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Native Policy

Indian Policies Of The Twentieth-century Nation-states

Shifts in the ways that anthropologists have been analyzing contemporary state policies toward native peoples in Latin America are highlighted in two important anthologies published since the early 1990s. In Joel Sherzer and Greg Urban's collection Nation-States and Indians in Latin America (1991), contributors elaborated a galaxy of distinctive Indian identity formations, within the context of national identities. As in colonial times, these national identities have in the main excluded indigenous peoples from full citizenship as Indians, but instead utilized state policy to culturally assimilate Indian peoples to thereby gain full control over Indian lands and resources. In this collection, authors document how Indian identities have resisted state-sponsored assimilation, but also experienced marked transformations of the cultural traits, practices, languages, and symbols that demarcate Indianness.

Twelve years later, the publication of Kay Warren and Jean Jackson's Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America (2002) crystallizes the changes among Indian peoples in the interim, as well as the new anthropological responses to current conditions. Contributors in this collection have documented the importance of indigenous political movements as they marshal Indian cultural identities toward the twin goals of auto-representation (for local, national, and global audiences) and reordering the place of Indians in nation-states. The second goal signifies no less than the wholesale reconceptualization of national identities in Latin America, at the formal level of constitutions, political parties, laws, and leadership, as well as at the popular level. This anthology demonstrates anthropologists' commitment to even closer analysis of state policies and their multifarious effects upon Indian peoples.

Two other ethnographies demonstrate the vast differences evolving in state policy toward Indians in Latin America. In Charles Hale's exploration of "contradictory consciousness" among the Miskitu of the Nicaraguan Atlantic coast, an Indian identity coalesced around opposition to the integrationist policies of the revolutionary Sandinista state. Even though this opposition became the banner for a florescence of Miskitu language and culture, it was allied to the United States' war against the Sandinistas. By contrast, left-wing coalition politics in the Juchitán region of Oaxaca, Mexico, described by Howard Campbell, created the local political conditions for both opposition to the federal Mexican state and the opportunity for Zapotec cultural renaissance. In these ethnographies, it is clear that state policies are having unpredictable effects upon and interactions with Indian peoples and cultures.

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