Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America

Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America

Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America

Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America

Synopsis

Throughout Latin America, indigenous peoples are responding to state violence and pro-democracy social movements by asserting their rights to a greater measure of cultural autonomy and self-determination. This volume's rich case studies of movements in Colombia, Guatemala, and Brazil weigh the degree of success achieved by indigenous leaders in influencing national agendas when governments display highly ambivalent attitudes about strengthening ethnic diversity. The contributors to this volume are leading anthropologists and indigenous activists from the United States and Latin America. They address the double binds of indigenous organizing and working within the system as well as the flexibility of political tactics used to achieve cultural goals outside the scope of state politics. The contributors answer questions about who speaks for indigenous communities, how indigenous movements relate to the popular left, and how conflicts between the national indigenous leadership and local communities play out in specific cultural and political contexts. The volume sheds new light on the realities of asymmetrical power relations and on the ways in which indigenous communities and their

Excerpt

Kay B. Warren and Jean E. Jackson

This volume examines the cross-currents of change that lie behind the growing indigenous activism in Latin America. Conventional portrayals often stereotype indigenous groups as either victims or survivors of state violence. This impulse—regularly felt and acted upon by well-meaning supporters, anthropologists, human rights groups, and indigenous activists themselves—is understandable, given the chronic violence and political instability that have plagued Latin America over the last fifty years. Political scientist Crawford Young (1976, 1993) exemplified the victim/ survivor view when he initially concluded that Latin American indigenous people had suffered from such severe fragmentation and economic and cultural deprivation that they would be unable to mobilize nationalist movements as have ethnic minorities in other parts of the world. Other authors, despite their investigations into indigenous resistance and rebellion in the past, nonetheless predicted a future of inevitable disintegration and assimilation (e.g., Kicza 1993).

As Alcida Ramos, Víctor Montejo, and Kay Warren argue in this volume, many social scientists, in fact, missed the dramatic shifts in activism that began in the 1960s and 1970s. Those decades marked an early wave of transnational organizing as indigenous groups used international forums, human rights law, and international conventions to press for their goals. Many groups were involved in complex projects of self-affirmation, organizing to build their own constituencies and influence wider politics. They were actively confronting the issue of fragmentation by arguing that culture is an important resource and making a wide variety of demands to overcome political marginalization and poverty (Bonfil Batalla 1982; Van Cott 1994a, 2000). In the process, indigenous groups generated bilingual spokespeople and in some cases consolidated new elites. To neglect the diverse early movements in which indigenous communities were involved is to miss important transformations in Latin American political life.

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