Indigenous Caribbean Network

Following from another discussion in this network, I have long been wondering what, if any, are the broader philosophical and political implications of asserting or reclaiming one's identity as indigenous. Articulating an indigenous identity does not seem to automatically imply any one particular position -- there are some indigenous groups aligned with states, private businesses, political party bosses, churches, etc. There are other indigenous groups that stand aside as other sectors of a society protest environmental destruction. This had me wondering if the identity issue is a superficial one, or a transformative one, and if it is not transformative, then why not? If it is to be transformative, then is speaking of autonomy, self-sufficiency, simple lifestyles, and living in harmony with the environment just a mere reenactment of a stereotyped indigenous culture? You see how confusing this can become, which is why for very long I have avoided writing anything like this.

Let me try to narrow it down a little. Being Taino in the U.S.A.: does it change how one looks at government, at consumerism, at environmental destruction, at military intervention abroad? Or is it simply a case of, "I am an American, but with this particular ancestry" and there are no implications of any kind beyond matters of personal pedigree.

This is very sensitive so please feel free to blast me for even having broached these issues. However, don't let this discussion create any antagonisms among members of the network, I would not want to know that I helped to foment any divisiveness or bad feelings when the spirit is so great in here.

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What an intriguing question, being indigenous transforms in many levels. For some It makes one an environmentalist for sure. I think that opinions on various governments should be private.

Some indigenous tribes are already recognized by their governments. Their authenticity is not questioned so they align themselves with whomever they please.

Foremost it is a spiritual one that connects us to our ancient ones who we cannot deny.
Fantastic question Max, thank you for being brave enough to post it. I think that the members of this network know how to respect themselves and others, so I would not worry too much about upsetting anyone by asking questions which are most likely floating around our own heads. As the mother of seven children from multi-racial and multi-ethnic backgrounds, I find this topic to be absolutely fascinating. I have watched the development of my children's identity, which in many cases did NOT mirror my own and having the opportunity to observe so many of them over such a span of time, I have learned a great deal. I could post an entire blog on this, however I am at work! jajaja, so I shall post my thoughts right here as soon as I am able. Thank you again, for posting this discussion. p&l~c
Ok, at last I have some time to think and breath! What a day I have had, but I am so excited that Max has brought up this brave topic. Race, culture, and identity are indeed topics that can be divisive, yet without a clear understanding of ourselves and others, there simply can not be open dialog and a beneficial coming together.

First I would like to address the comment by our friend Ruben, in regards to mixed (in reference to Japanese Puerto Ricans) persons having a lot of problems. Just to clarify, as the mother of a Chinese-Puerto Rican child, I can assure you that having parents of mixed ancestry does not ensure you will have problems as an adult any more than having parents of a single cultural or racial ancestry guarantees you will NOT have problems.

That aside, I do believe that there are great philosophical and political implications in asserting or reclaiming one's identity as indigenous! One point for many Puerto Ricans, or others who have always or recently identified as of Taino descent, is that the government denied for so long the possibility of being Taino that simply saying you were indigenous placed you in a category of one needing mental health services! More directly? ‘’That guy thinks he is an Indian,’’ or ‘’that guy is playing Indian!’’ For how could you be a Taino when those peoples were killed off by disease so long ago, therefore they (you) cease to exist. Today, as I registered my children for school I completed a registry which asked if my children were from a FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED American Indian Tribe (they worded it American Indian, not I). The federally recognized part was bold and large. It was clear they wanted ONLY those tribes recognized federally because #1 they can receive federal monies for services they may or may not provide, and #2 your identity has no meaning unless it is one that is federally recognized. Fill in one ONLY : African American/Caucasian/American Indian/ Hispanic/Pacific Islander/Asian no other options provided. Forget it. My kids are not in any particular mold.

Government recognition aside, claiming such an identity is transformative, if in fact you began claiming an identity that was NOT indigenous. As far as superficial identity, I would have to say it is not an identity at all unless it is embraced as a part or the whole of who you are and the cultural and or linguistic attributes are explored to a level in which it would impact the self. In other words, a superficial identity as not an identity at all. Though I know I have a great (x5) grandfather named Murfy, and sparkling green eyes runs true in my family, I do not claim an Irish identity because I have absolutely no idea what it means to be Irish or even Irish American. It has not been my experience and my other self, my other identities, if you will, have been reinforced in me for so long, I think I would have trouble accepting any part of such an identity. Not to say I didn’t bat my hazel eyes for the free dinner and drinks deal given out to all the Irish girls one St. Patrick’s day in my much too early twenties, jajaja! However, that would be the only time you could say I ‘’superficially’’ accepted an Irish identity.

As far as living a simpler lifestyle an enactment of an indigenous stereotype… umm…No. That screams of the whole, ‘’playing Indian’’ thing all over again. Just as certain cultures and groups value large or small families, or formal education, or spiritual matters, or great material wealth, or whatever particular virtue or value that is consistent with a particular group of peoples, Native/Indigenous groups have, generation to generation, valued our great and wonderful mother earth. No more would we accuse a man of playing Chinese for enjoying a bowl of rice than we should say a man who honors, respects and pays tribute to Atabey is simply playing Indian. Neither would I accuse a man who does not jump on a political bandwagon in defense of our Earth and against those who choose to rape...
... who choose to rape her of her resources, to be faking or not a ‘’real’’ indigenous or Taino or Native person. WHY?? Well getting involved in such matters begins with our own actions first. If my brother has his life’s work laid out for him defending the rain forests, I am indeed proud of his accomplishments, however, I personally am overwhelmed with the great responsibility that has been given me in the task of raising 7 children from 4 different mothers and 6 different fathers. The day to day spiritual, emotional, cultural, etc… education of these children is MY life’s work, and although I try my hardest to respect and honor our mother Earth, I am so busy with her children here, that I am unable to travel to the rainforests over there to assist my brother. Each of us has our own calling. Caring for the children does not make me more or less Taino than it does my brother, who is tied to a tree to prevent the forest from being clear cut.
jajaja
apparently i have reached the limit of the number of words allowed in a comment!!
I personally feel that in the case of a resurgence movement of an indigenous awareness that there are certain attributes that do play a strong role: education, art, music, language, dance, spirituality, environmentalism, enlightenment, philosophy and all the basics of culture. However, this doesn't mean that the whole or all individuals are geared to these nitches or fields unfortunately some people are completely fine being superficial about the whole thing.
Thanks so much for the responses. Carrie, you literally outdid yourself -- who knew there was a word limit? As usual, I think I am not the only one who would benefit from everything you have to say, and thanks to you too Brooke. I am really glad I asked, but I don't mean this is a "that's all folks" if anyone else wants to post.
Following up on this article, you might find the recent book review on indigenous identity in Bolivia of interest. I think the reviewer did a pretty good job.

Circuits of Culture: Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in th....

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Director: Bauu Institute and Press
Editor: Indigenous Peoples Issues Today
Editor: Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources
Thanks so much Peter! That is actually quite useful to me, I would consider using it as a course text next year.
Hey Max, this is a very good question. I've been wondering that myslef.


I mean even with the hispanic/latino thing. Will people of taino deccent stop calling themselves that. Will people of indain deccent in central and south american stop too. I think as far as the mother earth. You dont have to be of native deccent to know that we are poluting her. This is a world wide issue. This is a strugle for every one. We got to take care of her. I actually recycle everthing. I have a basket for paper and carboard aswell. But the indians seems to be the one to lead when it comes to that subject. I also know that many north american indians. are for animal rights. I myself am not for animal right. I mean I dont think we need to hurt them and kill them if its not nessary. But why should an animal have the same right that a human has. The USA needs to change this policy. It be also nice if the goverment of these country finally acknowlege that some of the population is of indigenous deccent. Even non speaking spanish country like USA, canada to acknowlege people of indigenous deccent that come from caribbean, central and south american.

But max I do see a problem comming. What will happen when they finaly acknowlege the tainos in these islands. Will these folk now say I have a birthright to some of this land. The goverment ows me repurations for what my ancestors went threw. Then who will have more rights. Will the mestizo and the mulatos not agree. One will say I am of indian deccent I diserve it. Then the mulatos say my african ancestors were slaves I have a right too. What about the sambos who are both of indian and african deccent. Wouldn't they have more rights? Not to mention people who are a mixture of all three. I really hope it doesnt go to that.

As far as the american thing. I was born in the USA. But I think if you are from this continent. Regardles of what language you speak your an american. From the tip of alaska all the way down to the tip of south american is the american continent. But I know many north american indian dont like to use american. They like who is this amercan dude. Before the 1500 this continent was not called that. I had a person from the mexhica movment tell me that its better to use I am indigenous to this continent than to say I am of native amercian deccent. But I guess that up to your prefrence.

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