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Native Policy

The Anti-quincentennial

The year 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus's fateful voyage that initiated the destruction of indigenous civilizations and the rise of nation-states dominated by elites of European descent. Pan-hemispheric organizing among Indian peoples mixed resistance to the plans by many countries in both North and Latin America to treat the anniversary as a cause for celebration, as well as an opportunity to express demands for profound changes in the relationship between Indian and national identities. Ecuador's indigenous confederation, CONAIE, which brings together diverse peoples from the Pacific coastal region, the Andean region, and the Amazon, formulated its demands during a series of uprisings in 1990, 1992, and 1994 (for a full description of the formation and politics of CONAIE, see CONAIE). CONAIE leaders called for a new kind of nation-state—el estado plurinacional—in which Indian identities would become by definition central to the nation, and for state policies explicitly intended to build the economic infrastructure for technologically advanced and politically autonomous Indian communities.

Such demands are mirrored in the post-1992 pan-Mayan movement in Guatemala described by Kay Warren. Similarly, since the beginning of Mexico's Zapatista uprising in 1994, many anthropologists have been concerned to show this movement as both indigenous and national in scope. The economic and political goals enunciated by these indigenous movements in some ways resembled but in other ways markedly diverged from the objectives of the Latin American left in the 1990s. The differences manifested in anthropological analyses as well, with some anthropologists deciding to act as advocates for Indian movements, while others critiqued the Indian movements from Marxist or neo-Marxist perspectives (see, for example, the critical analysis in Alcida Rita Ramos's Indigenism [1998]). One area of future anthropological research will likely focus upon what happens when Indian movements in Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere achieve even some of their political and economic goals. Will finding a political and economic place in reconfigured Latin American nation-states exacerbate class differentiation and inequalities within and among Indian communities? How will new state policies affect such outcomes?

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