Aboriginal Planet – Resource Centre – Documents – Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education: Taiwan and Canada*

So what the hell is indigenous anyway?

Essential Requirements
* self-identification as a distinct ethnic group
* historical experience of, or contingent vulnerability to, sever disruption, dislocation or exploitation
* long connection with the region
* the wish to retain a distinct identity

Relevant Indicia

1. Strong Indicia
* nondominance in the national (or regional) society (ordinarily required)
* close cultural affinity with a particular area of land or territories (ordinarily required)
* historical continuity (especially by descent) with prior occupants of land in the region
2. Other Relevant Indicia
* socioeconomic and sociocultural differences from the ambient population
* distinct objective characteristics such as language, race, and material or spiritual culture
* regarded as indigenous by the ambient population or treated as such in legal and administrative arrangements.

So why can’t Japanese, Filipino, and Portuguese settlers to Hawai’i consider themselves indigenous? Are they different from the Tahitian settlers of 1300 just because they got here later? If they stay here for another thousand years, do they get to be called indigenous? What happens when someone claims to be related to the Marquesans who came to Hawai’i in 300 AD, and demands that the kanaka maoli return their indigenous lands that were conquered?

The term indigenous is divisive and wholly inaccurate. We are all indigenous to the earth. Everything else is just locality.

Let’s start at the beginning, with human-kind’s first appearance in Africa. Can we assert that all humans are indigenous to Africa then? If not, why? Let’s assume that in fact, indigenous status can be lost, and that the small band of humans that settled in Asia gave up their indigenous status as “Africans” and gained indigenous status as “Asians”…but then, how did they gain this indigenous status? Is it just because they settled the land first and lived there for more than 1 generation?

If we use the “settled the land first, been there more than 1 generation” rule, of course we have problems, since various waves of conquest have occured over the years. Take for instance the Hawaiian Islands, which were settled by Marquesans in 300 AD, who were then conquered and destroyed by Tahitians in 1300 AD.

So let’s get rid of the “settled the land first” qualification, and see if that helps the situation at all. So now let’s assert that it’s just a matter of being there more than 1 generation. We could actually change the number to 10 generations, or even 40, and thereby keep the kanaka maoli as “indigenous” to the Hawaiian Islands…

…but then, does that mean in 40 more generations from today, the descendants of Japanese, Caucasian, Portuguese, Filipino and Chinese immigrants can call themselves indigenous?

The idea that being there first, or being there for an arbitrary amount of time makes someone “indigenous” is silly, immoral, and unjust. We are all indigenous to this planet, and the historical patterns of migration and settlement of our ancestors does not give us any special rights or privileges over our fellow human beings.

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