Comparisons With Indian Policy In The United States
Comparing the history of Indian policy in Latin America versus that history in the United States is instructive, particularly with respect to the issue of cultural assimilation of Indian peoples through mestizaje. Mestizaje as an intrinsic part of Latin American state policy profoundly departs from Indian policies in the United States, as elucidated by Les Field and Circe Sturm. In North America, treaty-making between indigenous peoples that began with the British colonial regime and continued under successive U.S. administrations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ultimately created a category of officially acknowledged Indian people, the "federally recognized Indian tribe."
While the federal government has since the 1880s on at least three occasions attempted to disengage from the premise of federal recognition, which more or less accepts the indefinite existence of Indian peoples, these attempts have so far failed to put an end to this officialized status. Federally recognized tribes hold onto a sharply circumscribed, but nevertheless always potentially valuable, set of properties, that is, Indian reservations; furthermore, recognized tribes are authorized to make claims upon various parts of the U.S. federal bureaucracy. Indians who do not live on reservations but are members of recognized tribes can return to their designated reservations and make claims to resources. Even in urban areas, Indians from federally recognized tribes still maintain access to certain federally funded services, such as health and education. These resources are substandard in the estimation of Indians and non-Indians alike, and in no way compensate for the loss of immense territories, not to mention economic and political liberty. For this reason, Indian identities in the United States are closely policed by both federal and tribal authorities; tribal membership is substantiated via genealogy, or blood quantum, and the policies of both the tribes (acting as semiautonomous internal state forms) and the federal bureaucracy are obsessed with counting Indians and allocating resources.
Compared with the United States, state policy in Latin America is much less concerned with policing Indian identities for three reasons. First, whatever rights accrue to being Indian in Latin America are minimal, and wherever such rights exist, they depend upon residence in demarcated Indian communities. Second, popular genealogical theories in Latin America, that is, theories of "blood," encourage mestizaje as a means toward social mobility, rather than serving as legitimation for Indian identities as in the United States. Finally, nationalist ideologies in Latin America profoundly stigmatize Indianness, associating it with poverty, ignorance, backwardness, and powerlessness. In the last regard, nationalism in the United States, and state policy over the last two centuries, do concur with state policies in Latin America. Yet without the history of treaties, reservations, and federal recognition that exists in the United States, which with all of its problems still provides a basis for both establishing and maintaining Indian identities, Latin American mestizaje has acted as a powerful ideological force aiding and abetting state policies aimed at disenfranchising and disarticulating Indian societies and cultures. Indeed, the struggles of indigenous movements to reconfigure nation-states in Latin America discussed above are aimed precisely at creating political and economic structures that will support the survival of Indian peoples into the future.
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