Invisible Indigenes: The Politics of Nonrecognition

Invisible Indigenes: The Politics of Nonrecognition

Invisible Indigenes: The Politics of Nonrecognition

Invisible Indigenes: The Politics of Nonrecognition

Synopsis

In the last few decades, as indigenous peoples have increasingly sought out and sometimes demanded sovereignty on a variety of fronts, their relationships with encompassing nation-states have become ever more complicated and troubled. The varying ways that today's nation-states attempt to manage- and often render invisible- contemporary indigenous peoples is the subject of this global comparative study. Beginning with his own work along the northwest coast of North America and drawing on contemporary examples from South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, Bruce Granville Miller examines how national governments classify, govern, and control the indigenous populations within their boundaries through administrative, judicial, and economic means. One telling consequence of such regulation strategies is that certain indigenous peoples become unrecognized- their ethnic identities and heritages fail to find legal register and thus empowerment within the very state organizations that manage other aspects of their lives. In the United States alone reside two hundred thousand unrecognized indigenous individuals, some members of indigenous communities that were dropped from the roster of tribes and others whose ancestors were overlooked. Miller also considers some important differences between the fluid nature of ethnic identity for some indigenous peoples and the more rigid notion of identity encoded in many state regulations. Invisible Indigenes reveals a recurring issue integral to the formation and maintenance of nation-states today and highlights a common challenge facing indigenous peoples around the globe in the twenty-first century.

Excerpt

In the late 1980s I worked briefly with two groups of Native Americans, the Snohomish and the Samish, both of western Washington State. These communities were not recognized by the federal government as “Indian” communities or included in official rosters of Indian tribes and as a result were excluded from rights to self-government. In fact, an agency of the U.S. federal government had turned down their petitions to be so recognized. As a consequence, individual members were not officially Indian people. This work led me to recall my puzzlement as a small boy in the mid-1950s, when I encountered elders of the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. I was unsure of the existence of indigenous peoples in the eastern United States, and the elders, aware of this perception, and despite their own lack of government recognition, quietly told me that they were Indians. I now understand their actions as efforts to affirm their own identity by informing visitors of who they were and what their situation was.

These cases caused me to wonder about the circumstances of not only the Snohomish and the Samish but of other indigenous peoples scattered around the world. It became clear to me after examining this issue that many of the present-day Snohomish and Samish are direct descendents of men who were signatories to a mid-nineteenth-century treaty, the Treaty of Point Elliott. This and similar treaties established the terms under which most of the lands of western Washington were to be turned over to the United States and opened the way for eventual nonindigenous settlement and economic exploitation of the region. In return the descendants of these indigenous people were promised reserves of land and access to resources in perpetuity. Unlike some groups of so-called white tribes in the United States, the Snohomish and the Samish were not “Indian wannabees,” pretenders who wished to live communally but had no legitimate claim to being indigenous, although, in effect, the U.S. government decisions not to recognize them carried the implication that they were pretenders. The official line was that “failure to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.