Marginalization and Cultural Choice

Indigenous Rights Now AP An Indian woman from the Brazilian Amazon region participates in a protest for indigenous rights during the Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, on December 8, 2014.

Marginalization and Cultural Choice

Policy makers and academics often describe the contemporary condition of Indigenous Peoples as marginalized politically and economically. President Barack Obama sometimes uses this expression to summarize and characterize the conditions of Indian people in the US. Arguments of colonization focus on the political subordination and loss of land and resources by indigenous people during history and currently. Decolonization points of view argue that Indigenous Peoples have to reject colonizing influences.

If Indigenous Peoples rejected colonizing influences they could construct a better and freer form of existence. Theories and arguments of colonization have long histories in Western academic and intellectual circles. Such theories are constructed organizing opposition to the negative effects of capitalism or nation states. The intellectuals and often academics who use marginalization and decolonizing positions are interested in organizing all marginalized groups, including Indigenous Peoples, into a coalition of opposition to forces of free markets, and nation states. Indigenous Peoples, indigenous academics, and intellectuals are invited to join the coalition of opposition.

In contemporary academic and intellectual circles, this coalition of the marginalized consists of poor people, racial and ethnic groups, sexual and gender minorities, and other groups. From the point of view of policy makers, most marginalized groups are disadvantaged and therefore are looking for greater political and economic opportunities, and social justice. Policy makers work through legislation, courts, and national institutions to gain social, economic and political equality and justice according to the values and goals expressed in national constitutions. Neo-marxists argue that the nation state and market system is inherently oppressive and needs reconstruction. Like the working class, and other marginalized groups, Indigenous Peoples need economic and political freedom from the oppressive powers and economic inequalities fostered by the nation state and open market system. For the neo-marxists, marginalized Indigenous Peoples are in need of liberation, and are seen as potential allies in the struggle against the existing political and economic order.

Many contemporary scholars and some indigenous scholars write and make careers by focusing on indigenous marginalization. The focus on colonization and marginalization looks past indigenous cultures, leadership, social actions, and indigenous viewpoints about how to navigate toward the future. Generally the marginalization arguments focus on the processes of political and economic inequality, and see indigenous nations as the victims of history. Western theory and policy tends toward materialist interpretations, where arguments of culture, community, worldview, and indigenous nationalities are not central, often just ignored as irrelevant, or merely a form of false consciousness. This lack of respect is the result of not accepting Indigenous Peoples for who they are and not willing to engage indigenous nations on their own terms. Consequently, in a way similar to colonialism, Indigenous Peoples are invited and categorized into a coalition where external theorists believe they have the answers for Indigenous Peoples.

While Indigenous Peoples share the marginalized political and economic places as other marginalized peoples, and often share some common causes, Indigenous Peoples do not adhere to a world based on Western material theories—whether those positions are neo-marxist, modernist, or post colonial. Some indigenous scholars have long criticized the relevance of academic work, not because they were opposed to research and knowledge, but because the theories and implications of research about Indigenous Peoples generally did not provide practical, culturally relevant, or sustainable possibilities for indigenous nations.

Even in the coalitions of the marginalized peoples and groups of the world, Indigenous Peoples are left without voice, are powerless, and are commandeered into the intellectual and policy programs that are part of other peoples political and intellectual agendas. While Indigenous Peoples may remain the stepchildren of the world, they will culturally and politically persist in ways that will not conform to the expectations of current theory and policy. The world will be a more balanced and democratic place when mainstream intellectual agendas finally reconcile with the needs and views of indigenous nations.

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