Indigenism can refer to several different ideologies associated with indigenous peoples, is used differently by a various scholars and activists, and can be used purely descriptively or carry political connotations.[1]

Who is indigenous?

In the Americas as well as in Australia, the question is rather straightforward, while it is less easy to answer in the case of South Africa.[2] The question of who is indigenous may be less than straightforward, depending on the region under consideration.

As international human rights movement

Anthropologist Ronald Niezen uses the term to describe "the international movement that aspires to promote and protect the rights of the world's 'first peoples'."[1]


New Zealander scholar Jeffrey Sissons has criticized what he calls "eco-indigenism" on the part of international forums such as the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, which he claims enforces a link between indigenous peoples and traditional economies, and also confuses the issues faced by New World indigenous, who are mostly urban dwellers and live in states dominated by people descendant from their colonizers, and by ethnic minorities in Asia and Africa who are more likely to live "close to the land" and live in states where the colonizers have long since left (though they may still face persecution from the post-colonial successor state).[3]

As pan-indigenous political or cultural solidarity

As used by Cherokee-American scholar Ward Churchill (b. 1947; author of From a Native Son) and Mexican scholar Guillermo Bonfil Batalla (1935-1991), the term refers to the common civilization of which, they argue, all New World indigenous peoples are a part, and to their common "spirit of resistance" to settler colonialism.[1]

As official policy in Latin American nation-states

In Latin America the term Indigenismo is often used "to describe the ways that colonial nation-states have formulated their vision of Indigenous social inclusion."[1]


One scholar, Alcida Rita Ramos, uses the term not only to refer to official policy, but to all social and political interactions between the state or mainstream society and indigenous peoples, whether initiated by the indigenous or by other parties.[1]

As approach to scholarship

Eva Marie Garroutte uses "Radical Indigenism" to mean an attitude towards scholarship on indigenous peoples that does not treat their culture as a curiosity, or of interest solely in order to study the individuals who practise the culture; instead she argues that indigenous people possess entire philosophies of knowledge capable of generating new knowledge through different models of inquiry from those used in Western philosophy. She presents it as a logical next step to post-colonial theories which seek to question Western "ways of knowing" but have not yet proposed alternatives.[4]

As ethnic nationalism

Indigenism, native nationalism, or indigenous nationalism is a kind of ethnic nationalism emphasizing the group's indigeneity to their homeland. This may be embraced by post-colonial anarchism as well as in neo-völkisch or national mysticist nationalism building on historical or pseudohistorical claims of ethnic continuity.

While New World movements usually go by the name indigenism (notably in South America and in Mexico, "indigenismo" is a political force), the term autochthonism is encountered for Eastern European and Central Asian nationalisms.[5]

"Autochthonism" is an issue especially in those parts of Europe formerly under Ottoman control, i.e. the Balkans and Romania (see rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire). Originating in the 19th century, autochthonist nationalism affected the area throughout the 20th century. Writing in 1937, Nichifor Crainic celebrated Gândirea's role in making nationalism and Orthodoxy priorities in Romania's intellectual and political life:

The term 'ethnic' with its meaning of 'ethnic specificity' imprinted in all sorts of expressions of the people, as a mark of its original properties, has been spread for 16 years by the journal Gândirea. The same thing applies to the terms of autochthonism, traditionalism, Orthodoxy, spirituality and many more which became the shared values of our current nationalist language.



Indigenism involves the suppression of certain aspects of history and the emphasis of others (to which there may be no direct continuity), as well as the selection of one of multiple sources of ancestry for a "people". It can be personal, as in W. E. B. Du Bois's black nationalism, despite his Dutch ancestry. It is also relative, since while nativists in the United States argue that Native Americans and Mestizo Hispanic and Latino American people are more indigenous to the United States land than European Americans, some counterclaims posit European Americans as more indigenous than the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.[7]

The portrayal of the Christian wars against Al-Andalus as a Reconquista, or "reconquest" is an indigenist nationalist trope that evokes Iberia's pre-Muslim past. The Hutu Power ideology posited that the Hutu were the first, and therefore the legitimate, inhabitants of Rwanda, justifying the extermination of the Tutsi. The Arab–Israeli conflict involves competing claims to indigenity, with modern disputants to territory claiming a direct line of descent to its ancient inhabitant peoples such as the Philistines and the Canaanites.[7]

See also


  1. de Costa, Ravi (2005). "Indigenism". Globalization and Autonomy Online Compendium. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  2. Lee (2006), p. 459: "As Murumbi (1994) has pointed out, the black peoples of Africa, whether hunter-gatherers, herders, farmers, or city dwellers, can all claim great antiquity on the continent. Thus any distinctions between indigenous and non-indigenous must necessarily be invidious ones. A case in point: the Government of Botswana, home of over half of all the San peoples of Africa, refused to participate in the 1993–2003 UN Decade of the Indigenous People, on the grounds that in their country everyone was indigenous (Mogwe, 1992). "
  3. First Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and Their Futures (2005), pp 23-28
  5. Leon Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s, Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism Pergamon Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0-08-041024-1, p. 80; Lucian Boia, History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness, Central European University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-963-9116-97-9, p. 240.; Karl Kaser, Elisabeth Katschnig-Fasch, Gender and Nation in South Eastern Europe: Anthropological Yearbook of European Cultures, Vol. 14, LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2006, ISBN 978-3-8258-8802-2, p. 89.
  6. Crainic, in Caraiani, note 23
  7. Zerubavel, Eviatar (2004). Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past. University of Chicago Press. pp. 103–106.
  8. Adam H. Becker, The Ancient Near East in the Late Antique Near East: Syriac Christian Appropriation of the Biblical East in Gregg Gardner, Kevin Lee Osterloh (eds.) Antiquity in antiquity: Jewish and Christian pasts in the Greco-Roman world, p. 396, 2008, Mohr Siebeck, ISBN 978-3-16-149411-6
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