As a primer on global indigeneity, The Indigenous experience edited by Roger Maaka and Chris Andersen is accessible, focused, well rounded, and student-friendly. This volume contains 21 handpicked essays written by 24 Indigenous studies scholars between 1990 and 2005. Divided into four sections, each section is opened by an introduction by the editors and followed by a series of critical thinking questions as well as a list of further readings with blurbs. The opening and closing of each section explain the central themes of the readings, to help students consolidate the conceptual material, and to wayfare the Indigenous studies literature.
The Indigenous experience provides an accessible overview of key concepts, an informative range of case studies, and introduces students to the heterogeneity of Indigenous experiences—or rather the diversity of subordination, marginalization, and oppression of Indigenous societies. Key concepts covered include autonomy, colonialism, compound epidemics, constructive engagement, creative tension, globalization, marginalization, nationhood, orientalism, radicalized discourse, self-determination, social construction, and sovereignty. Examples are drawn from the Ainu of Japan, the Rapanui and Hawaiians of Oceania, the Aboriginal people of Australia, the Saami of Norway, the Maori of New Zealand, the Ogoni of Nigeria, the North American nations of Canada and the United States, and the Indigenous societies of Latin America including the Guaraní of eastern Paraguay, the Andean peoples of Peru, and the Zapatistas of Mexico. An index and a glossary would have been a welcome inclusion to such a wide-ranging selection of topics, people, and theoretical concepts.
Part one, Colonization and Indigenous peoples, examines the local views and global perspectives on colonization. The opening from David Maybury-Lewis’ book, Indigenous peoples, ethnic groups, and the State (2001), offers a satisfying historical introduction. This is followed nicely by an excerpt from Grant McCall’s second edition of Rapanui: Tradition and survival on Easter Island (1988), Brett Walker’s non-Western case study demonstrating that the subjugation and decimation of Indigenous peoples is not exclusive to European conquest, and Michael Dudley and Keoni Agard’s (1993) history of the U.S. colonization of Hawai’i taken from their book on Hawaiian sovereignty. This section is appropriately closed with Linda Smith’s reflections on the ethnocentrism and epistemological imperialism of Western knowledge.
Part two, Colonialism, genocide, and the problem of intention, maps the negative consequences of colonization and the ways that nation-states have ostensibly attempted to redress the situation. This section begins with an evocative extract from a 1992 statement by Russell Means, founder of the American Indian Movement, who spoke of “a little matter of genocide”, referring to the ongoing genocide of Native peoples beginning with the first European boats landing on Turtle Island. Means’ statement inspired the title of Ward Churchill’s book, A little matter of genocide (1999). Frankly, given the power and sentiment of Means’ words, it is surprising that the statement is not an epigraph to Maaka and Andersen’s entire volume. The adverse impacts of colonialism were not always intentional, as Noble Cook’s discussion of compound epidemics demonstrates. However, many impacts were deliberately systematic, as the chapters by Colin Tatz as well as Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey compellingly portray. Richard Robbins, in the final chapter of this section, details a more insidious and nuanced collapse of Indigenous autonomy through the culture of capitalism.
Part three, Social constructs of colonialism, will really invigorate class discussion on questions of truth and discourse. Stuart Hall unpacks the concept of the West and introduces students to a treasure chest of conceptual tools. Audra Simpson discusses the creation and maintenance of collective Indigenous identity among the Kahnawake Mohawk nation, an identity that challenges the geo-political boundaries between the United States and Canada. Chris Cuneen investigates the social relations that lead to an over-representation of Indigenous people in the Australian criminal justice system. Matthew Restall debunks the false assumption that Indigenous peoples are bound to extinction as a result of conquest and colonialism. And, Sarah Carter examines the self-fulfilling policies that viewed the Cree of western Canada as poor farmers and subsequently impeded their ability to compete with non-Native farmers.
Part four, The Indigenous struggle and the politics of indigeneity, explores the aspirations of Indigenous peoples to regain their autonomy. Anthony Hall takes a global perspective on Indigenous movements, Trond Thuen describes the persistent necessity of Indigenous peoples to explain their identity, their rights, and the politicization of their peoplehood. Ronald Niezen highlights the significance of self-determination, distinguishes between people and peoples, and discusses the politics of shame. Joe Sawchuk examines the political organization of Indigenous people and the politics of representation. Gerald Alfred takes an Indigenous perspective on sovereignty and agues that the concept is hierarchical and incommensurable with traditional structures, which may offer better vehicles for self-determination. Roger Maaka and Augi Fleras promote the notion of “constructive engagement”—as opposed to “unproductive disengagement”—in order to redefine the relationships between Indigenous peoples and nation-states.
To do justice to The Indigenous experience in a review, one would need to read some 19 books and a couple of edited volumes (not to mention the 13 books and 4 edited volumes suggested for further reading) before situating this volume in the context of the literature from which it has been compiled. While the true litmus test is to trial the material out on students for a semester, educators should feel confident that each excerpt has been thoughtfully chosen and can stand alone as an informative pedagogical text for postgraduate and upper-level undergraduate students. With a carefully selected range of time-tested excerpts from anthropology, history, Indigenous studies, and political science, this book will be of interest to cultural sociologists, sociocultural anthropologists, social geographers, and Indigenous studies scholars. The only question remaining for educators is how to divide the chapters, perhaps interspersed with a few more recent additions from the contemporary literature, across the number of lectures and tutorials in their undergraduate or postgraduate course.
- CHURCHILL, Ward (1999) A little matter of genocide: Holocaust and denial in the Americas, 1492 to the present. San Francisco, City Lights Books.
- DUDLEY, Michael Kioni and AGARD, Keoni Kealoha (1993) A call for Hawaiian sovereignty. Honolulu, Nã Kãne O Ka Malo Press.
- MAYBURY-LEWIS, David (2001) Indigenous peoples, ethnic groups, and the State. London, Pearson.
- McCALL, Grant (1988) Rapanui: Tradition and survival on Easter Island. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press.