a threat to the cultural integrity of shamanist indigenous groups (Wallis 1999), while an indigenous shaman may assess the phenomenon as neutral or even beneficial for the visibility of their traditions. Vice versa, unconcerned outsiders or those with a different stake in an issue may not recognize the risks associated with a given factor, while indigenous peoples see it as a clear threat (Collaredo-Mansfield 2002). Even among indigenous peoples, a single factor may be assessed differently, as is the case with ethnic policy and identity-based land/resource legislation in Siberia (Donahoe 2008), or the arrival of an extractive industry in indigenous territory in Brazilian Amazonia (Turner 1995), which are perceived as threats by some indigenous groups and individuals and as opportunity by others.
The factors explored in this essay may be understood by evaluating them in terms of themes about who assesses them as threatening, and the level of ambiguity or consolidation of that assessment. A factor that is perceived as a threat uniformly by all members of an indigenous group, and by a variety of distinct outside agents might be classified as a “clear threat,” whereas a factor that is ambiguously assessed among indigenous groups and individuals or among outside entities may be a “potential threat” or “threat-opportunity.” Environmental degradation, for example, might fall under the former, while at the same time, mining activities may fall under the latter (Turner 1995). The term “projected threat” may be appropriate for factors assessed as being threatening by an outsider but benign or even attractive to an indigenous group. This is the case with commercialization of ritual associated with “modernity” for the Chambri in Papua New Guinea (Errington and Gewertz 1996).
What is being threatened?
As discussed above, each factor explored in this essay is identified as threatening by at least one party. Though the nature of these threats varies notably. It is best understood by looking not at the factor itself, but at what is being threatened. Kirsch (2007) and Thompson (2002) discuss factors that threaten land and access to resources respectively. These might be classified as “physical threats,” or threats that have a physical, tangible impact on indigenous people and/or their environment. The majority of authors, however, explore intangible threats, including those that threaten indigenous self-determination (Blaser 2004, Tsing 1999) or cultural loss vis-à-vis assimilation or cultural mainstreaming (Conklin and Graham 1995, Garland 1999, Hodgson 2002). These threats might be classified as “socio-cultural threats,” and are usually far more ambiguously assessed than are physical threats. Anthropologists are particularly well-positioned to shed light of such factors, by exploring the nuances associated with cultural change resultant from threat, and the broader implications these threats may have.
What are the responses of indigenous peoples?
This bibliography reveals that responses to threats or potential threats are as divergent as the nature of the threats themselves. From violence (Postero 2005, Turner 2005) to political engagement (Hodgson 2002, Turner 1995), to acceptance (Cole 1981, Conklin and Graham 1995, Wallis 1999), authors reveal that indigenous response to threat run the full spectrum, and likely depend on the elements discussed above. In other words, by evaluating who assesses a factor as threatening, as well as the nature of the threat, it may be possible to predict the type of response strategy that will be employed. Patterns indeed to arise when the responses discussed in this bibliography are grouped and analyzed.
Reactive responses may be characterized as response that is confrontational, and oriented towards an elimination or removal of the threatening factor. Negotiative responses may be characterized as those that seek compromises regarding, concessions from, or controls of a threatening factor. Submissive responses may be characterized by avoidance, denial, or passive acceptance of a threat. Reactive responses seem likely in cases of “clear,” and “physical threat,” but unlikely when a factor is classified as a “projected, socio-cultural threat,” in which case negotiative responses are more often employed. Submissive responses seem to be associated with various types of threat, which could be explained in part by a lack of agency on the part of indigenous communities to respond alternatively, as suggested by Cole (1981), Mackey (1999), and Tsosie (1997).
Analyzing threat at this third level of threat-response strategy allows for a greater understanding of how indigenous peoples encounter and engage with change, define their identity, and set priorities when faced with risk. In a world in which change is occurring at a pace and scale never before experienced, this may serve as a valuable framework for understanding and safeguarding indigenous rights and interests, and shaping policy and actions that are sensitive to the distinct context and cultures of indigenous peoples.
2004 ‘Way of Life’ Or ‘Who Decides’: Development, Paraguayan Indigenism and the Yshiro People’s Life Projects. In In the Way of Development: Indigenous Peoples, Life Projects, and Globalization. Mario Blaser, Harvey A. Feit and Glenn McRae, eds. Pp. 52-71. London, New York: Zed Books.
Blaser discusses the concept of “indigenists,” or non-indigenous groups who speak on behalf of and attempt to represent indigenous peoples and their interests. Using the case of the Yshiro people of Paraguay, the author shows how such external agents are seen by the Yshiro as a threat to self-determination, particular when they act as agents for externally-driven development projects dealing with land claims. Blaser uses the terms “conservatives” and “radicals” to classify indigenists who represent indigenous interests and identity in polarized and mutually-opposed forms. The chapter draws on the author’s observations and primary source data including quotations from members of “indigenist” organizations and Yshiro people. Blaser seeks to address the problem of how development practitioners can pose as obstacles or threats to indigenous self-determination, by showing how assumptions and claims of representation of the Yshiro actually hinder Yshiro interests and empowerment.
Keywords: Paraguay; indigenous people; Yshiro; development; land
Cole, Donald P.
1981 Bedouin and Social Change in Saudi Arabia. In Change and Development in Nomadic and Pastoral Societies. Galaty, John and Philip Carl Salzman, ed. Pp. 128-149. Netherlands: Leiden-E.J. Brill.
Cole examines Bedouin pastoral groups’ responses to the changing socio-economic context of Saudi Arabia in the late 20th century, brought about by the expansion of the oil industry in that country. He takes a neutral position on the changes brought about by Saudi Arabia’s modernization and the growth of its oil industry, by examining both the opportunities and threats it has presented to indigenous Bedouin herding communities. As such, the article is useful in exploring the concept of how indigenous communities may perceive a single factor as being both threatening and empowering at the same time. Though Cole does not explicitly discuss the notion of cultural “threats,” he identifies a variety of consequences of the changing socio-economic context that have threatened Bedouin culture and society — for example, contestations over land rights, pressure to sedentarize, diminished regard for Bedouin culture and status within “modern” Saudi society, and environmental degradation. The article also discusses the notion of how the Bedouin have come to be dependent on state subsidies and services, which the reader can imply may threaten the groups’ autonomy and rights to self-determination. Cole’s ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the 1970s among the Al Murrah Bedouin, along with sociological surveys and anthropological works dating back to the 1950s provide the data for the article.
Keywords: Saudi Arabia; Bedouin; indigenous people; change; modernity; pastoralism
2002 ‘Don’t be Lazy, Don’t Lie, Don’t Steal’: Community Justice in the Neoliberal Andes. American Ethnologist 29(3):637-653.
This article presents findings from anthropological fieldwork conducted among two indigenous communities in Otavalo, Ecuador. Colloredo-Mansfeld presents quotations from community members and develops theories to interpret how these communities perceive and react to threats. The threats explored include cultural change and marginalization at the hands of non-indigenous Ecuadorians, mainstream society, and neoliberally-informed consumerism in general, and the Ecuadorian police and justice system in particular. Colloredo-Mansfeld theorizes that the process of reaction (in this case characterized by violence and a claim to the right of vigilante-style community justice) served to unify and strengthen the indigenous communities politically through social movements built around a collective response to an outsider. At the same time, however, the author acknowledges that this politically unifying experience may trigger significant change in culture, power-structures, and interpretation of tradition within these societies.
Keywords: Ecuador; Otavalo; indigenous people; change; response; outsider; justice
Conklin, Beth A. and Laura R. Graham
1995 The Shifting Middle Ground: Amazonian Indians and Eco-Politics. American Anthropologist 97(4):695-710.
Though Conklin and Graham describe how the Kayapo indigenous people of Brazil navigate within a “middle ground” between fourth world (indigenous peoples) and first world entities in order to mitigate threat. The authors characterize the middle ground as a space where symbols of indigenous peoples that are attractive and compelling to first world agents are used to create alliances and foster negotiations between interest groups. These symbols include the noble-savage-conservationist-native, employed by NGO/Kayapo alliances to gain land and resource rights in response to the threat of land encroachment. The authors identify three weaknesses of the middle ground eco-politics strategy, including a superficialization of indigenous culture and interests in the form of media-ready symbols, the alienation of indigenous mediators from the media-dominated middle ground, and incongruities of middle ground symbolism and rhetoric with Brazilian national sovereignty.
Keywords: Brazil; Amazon; Kayapo; eco-politics; media; indigenous peoples; risk; symbol
Donahoe, Brian et al.
2008 Size and Place in the Construction of Indigeneity in the Russian Federation. Current Anthropology 49(6):993-1020.
Based on nearly a decade of fieldwork in Siberia, Donahoe’s article explores the post-Soviet legal classification of korennye malochislennye narody (“indigenous small-numbered peoples”) or “KMN,” and its ambiguous implications for Russian indigenous groups. He presents a synopsis of the legal eligibility requirements for KMN status, which dictates that group composition may number no more than 50,000 individuals, and documents how this legislation has threatened indigenous peoples through divisive identity politics. While Donahoe shows how some indigenous peoples benefit from KMN policy by gaining access to government subsidies, special land rights, and other concessions afforded by the designation, he also shows how others have defensively avoided the designation because of its negative political and cultural connotations. As such, groups have artificially redefined ethnic boundaries to achieve membership of 50,000+ individuals, or conversely, excluded members due to the risk of being rendered politically “less indigenous” if membership exceeds the designated limit and KMN eligibility cannot be met. Donahoe discusses responses to and consequences of KMN policy among both small and large indigenous groups through case studies of the Altaians, Nenets, Komi, Iz’vatas, Tofa, Tozhu, and Evenki peoples. These examples provide strong evidence for Donahoe’s argument that state-sanctioned policies on indigenous designation fail to reflect indigenous realities and create political and cultural threats.
Keywords: Russia; Siberia; indigenous peoples; threat; policy; small-numbered ethnic groups
Errington, Frederick and Deborah Gewertz
1996 The Individuation of Tradition in a Papua New Guinean Moderniy. American Anthropologist 98(1):114- 126.
Errington and Gewertz’s present a philosophical treatment of indigenous strategy to protect and safeguard “tradition” from the threat of cultural loss by overtly embracing and incorporating “modernity,” in their article that examines Chambri culture in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They provide an example of a Chambri dancer who proudly performs ancient rituals for tourists, and even accepts corporate sponsorship, in the dancer’s self-described attempt to circumvent the risks of cultural loss by controlling and benefiting from threatening changes posed by modernity. The authors identify these threatening changes as including degradation or commoditization of cultural symbols, and an increasing trend of materialism correlated with out-migration. Though they present findings that suggest Chambri individuals are satisfied with the efficacy of their threat-response strategy, the authors take a critical view of their subjects’ ability to mitigate threats by consciously, and selectively, incorporating aspects of modernity into traditional life. They suggest this strategy has unintended consequences for Chambri culture, including increased exposure of cultural knowledge and property to outsiders, and an increase in urban migration and assimilation to mainstream PNG culture resultant from a heightened preference for modern amenities and commodities.
Keywords: Papua New Guinea; Chambri; tradition; culture; modernity; change
1999 Developing bushmen: building civil(ized) society in the Kalahari and beyond. In Civil society and the critical imagination in Africa: critical perspectives. Comaroff, John and Jean Comaroff, ed. Pp. 72-103. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Garland examines how neoliberal discourses on civil society have influenced the Ju/’hoan bushmen in the Namibian Kalahari. The article chronicles the author’s experience as a consultant hired to develop an anthropologically-informed strategy for tourism development in the community by an international NGO that works closely with the community. Using findings from participant-observation, the author describes a particular meeting at which the Ju/’hoan bushmen accuse the NGO with whom the author has been contracted, of being a threat to the community’s right to self-determination. The author deconstructs the event in an attempt to show how indigenous communities may use modern norms of neoliberal civil society in the process of reacting negatively to the consequences caused by that very same entity: neoliberal civil society. In other words, the article documents an ironic example of how a community transforms a perceived threat into the very weapon they use to react to the threat.
Keywords: Namibia; Bushmen; Ju/’hoan; indigenous people; development; NGO
2002 Precarious Alliances: The Cultural Politics and Structural Predicaments of the Indigenous Rights Movement in Tanzania. American Anthropologist 104(4): 1086-1097.
Hodgson documents Maasai responses to the threat of rapid economic change, land encroachment, and development at large, by showing that a particular threat-response strategy among this group has been the mobilization of Indigenous Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOS). By examining the Maasai-dominated Tanzanian Pastoralist INGO, PINGO, on the occasion of a workshop in 2000, Hodgson provides a critique of the effectiveness of the threat-response strategy described above. She addresses and legitimizes the reasoning for the mobilization of INGOs, which include the recent availability of funding for INGOs, traction of global indigenous movements, and changes in Tanzanian, and UN legal frameworks that grant special rights to indigenous peoples. Hodgson argues that INGOs, especially those that serve as umbrella consortium organizations for smaller INGOs, are plagued by conflicting perceptions about representation, politics of inclusion and exclusion, and structural complications and competition with regard to funding, institutional capacity, and donor agendas. As such, Hodgson suggests that the formation and mobilization of INGOs is a problematic threat-response strategy. She validates INGOs in general, but concludes with an appeal for changes in their structural dynamics if they are to be effective in responding to threats in various forms.
Keywords: Tanzania; Maasai; INGOs; indigenous people; alliances; representation
2007 Indigenous Movements and the Risks of Counterglobalization: Tracking the Campaign against Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi Mine. American Ethnologist 34(2):303-321.
Kirsch suggests that alliance with counterglobalization movements may weaken indigenous communities’ ability to effectively mitigate threats and achieve their desired outcomes. Through documentation of a conflict between the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea and indigenous communities downstream including the Yonggom, Kirsch reveals how indigenous interests are rarely, if ever, one-dimensional, particularly in the case of mineral development that yields economic benefits on the one hand, but environmental degradation on the other. Dissimilarly, he describes counterglobalization movements as approaching potential threats or adversaries with an overly simplified, unyielding approach, for example uniformly anti-mining. Kirsch’s interview and participant observation data suggest that Yonggom perspectives on the Ok Tedi mine were characterized by both concern and interest in possible mineral development projects. When aligned with staunch counterglobalization NGOs and/or lawyers advocating for closure of the mine on the grounds of indigenous rights, Kirsch shows how the Yonggom’s ability to negotiate or seek alternative outcomes to a mine closure was undermined. Kirsch suggests that this case study may be symptomatic of a global paradox whereby indigenous peoples’ interests are simplified vis-à-vis counterglobalization as being binary in nature, thus robbing indigenous groups of the ability to respond to threat through more dynamic, multifaceted approaches.
Keywords: Papua New Guinea; Ok Tedi mine; Yoggom; counterglobalization; mining
1999 Constructing and Endangered Nation: Risk, Race, and Rationality in Australia’s Native Title Debate. In Risk and Sociocultural Theory: New Directions and Perceptions. Deborah Lupton, ed. Pp. 108. London: Cambridge University Press.
While most studies on indigenous people and risk focus on threats posed to indigenous people, Mackey inverts the norm by exploring the perceived threat posed by indigenous peoples to mainstream society. She explores how mainstream Australian society, including policy makers, perceive aboriginal claims to land rights as permitted under the 1992 legal native title reforms, as a threat to Australian nationalism and economically-oriented land use. Mackey documents how risk and threat discourses are employed by non-aboriginals against aboriginal people. The article is effective in its use of excerpts and review of literature to explore the topic, however little treatment is given to aboriginal reactions to their condemnation as a threat to Australian society.
Keywords: indigenous people; risk discourse; threat; land; policy
2005 Indigenous Responses to Neoliberalism: A Look at the Bolivian Uprising of 2003. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 28(1):73–92.
By relying on historical accounts and data gathered through participant observation, Postero traces indigenous responses to neoliberalism in Bolivia. She puts this case study in the wider context of indigenous responses to neoliberalism in general, and structural adjustments programs in particular, in seven Latin American countries in order to compare indigenous threat-response strategy at the regional and topical levels. The comparison illustrates how groups outside Bolivia negotiated within the framework of neoliberal governments and programs to gain increased political power and economic status. In contrast, Bolivian Indians perceived neoliberalism as a threat to their human rights, political representation, and economic standing, and mobilized a violent uprising against neoliberally-rooted institutions and programs. Bolivian Indians forged alliances with non-indigenous segments of the Bolivian population, including labor unions and the urban poor, thereby coupling two powerful rhetorical frameworks: indigenous rights and populist nationalism. These mixed groups of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples staged what is called the October Uprising, which involved protests, attacks on police stations and other state buildings, and street riots. Postero credits the alliance with resultant outcomes including referendum on political and economic issues in favor of indigenous/populist interests. She posits that it was the use of rhetoric and the ability to mobilize people across ethnic boundaries that explain the success of the alliance.
Keywords: Latin America; Bolivia; October Uprising; neoliberalism; indigenous; Indians
2002 ‘Administrative Resettlement and the Pursuit of Economy: The Case of Chukotka.’ Polar Geography 26(4):270-288.
Thompson chronicles the events and outcomes of a World Bank and Ministry-funded resettlement program in the Far Northeastern provinces of Sakha, Kamchatka, Magadan, and Chukotka, Russia that began in 2003. By exploring the historical, economic, and social justifications for the resettlement, the author shows how various groups have benefited from or faced threats from the program. Thompson shows how indigenous groups, who by-and-large did not take advantage of the voluntary resettlement program, faced consequences of depopulation and thus reduction in overall funding, infrastructure, and services in their remote part of the country. He bases his arguments on interviews with northern residents, and historical documents that trace the story and implications of the program.
Keywords: Russia; Siberia; Chukotka; resettlement; indigenous people; depopulation.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt
1999 Becoming a Tribal Elder, and Other Green Development Fantasies. In Transforming the Indonesian Uplands: Marginality, Power and Production. Tania Murray Li, ed. Pp. 159-202. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.
Working from the assumption that institutionalized projects of “sustainable development” have the potential to threaten the self-determination, land use, and identity of indigenous peoples, Tsing documents a case in which Indonesian tribal communities in the Meratus Mountains of Kalimantan mitigated this threat through effective perception and response. She argues that the communities in her study have developed and employed a framework the author dubs “green development fantasy,” which enables them to shape their own cultural objectives and priorities into something legitimized within the frameworks and political context of externally-driven sustainable development. Green development fantasy makes use of stereotyped “tribal elders” who navigate between two worlds, and are in fact capable of transforming potentially threatening initiatives into projects that further the objectives and interests of the community. Tsing conducted field work in Indonesia 1994, and makes use of quotations and excerpts from documents written by Indonesian community members to build her argument. These data sources are effective in supporting the author’s interpretations of the effectiveness of indigenous responses to threats posed by sustainable development initiatives.
Keywords: Indonesia; Meratus; indigenous people; development; threat.
(1997) Indigenous Peoples’ Claims to Cultural Property: A Legal Perspective. Museum Anthropology (3):5-11.
Tsosie discusses the threat posed to Native Americans of cultural property violations, in particular the appropriation and protection of intangible property (i.e. cultural knowledge, rituals, etc) and the failure of U.S. and international legal frameworks to adequately protect Native Americans in particular, and indigenous peoples in general worldwide, from the threat of property violations. The article relies on published scholarly works on the subject of cultural property violations, as well as legal documents for data, but does not rely on data collected through fieldwork with affected communities. Tsosie presents possible solutions to reduce the threat of property appropriation and decrease property vulnerability among Native Americans’, including legal policy options and a proposal to cultivate a “moral common ground” on which Native property claims can be clarified and protected.
Keywords: Native Americans; indigenous people; threat; property rights.
1995. An Indigenous Peoples Struggle for Socially Equitable and Ecologically
Sustainable Production: The Kayapo Revolt Against Extractivism. Journal of Latin American Anthropology 1(1):98-121.
Turner explores the indigenous responses to extractionism, especially logging and gold mining, by the central Brazilian Amazonian Kayapo people by examining events between the late 1980s and mid 1990s. Drawing on fieldwork in Brazil, first-hand observations, and written documentation of events related to Kayapo engagement with extractionism, Turner describes how community sub-groups defined largely across generational lines in two Kayapo communities, the Xingu and Para respectively, responded to the threat of extractive industry. Turner discusses the way some young male Kayapo utilize knowledge of mainstream Brazilian cultural and socio-political frameworks to become brokers of extraction contracts, thereby enabling extractionism in an effort to secure material wealth and leadership status in the community. Turner contrasts this with alternative responses such as the mobilization of community members to collective action, violent raids on mine and logging camps by community members, and eventually the establishment of formal indigenous community associations designed to secure resource rights for the Kayapo. Turner presents clear facts on chronological events, and employs analytical approaches to critique Kayapo responses to the threat of extractionism, as well as possible explanations for these responses.
Keywords: Brazil; Kayapo; indigenous people; response; land; extractionism
Wallis, Robert J.
1999. Altered States, Conflicting Cultures: Shamans, Neoshamans and Academics. Anthropology of Consciousness 10(2):41-49.
Wallis presents and examines the concept of “neo-shamanism” as both a threat and a source of potential benefits to indigenous shamanic cultures. He describes neo-shamanism as “a spiritual path for personal empowerment, utilizing altered states of consciousness and the shaman’s worldview” as practiced by Western Euroamerican practitioners. Wallis presents criticisms of the phenomena, including indigenous perspectives that neo-shamanism threats indigenous culture by comodifying sacred traditions, appropriating indigenous identity, and in some cases profiteering from the “repackaging” and sale of stolen cultural and intellectual property. Wallis takes a balanced approach to the concept of neo-shamanism by also noting the possible benefits of the practice for indigenous peoples, namely the financial patronage of neo-shamans of “authentic” shamans and their cultures. Few first-hand perspectives of indigenous shamans are included in the piece, leaving the reader to wonder how members of potentially-threatened communities perceive of and respond to neo-shamanism.
Keywords: indigenous people; threat; response; identity; shamans; neo-shamans.
Morgan Keay has lived and worked for over eight years with the marginalized Tsaatan reindeer-herding ethnic group in northern Mongolia. Her relationship with the Tsaatan began when she first traveled to Mongolia on a college study abroad program. In response to the Tsaatans’ request for assistance in overcoming infectious diseases, political marginalization, and poverty, Keay established The Itgel Foundation, an international development NGO, which has grown into a globally-recognized entity covered by The New York Times, BBC, NPR, and other media outlets, and featured in the National Geographic. In 2009, Keay earned an MA in International Policy and Practice in Development from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Her previous degrees were in Environmental and Population Biology and Religious Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is committed to implementing community development projects related to agriculture, microfinance, cultural preservation, health, social justice, education, and environment. A resident of Ulaanbaatar, and fluent in Mongolian, Keay balances her role as Executive Director of The Itgel Foundation with consulting work for development sector clients for whom she has designed and launched multi-million dollar programs. She has published articles and chapters on the Tsaatan, development, and Mongolia, and she frequently lectures and presents on these topics.