by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved
FORUM ONANTHROPOLOGY IN PUBLIC
The Return of theNative
by Adam Kuper
On Human Rights Day
, the United Nations pro-claimed an International Year of the World’s IndigenousPeople. A Decade for Indigenous Peoples was subse-quently launched,torunfrom
,andaForumof Indigenous Peoples established. The inaugural meet-ing of the Forum, held in Geneva in
, was unfor-tunately disrupted by gate-crashers. A self-styled dele-gation of South African Boers turned up and demandedto be allowed to participate on the grounds that they toowere indigenous people. Moreover, they claimed thattheir traditional culture was under threat from the newAfrican National Congress government. They were un-ceremoniously ejected, and no doubt their motives werefar from pure, but the drama might usefully have drawnattention to the difﬁculty of deﬁning and identifying“indigenous people.”The loaded terms “native” and “indigenous” are thesubject of much debate in activist circles.
“Native”stillhas a colonial ring in many parts of the world, thoughit has become an acceptable label in North America. Itis now always capitalized (Native), perhaps in order tosuggest that it refers to a nation of some sort, and in factthe term “First Nations” is often used as an alternativedesignation in Canada and the U.S.A. In internationaldiscourse, however, the term “indigenous” is usuallypreferred. This has a slightly foreign ring to English ears,
Versions of this paper were presented in June
dCongress of the Association of Brazilian Anthropologists and in anaddress delivered at the opening ceremony of the Max Planck In-stitute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. I also had theopportunity to try out the argument in a small seminar of humanrights specialists at the London School of Economics under thechairmanship of Stanley Cohen. Detailed comments on the paperwere made by Alan Barnard, Mark Nuttall, and Evie Plaice. RobertHitchcock kindly gave me copies of his unpublished papers on cur-rent developments in Botswana.
Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge,Middlesex UB
PH, U.K. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
See, for example, the correspondence published in
under the title “Deﬁning Oneself,and Being Deﬁned As, Indigenous.”
but perhaps it comes across as more scientiﬁc. At thesametime,thenamesusedforparticularindigenouspeo-ples have undergone changes, and therefore we nowhave, for example, Saami for Lapp, Inuit for Eskimo (seeStewart
), and San for Bushman.As is so often the way with this sort of relabelling,“San” turns out to be a pejorative Hottentot—or Khoe-khoe—term for Bushmen, connoting “vagabonds” and“bandits” (Barnard
), but the principle is defensi-ble. It is a good idea to call people by names they rec-ognize and ﬁnd acceptable. Nevertheless, discreditedoldarguments may lurk behind new words. “Culture” hasbecome a common euphemism for “race.” Similarly, inthe rhetoric of the indigenous peoples movement theterms “native” and “indigenous” are often euphemismsforwhatusedtobetermed“primitive”(cf.Be´teille
).Indeed, one of the major NGOs in this ﬁeld, SurvivalInternational, began life as the Primitive Peoples’ Fund.It has since changed its name, but clinging to the sameanachronistic anthropology it now promotes itself as amovement “for tribal peoples.” Once this equivalencebetween “indigenous” and “primitive,” “tribal,” “hunt-ing,” or “nomadic” peoples is grasped, it is easier to un-derstandwhythesecretarygeneraloftheUnitedNationsglossed “indigenous peoples” as “nomads or huntingpeople” (Boutros-Ghali
). The indigenous peoplesforum from which the Boerswere ejectedwasdominatedby delegations speaking for Inuit, San, Australian Abo-rigines, Amazonian peoples, and others, precisely thequintessential “primitive societies” of classical anthro-pological discourse.
Not only has the ghostly category of “primitive peo-ples” been restored to life under a new label but the UNsecretary generalof the day,BoutrosBoutros-Ghali,iden-tiﬁed common problems that these peoples suffered inthe modern world: They had been “relegated to reservedterritories or conﬁned to inaccessible or inhospitableregions” and in many cases “seemed doomed to extinc-tion.” Governments treated them as “subversive” be-cause they “did not share the sedentary lifestyle or theculture of the majority. Nations of farmers tended toview nomads or hunting peoples with fear or contempt.”However, the secretary general noted that “a welcomechange is taking place on national and international lev-els.” The unique way of life of indigenous peoples hadat last come to be appreciated at its true value. Organ-izations of indigenous people had been formed. Collec-tiverightsinhistoricalhomelandswerebeingrecognizedand land claims pressed with some success (Boutros-Ghali
).The secretary general was certainly right to identifynew international thinking on these issues. The ILOConvention no.
) concerning Indigenous andTribal Peoples in Independent Countries laid down thatnational governments should allow indigenous peoplestoparticipateinthemakingofdecisionsthataffectthem,that they should set their own development priorities,
For a historical review of the notion of primitive society, seeKuper (