Collective Assimilation: Resisting Full Citizenship

AP Photo/Juan Karita In this January 21, 2016, photo, an Aymara man holding a Wiphala flag is silhouetted against an early morning sky as he waits for the arrival of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales to take part in an Andean ritual honoring the 10 years Morales has served as leader of the South American country, at the archaeological site Tiwanaku, Bolivia. Morales elevated the status of the multi-colored flag that represents the people of the Andes, making it the co-official flag of Bolivia.

Collective Assimilation: Resisting Full Citizenship

One of the great moments in recent indigenous history was the rejection of full citizenship, most clearly seen in the United States and Canada. Most nation states around the world offer their Indigenous Peoples full citizenship, but at the expense of acknowledging indigenous rights to political autonomy, land and different cultures.

Nevertheless, in one way or another, many Indigenous Peoples resist full citizenship, even when it is forced upon them. When Indigenous Peoples refuse full citizenship they are not necessarily rejecting inclusion and citizenship in their local nation state. Rather, Indigenous Peoples are privileging their own communities first, and are willing to accept citizenship as long as their indigenous rights are addressed and recognized.

Few nations of the world recognize indigenous rights, and therefore Indigenous Peoples are often struggling with nation states over land, culture, political organization, the definition and rights of citizens with indigenous rights perspectives and many other issues. When indigenous people at the international and nation level group together to preserve indigenous rights and accommodate citizen rights and obligations within a nation state, they are rejecting full collective assimilation.

The rejection of collective assimilation—group assimilation without indigenous rights—does not necessarily imply a rejection of the nation state or contemporary models of democracy and government. Indigenous people recognize long-standing relations with nation states, however, they continue to insist on recognition of indigenous government, culture, and land rights. The present form of accommodation to the collective resistance to assimilation is seen in the plural citizen positions in the U.S. and Canada, and the movements within Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, which have adopted plurinational constitutions.

The strong pressures for collective and individual assimilation from most nation states suggests multiple group and individual responses to assimilation. Many individuals may make the choice to accept nation norms, values and social-political order. Such movements in Latin and Central America are often called mestizo movements. This is not a racial classification, but rather a cultural classification. Indians who are exposed to, invited to, and pressed to accept Christianity and national non-tribal institutions, while abandoning tribal or collective indigenous life, may chose to assimilate as an individual. Mestizos in many countries can be the dominant social and political forces. When the majority of the national population is composed of mestizo, often descended from Indigenous Peoples as in Latin, South, and Central American, although the nation has roots in indigenous life and cultures, the collective national community has chosen to accept non-indigenous government, culture, economy and lifestyles.

Collective mestizo national identities exist in many countries. Similarly, in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, there are “mestizo” cultures and nationalities, perhaps there is another language to use, that are formed from individuals and groups that have cultural and historical roots among Indigenous Peoples. It is of critical importance whether the mestizo nationalities are supportive or non-supportive of indigenous positions. Mestizo nationalities can form strong anti-indigenous positions like settler colonists. At the same time Mestizo nationalities can operate in the same way as settler colonists by maintaining relations with former colonial nations while performing roles and tasks that are similar to settler states.

The mass assimilation of many indigenous individuals can result in multiple patterns. Some may become multi-cultural and work with both national and indigenous institutions and environments. The mass of hostile mestizo cultures may have been formed by many individual choices or historical situations that lead choosing national or colonial worldviews, and rejecting the cultures and community of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous Peoples and nations, however, are not socially frozen in time. Rather, the choices of identities made by indigenous individuals can form a majority of an indigenous nation, and result in a synthesis of indigenous and national institutions or acceptance of national political and economic models while holding onto political autonomy. The choices indigenous nations and individuals make will result in many different pathways.

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