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Adam Kuper. the Return of the Native

Adam Kuper. the Return of the Native

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389
Current Anthropology
Volume
44
, Number
3
, June
2003
2003
by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved
0011-3204/2003/4403-0004$2.50
CA
FORUM ONANTHROPOLOGY IN PUBLIC
The Return of theNative
1
by Adam Kuper
2
On Human Rights Day
1992
, the United Nations pro-claimed an International Year of the World’s IndigenousPeople. A Decade for Indigenous Peoples was subse-quently launched,torunfrom
1995
to
2004
,andaForumof Indigenous Peoples established. The inaugural meet-ing of the Forum, held in Geneva in
1996
, 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.
3
“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,
1.
Versions of this paper were presented in June
2002
at the
23
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 RobertHitchcock kindly gave me copies of his unpublished papers on cur-rent developments in Botswana.
2.
Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge,Middlesex UB
8 3
PH, U.K. (adam.kuper@brunel.ac.uk).
3.
See, for example, the correspondence published in
Anthropology Today 
18
(
3
) (June
2002
):
23
25
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
2002
:
88
92
), 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
1992
:
8
), 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
1998
).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
1994
:
9
). 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.
4
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
1994
:
9
13
).The secretary general was certainly right to identifynew international thinking on these issues. The ILOConvention no.
169
(
1989
) concerning Indigenous andTribal Peoples in Independent Countries laid down thatnational governments should allow indigenous peoplestoparticipateinthemakingofdecisionsthataffectthem,that they should set their own development priorities,
4.
For a historical review of the notion of primitive society, seeKuper (
1988
).
 
390
F
current anthropology
Volume
44
, Number
3
, June
2003
and that they should be given back lands that they tra-ditionally occupied. This convention has been ratifiedby Denmark and Norway among European states and byBolivia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Par-aguay, and Peru in Latin America. However, no Africanor Asian state has adopted it. (For a trenchant critiqueof the logic of the Indian “tribal” movement,seeBe´teille
1998
.)Morerecently,aUnitedNationsDraftDeclarationon the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been negotiated,but particularly because of strong opposition from anumber of African states it has not yet been put beforethe General Assembly.
5
The rhetoric of the indigenous-peoples movementrests on widely accepted premises that are neverthelessopentoseriouschallenge,notleastfromanthropologists.Theinitialassumptionisthatdescendantsoftheoriginalinhabitants of a country should have privileged rights,perhaps even exclusive rights, to its resources. Con-versely, immigrants are simply guestsandshouldbehaveaccordingly. These propositions are popular with ex-treme right-wing parties in Europe, although the argu-ment is seldom pushed to its logical conclusion giventhat the history of all European countries is a history ofsuccessive migrations. Even in the most extreme na-tionalist circles it is not generally argued that, for in-stance, descendants of the Celts and perhaps the Saxonsshould be given special privileges in Britain as againstdescendants of Romans, Vikings, Normans, and, ofcourse, all later immigrants.Where hunters and nomadic herders are concerned, itmay be argued that they represent not merely the firstinhabitants of a country but the original human popu-lations of the world. In a certain sense primitive, abo-riginal, humankind’s first-comers, theirs is the naturalstate of humanity. If that is so, then perhaps it followsthat their rights must take precedence. However, whileUpper Paleolithic hunters and gatherers operated in aworld of hunters, every contemporary communityoffor-agersorherderslivesinintimateassociationwithsettledfarmers. In certain cases, including those of the KalahariBushmen and the Congo Pygmies, they interacted withfarming neighbours for centuries, probably for at least amillennium, before the colonial period (see Wilmsen
1989
a
). Exchanges with farmers and traders are crucialfor theireconomy,and theirforagingactivitiesaregearedto this broader economic context. Moreover, the dividebetween a foraging and a farming way of life is not nec-essarily hard and fast. People may forage for some sea-sons, even some years, but fall back on other activitieswhen times are tough. Alternatively, farmers may bedriven back on foraging as a result of war or naturaldisasters. All this suggests that the way of life of modernhunters or herders may be only remotely related to thatof hunters and herders who lived thousands of years ago.Furthermore, even where technologies are very simple,cultural traditions vary between regions rather than ac-cording to modes of gaining a livelihood. For example,
5.
For a convenient review of the institutions and treaties dealingwith human rights and indigenous peoples, see Roulet (
1999
).
Kalahari hunter-gatherers have more in commonintheirreligious beliefs or kinship systems with neighbouringKhoi or Hottentot herders than with the Hadza of Tan-zania or the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest in the Congo,many of whom lived until recently largely by foraging(see Barnard
1992
).Several generations—in some cases many centu-ries—of European settlement have also greatly compli-cated the picture. Local ways of life and group identitieshave been subjected to a variety of pressures and haveseldom, if ever, remained stable over the long term. It isnevertheless often assumed that each local native groupis the carrier of an ancient culture. In familiar romanticfashion, this culture is associated with spiritual ratherthan with material values. It is unique and expresses thegenius of a native people. To be sure, it is conceded (evenangrily insisted) that the authentic culture may surviveonly in rural enclaves, since (again in good romanticstyle) native cultures are represented as being every-where under threat from an intrusive material civiliza-tion associated with cities, with stock markets,andwithforeigners. However, it is argued that the essence sur-vives and can be nursed back to health if the resourcesare provided. The alternative is represented in the bleak-est terms. The loss of culture is sometimes spoken of asa form of genocide. Even in less apocalyptic discoursesit is taken for granted that a people that loses its culturehas been robbed of its identity and that the diminutionof cultural variation represents a significant loss for allhumanity.Boutros-Ghali accordingly insisted that the indige-nous-peoples movement was not only about land orhunting rights. It was, even more fundamentally, con-cernedwithcultureandidentity.Indeed,beyondthecon-ventional list of individual human rights somethingnewwas at issue. “Henceforth we realize that human rightscovernotonlyindividualrights,”Boutros-Ghaliclaimed,“but also collective rights, historical rights. We are dis-coveringthe‘newhumanrights,’whichinclude,firstandforemost, cultural rights. . . . We might even say thatthere can be no human rights unless cultural authentic-ity is preserved” (
1994
:
13
).
6
(He did not consider the pos-sibility that “collective rights” might undermine “in-dividual rights.”)Finally, there is a strong ecological thread in the in-digenous-peoples rhetoric. According to the dogma,hunters are in tune with nature in a way that the ex-ploitative and greedy farmers are not (see Brody
2001
; cf.Gill
1994
and Kehoe
1994
). As Boutros-Ghali summedup, in appropriately cliche´d language, “It is now clearlyunderstood that many indigenous people live in greaterharmony with the natural environment than do the in-habitantsofindustrializedconsumersocieties”(Boutros-Ghali
1994
:
13
).An eloquent statement of the natural-harmony thesishas been published recently by the anthropologist and
6.
See Kuper (
1999
:chap.
7
); see also Chanock (
2000
) for an inter-esting discussion of the new prominence given to “culture” and“cultural rights” in post–cold war international discourse.
 
kuper
The Return of the Native
F
391
activist Hugh Brody (
2001
), but he has chosen to focuson Canada’s far north, where the way of life has beenshaped for centuries by the international fur trade. Inuitcommercial hunters flourished here, in time embracingthe new technologies of hunting rifles, motorizedsleighs, and radio communications, but this trade hasbeen in decline for decades, and the consumer boycottof furs has made further inroads in the rump of the in-dustry. Since the
1950
s the Canadian government hasimplemented a policyof sedentarization.Todaytherearestill a few part-time commercial hunters and, as else-where in North America, some men still hunt for rec-reation, but hunting is a marginal activity. Ethnogra-phers have emphasized the continuing importance ofwhat Stewart calls “the imagery rather than the subsis-tence aspects of hunting” (Stewart
2002
:
93
; cf. Omura
2002
). However, few could quarrel with Dorais’s (
1997
:
3
) conclusion that “Inuit society, in many respects, is asmodern as its Euro-American counterpart.”Some activists wish thattheInuitwouldtakeuphunt-ing again and restore an ancient environmental balance,but such hopes are not justified by experience. The
1971
Alaska Native ClaimsSettlementActcreated
12
Native-controlled profit-making corporations, which now ex-port resources to Japan and Korea. Recently the Inupiatof Alaska’s North Slope have supported oil drilling onthe coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(although they are opposed by the Gwich’in Indians). InGreenland, the Inuit-led Home Rule governmentregardshunting as anachronistic and objectionable and favoursthe exploitation of non-renewable resources (see Nuttall
1998
).Leaving aside the question of how the land might beused,landclaimsonbehalfofformer“nomads”typicallyraiseverytrickyissues.
7
Canadiancourtshavefoundthatit is difficult to establish the boundaries of lands huntedby former generations or to grasp how ancestral popu-lations understood rights to resources and rights in land.They must also consider whether rights exercised byhunters are in some way equivalent to rights that arisefromclearingvirginlandsforagricultureortoothercom-mon-law entitlements. Finally, they must decidewhether native chiefs legally entered into treaties thatalienated some or all of their lands.Some activists argue that too much emphasis is placedon treaties which may have been poorly understood bythe natives and that courts should recognize that thereare different cultural modes of encoding historical set-tlements. Hugh Brody, a leading theoristoftheCanadian
7.
There is now a substantial literature on this issue; see, for ex-ample, Wilmsen (
1989
b
). For an excellent account oftheAustraliansituation see Hiatt (
1996
:chap.
2
).
First Nations movement,
8
favours recourse to unwrittenhistorical resources, and in line with other Canadian ac-tivists he suggests that if there are no appropriate oraltraditions the court should take evidence from shamans,whoareabletoseeindreamsthearrangementsthattheirancestors made with the first European settlers (Brody
2001
:
134
36
).Brody concedes that questions may be asked about thefactual status of oral traditions, let alone the dreams ofshamans, but he insists that there is a reliable test of thehistorical value of these accounts. It all depends on whotells them. “For the peoples of the Northwest Coast,”he writes, “as to any hunter-gatherer society or, indeed,any oral culture, words spoken by chiefs are a naturaland inevitable basis for truth” (Brody
2001
:
207
). Now,where chiefs exist, the word of one may carry weight,but it will not necessarily be accepted as “a natural andinevitablebasisfortruth”byanyoneotherthan,perhaps,the chief’s most loyal and trusting subjects. It is surelyunfortunate if advocates of native rights grant powers tochiefs that they would be reluctant to allow to merekings or emperors or even to elected presidents.Anyway,while some of the native peoples of Canada did havehereditary chiefs, in other cases it is far from certainthatchiefs were recognized before the office was establishedby colonial authorities. There are also frequent disputesabout who should be chief, and land claims regularly pitnative against native, chief against chief (and anthro-pologistagainstanthropologist).Preciselybecausemythsfunction as charters, there are inevitably competing sto-ries, and disputes often rage over who owns a particularstory and who has the right to use it to back up claimsto resources.Other problems arise when myths are compared withhistorical or archaeological evidence. As a consultant toCanada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples inthe
1990
s, Brody organized a historical workshop inwhich archaeologists explained that the Arctic was col-onized across the Bering Straits by way of a land bridgethat connected Siberia and Alaska (
2001
:
113
14
):One of the workshop participants was a womanfrom a Cree community who was enrolled in aPh.D. programme at a prestigious American univer-sity. She was not happy about the Bering Strait the-ory. She pointed out that her people, and most “In-dian” people, do not believe that archaeologistsknow anything about the origins of human life in
8.
The blurb of his book presents Brody’s credentials: Oxford-ed-ucated, he has taught social anthropology at Queen’s University,Belfast, and in the
1970
s “he worked with the Canadian Depart-ment of Indian and Northern Affairs and then with InuitandIndianorganisations, mapping hunter-gatherer territories and researchingLand Claims and indigenous rights in many parts of Canada. Hewas an adviser to the Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry, a member of theWorld Bank’s famous Morse Commission and chairman of theSnake River Independent Review, all of which took him to theencounter between large-scale development and indigenous com-munities. Since
1997
he has worked with the South African SanInstitute on Bushman history and land rights in the SouthernKalahari.”

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