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Rebecca Tsosie

 

Abstracted from:  Rebecca Tsosie, The New Challenge to Native Identity: an Essay on "Indigeneity" and  "Whiteness" , 18 Washington University Journal of Law and Policy 55 -98, (2005) (253 Footnotes)


It has never seemed controversial that Native peoples in the United States are "indigenous." In fact, pow-wow pundits often joke that in the 1940s, "Indians" were classified by U.S. census takers as being of the "Mongolian race," and then, by the 1960s, they had their own "American Indian" category, until the 1980s, when they became "Native American." However, that term became somewhat discredited in the 1990s when Native political activists disclaimed "American" identity in favor of the more globally politically correct term "indigenous peoples." "Today," the joke continues, "I'm Other." This joke has always inspired enthusiastic howls from the crowd, most of whom understand themselves in the context of a particular tribal identity-- Dine, Tohono O'odham, Lakota. Unfortunately, however, the tide has turned. Now there is a concerted effort to challenge the notion of "indigeneity" and to suggest that the concept is somehow distinct from Native identity, and furthermore, may be constructive of Euro-American identity! This essay builds upon Cheryl Harris's claim that "whiteness" is a form of "property" and suggests that the current challenges to Native "indigeneity" respond to the perception that "privilege" and "status" have attached to the racial and cultural identity of Native peoples in recent years through various "special" legal rights. This article suggests that, with respect to indigenous peoples, the discourse of "whiteness" requires analysis within a global, as well as national context. This article examines four areas within which there is an active debate over "indigenous status": political rights under international human rights law; cultural rights under international human rights law; rights to land and to ancestral human remains under domestic law; and rights to genetic resources. The root issue within each of these areas is who "owns" Native identity--political, cultural, ancestral, genetic--and what role does the concept of "indigeneity" play in these assertions of "ownership" ? The article concludes by suggesting that Native cultural sovereignty, including tribal law and tribal epistemologies, will have an important role in asserting and maintaining Native rights to tangible and intangible tribal resources.

 

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