Issue 145, April 2018


Modes of indigenous modernity: Identities, stories, pathways

Issue 145, April 2018



Introduction: Modes of indigenous modernity

Trevor Hogan, Priti Singh

This special issue is the outcome of a collaborative venture – a three-day workshop between La Trobe University and Ateneo de Manila University, held in Manila. It brought together indigenous and non-indigenous researchers from both the Philippines and Australia and included aboriginal researchers in business studies, history, literature and anthropology, and non-indigenous researchers working on themes of indigenous history, material culture, film studies, literature, the visual arts, law and linguistics. The ‘indigenous’ peoples of the Philippines are very different to Australian Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders. Nevertheless, they have common quests for political autonomy, protection of indigenous customary laws, traditions and knowledge, biodiversity, and development of independent self-governance structures for health, education and community development. These concerns involve analogous and overlapping political struggles with nation-states and in the forums of the UN, regional associations, global consortia, and the international courts. The papers in this issue are based on a roundtable in which the participants showcased their own research projects and interests on indigenous pathways, cultural pluralism and national identities; socio-economic development; and representation of indigenous identities in creative and visual arts.

Global configurations of indigenous identities, movements and pathways

Priti Singh

The social science literature on identity politics around questions of race and ethnicity is profuse, prolix and contentious. Indigenous identity politics have seen a parallel growth and are equally complex. While there are analogies and overlaps, indigenous identities and social movements are neither conceptually nor empirically a sub-set of ethnic identities. The central issue of indigenous groups is the place of first peoples in relation to the nation-state system. This takes different forms in old world states of Asia and Africa to those of new world settler (ex-colonial) states of the Americas and Australasia. While the major issues of the indigenous peoples have expanded beyond their national boundaries, their modes of participation in the national political arenas vary. They share a gradual nationalization of indigenous movements, including stronger links with socio-political forces of the respective countries in the region, a heightened consciousness of global processes and the broadening and enrichment of their socio-cultural and economic objectives. This paper looks at trans-national dimensions of indigenous social movements and identity politics in relation to nation-state policy regimes and examines the varying routes taken by indigenous peoples to achieve their goals.

The plight of indigenous peoples within the context of conflict mediation, peace talks and human rights in Mindanao, the Philippines

Sedfrey M. Candelaria

Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) was passed by the Philippine Congress in order to address the concerns of the indigenous communities which had received marginal attention through the past decades. Indigenous communities have also been displaced from their lands due to armed conflicts between government soldiers and secessionist groups, particularly the Moro rebels and the communist-led New Peoples’ Army. The Philippines has been privy to peace initiatives with these two groups for some time now. Political circumstances, however, and legal impediments have periodically stalled the peace processes. It is the author’s intention to focus on the predicament of indigenous communities as they seek a strategic role in shaping the content of peace agreements being negotiated by the Philippine government with the rebel groups. How have the indigenous communities made an impression on the two peace processes through the years? And, have the indigenous peoples’ rights been sufficiently protected in the context of the peace agreements? The author will draw from his own insights on the peace processes and agreements which have been negotiated and even tested before the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Strategic identity: Bridging self-determination and solidarity among the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, the Philippines

Albert E. Alejo

This article introduces the concept of ‘strategic identity’ as a bridge between the indigenous peoples’ struggle for self-determination and their search for solidarity in the context of globalization, with a focus on the Lumads, or indigenous peoples in southern Philippines. The paper begins with an encounter with a global actor affecting a local community. We realize the impact of powerful, well-networked forces that challenge even the operation of the state. Without trivializing the threats associated with this model of globalization, we also insist that a realistic and hopeful approach may emerge if we acknowledge the many ‘selves’ in the indigenous peoples’ self-determination. At the heart of this proposal is a matrix that unpacks the complex ways that local, national, sectoral, and global actors can engage in conflict or solidarity with these strategic identity assertions. Solidarity work, then, becomes diversified and strategized in response to the evolving multiple indigenous identities that modernity paradoxically both endangers and engenders.

Living with the problem of national parks: Indigenous critique of Philippine environmental policy

Padmapani L. Perez, with BUKLURAN-The Philippine ICCA Consortium

‘You mean to say we’re not the only people in the world with the problem of a national park?’ This question was raised during a focus group discussion held with an indigenous community whose ancestral domain overlaps entirely with a national park in the Philippine Cordillera. The question encapsulates an experience shared across the Philippines, particularly in spaces where both the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and the National Integrated Protected Areas System are implemented. This paper examines recent developments in indigenous leaders’ participation in, and critique of, the implementation of these two laws and the development of environmental policies. It follows an emerging, multi-sectoral movement calling for the recognition of Indigenous Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs), which has led to the crafting of a draft law. The ICCA bill is envisioned as a law that will resolve indigenous peoples’ problems with national parks, while meeting biodiversity conservation targets. The authors direct attention to how indigenous leaders campaigning for the ICCA bill are asserting their right to delineate space and make decisions in the contexts of policy-making and implementation. It is argued here that their articulations are registers of indigenous critique. Taking these critiques seriously has the potential to drive conservation policy-making past the stewardship stalemate, where conservation goals are pursued at the cost of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and indigenous peoples are expected to perform harmony with nature.

Re-visioning obscure spaces: Enduring cosmopolitanism in the Sulu archipelago and Zamboanga peninsula

Jose Jowel Canuday

In popular imagery, the littorals of Sulu and Zamboanga conjure visions of pirates, terrorists, and bandits marauding its rough seas, open shores, and rugged mountains. These bleak accounts render the region nothing but a violent and peripheral southern Philippine backdoor inconspicuous to the sophisticated constituencies of the world’s metropolitan centres. Obscured from these imageries are the lasting cosmopolitan traits of openness, flexibility, and reception of local folk to trans-local cultural streams that marked Sulu and Zamboanga as a globalised space across the ages and oceans. The distinctive features of these cosmopolitan sensibilities are strikingly discernible in inter-generationally shared narratives, artefacts, and performances that were continually renewed from the days when Sulu and Zamboanga served as a borderless trading and cultural enclave nestled at the crossroads of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. These enduring cosmopolitan sensibilities are embodied in the blending, among others, of the time-honoured dance of pangalay and the pop-musical dance genre celebrated on actual, analogue, and digitally-mediated spaces of the contemporary world. Furthermore, these embodied sensibilities are evident in song compositions that proclaim the humanistic themes of hope, peace, and prosperity to their place and the world in ways that exemplify the local people’s broader sense of connections beyond the narrow association of family, community, ethnicity, religion, and identity. This mixed bag of age-old and recent imaginaries and cultural traffic evoke a sociality that link the social spaces of the troubled but once and current globalised region to continuing acts of transcendence in history, memory, and visions of the future. In these marginalized places, we can see an unyielding tradition of cultural re-adaptation and creativity made up of myriad everyday acts that are down-to-earth, pragmatic, interstitial, and practical cosmopolitanism.

Home ground advantage: artwork as auto-biographical stories of multiple indigenous selves in colonised spaces and histories

Steven Rhall

This essay details the manifestation of the artwork Home Ground, including its subsequent iterations, to explore how an artwork might function as both an expression and extension of narratives associated with its author, Steven Rhall. This exploration begins with a consideration of the ways in which various contextual frameworks inform ‘subjective decisions’, for example, coloniality, and process-led making. I identify as a Taungurung man (First Nations Australian) but I live in a colonised society, experiencing cultures tied to each positionality in the contradictory, complex overlapping contexts of everyday life. The essay takes interest in how these frameworks also shift as the iterative work unfolds in new temporal and geographical locations, ultimately emphasising the interrelationship between author, narrative, and wider contextual frameworks. The essay then moves to consider how the narratives spurred in the art-making process continue to evolve in the author’s absence and in relationship to subsequent audiences. The essay posits itself as a metanarrative in that it acts as an extension of the artwork it is discussing. As such, the essay employs the same photographic images that form the material nexus of Home Ground (as originally exhibited), thereby further extending the narratives contained in them via the medium of this written text itself.

An enduring connection to country: Reko Rennie in Fitzroy Crossing, Australia: A visual essay

Vincent Alessi, Reko Rennie

Reko Rennie (b. 1974) is an Australian Indigenous artist whose practice investigates
what it means to be an Indigenous man growing up in urban Australia. Self-taught,
he learnt his craft on the streets of the western suburbs of Melbourne as a graffiti
artist. The walls of buildings, alleyways and the sides of trains were the ideal surfaces where Rennie could create a truly democratic art: art that could be seen by the masses, give voice and identity to its creator, and be part of broader con- versations. Over the last decade Rennie has maintained a strong solo exhibiting schedule and has been curated into major exhibitions, including Personal Structures at the 57th Venice Bienniale and Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia. He has completed numerous large- scale commissions, made public works around the world and has been invited to participate in numerous international art festivals. His practice includes painting, video, sculpture and site-specific interventions.


The Hero Takes a Walk: Two excerpts from a memoir on growing up in the Philippines in the sixties

Robert Nery

The Hero Takes a Walk is a philosophical memoir of a Philippine childhood and teenage years in the sixties and the first few years of the seventies. Two chapter extracts are presented here: the first on Beatlemania and what it meant to Filipinos, a cosmopolitanism they desired and sought to practice; the second, on the reception of Marxism in the Maoist version promulgated under the influence of Jose Maria Sison. The first raises its central question while telling the story of the Beatles’ visit in 1966, when they were chased out of the country, an account drawing on neglected local reports. The second remembers how Marxism-Maoism, like any theory, was interpreted against the background of pre-existing belief – in this case, Philippine Catholicism. In his memoir, the author looks back critically on the intellectual movements that deeply affected him, on certain books and writing and his reception of the films and popular music of the time. The Hero Takes a Walk diverges at various points into literary criticism and history, before coming to an end in present-day Greater Manila.

Review essay:

‘Civilization on Trial’

Krishan Kumar

Book reviews:

Book review: Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion

Rjurik Davidson

Book review: Undone Science: Social Movements, Mobilized Publics, and Industrial Transitions

Tim Corballis

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