i dream of being possible

indigenous vs. Indigenous

So. I posted this thing on FB. It was a reply to someone who asked about my distinction between indigenous/Indigenous in my post about batok and appropriation.

Well… I’ll be honest. I started with the above definitions and introduced the capitalised distinction based on those readings, rather than any discussions I’ve seen or read.

In part, because most of the conversations about Indigeniety have been from Indigenous people living in settled lands. I find the conversation about who is or isn’t Indigenous doesn’t come up much with those of use who were once colonised, but not settled, and have reached a ‘post-colonial’ stage in our history.

I know there were some African responses to the UN stuff on Indigenous rights because, in a very real sense, everyone in Africa is indigenous (well, minus the white settlers who still remain in places like South Africa). The same is true of the Philippines.

Er. Yeah. And since you posed the question above, I’ve been digging around to see if I can find any articles discussing Indigeniety in the Philippines…. and nothing.

As far as I can tell, I introduced the capitalized difference simply to mark the distinction between those indigenous people like us Tagalogs who are technically indigenous, but as per the links above are extremely unlikely to ever really self-identify as such, even if it can be considered technically true. Contrasted with other ethnicities in the Philippines who, being much smaller and following more of their traditional customs, might be inclined to ID that way (or perhaps already do). I guess the difference between history and the Indigenous as identity/political movement. Idk.

If you end up finding anything, I’d also be really interested to read them too. I’ll keep poking around and see if I can’t find something.

I don’t involve myself in many (or any, tbh) discussions of Indigeniety because I fully get that this does not apply to me.

For me, the key difference lies in this paragraph, from this discussion of the definition of ‘Indigenous’:1

On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group).

So. Let’s talk about the Philippines. And Indigeniety. Outside of a few groups, whose Indigeniety is marked for reasons that matter beyond self-ID, I can’t think of many places where I’ve seen one of the larger ethnicities ID themselves as Indigenous (say, Tagalogs, who are the second largest group after Bisayans). Certainly no one in my family did or would.

This matters. What also matters is that Tagalogs (as I mention in my other post) are not only the second largest ethnic group, but our territory is where the seat of spanish colonial power was located and where the current capital is likewise located. This is important for things like how I was raised to believe that Pilipino = Tagalog (as spoken language).

However, if you scan other parts of that UN definition, like:

  • Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them

-Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands

-Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.)

-Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language)

Clearly apply to Tagalogs. This is why… on this account I am willing to use *i*ndigenous to describe us. But only in very very specific contexts (like the way I did in my post on batok). Because I don’t think I have a place in inter-community discussions on *I*ndigenous conversations. I sure as fuck do not have anything to contribute in communities dealing with settler colonialism (other than, ugh, my participation as a person occupying land that isn’t mine and without permission).

But within my own group the use of small ‘i’ indigenous is partially a way to mark this historical reality. We do live on our lands, speak our language, etc. It is a way of noting that we are simply not just a product of colonialism (which I sincerely thought for a very long time). That the fact that we continue to speak our language and exist and that we managed to resist colonial efforts to assimilate and destroy us.

And yet. We still live in the world as created by white ppl. This means that instead of capital ‘I’ Indigenous, we must deal with the arbitrary assignment of use as ‘Asians’ or even ‘Filipin@s’. Because as much as we’ve resisted, we have also changed. And these changes are just as ‘authentic’ as anything else.

Moreover, we need to avoid falling into a ‘we’re all indigenous trap’ for the ways that those groups wielding more political and economic power use this power in ways that negatively impact our Indigenous ppl’s. It is also a way to mark our responsibility to behave in non-shitty ways to the marginalised ethnicities, to our Indigenous peoples.

We may not have made this world, but it is our responsibility to move forward in ways that do not replicate the ways of our oppressors.2