During an event hosted by UFV students at the Mt Lehman Community Hall between the Matsqui First Nations and the Mt. Lehman community, the following statement was brought up: “Our suggestion is to indigenize the community.” I must admit that at the time, I did not have the slightest idea what that meant, and it prompted me to explore further the issue of the indigenizing communities.
As stated by the “Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous voices” fact sheet, the United Nations prefers to identify rather than define the term “indigenous” in referring to communities. Sources estimate that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. They practice unique traditions and retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.
In Kenya, for instance, indigenous communities include the hunter-gatherers such as the Ogiek, Sengweer and Yaaku, Waatu and Sanya, while pastoralists include the Endorois, Turkana,Maasai, Samburu and others. They have for a long time faced marginalization and exclusion, have been dispossessed of the Savannahs, and some remain uncategorized in the tribes of Kenya. Similar to other indigenous people the whole world over, they share in the plight of lengthy court battles for their land rights. They too have been exposed to certain forms of inequality and suppression.
According to the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the term ‘indigenous’ does not simply refer to ‘native’ but in a special sense, to ‘a global movement fighting for their rights and justice. They fight for a share of developmental resources and against negative domination by mainstream communities against their cultures and way of life. They also fight against contempt and threat of extinction from their very existence.’
Indigenization should not be looked at as a matter of the past or the present alone, but as a valuable resource for the future. In the case of the “Endorois” people, who were often categorized with the Tugen, a sub tribe of the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya, it was realized that they brought with them a different dialect, oral histories, house building techniques and ceremonies. All of this, a rich cultural heritage that Kenya would know nothing about.
Ethnic branding, and becoming indigenous, are some of the forms of intervention that have been suggested in the quest for justice for the indigenous people. They both depend on a sense of common identity that draws upon a ‘primordial’ base of cultural and linguistic similarities.
Governments have a responsibility to reconcile every community existing on their territories, since, reconciliation is the beginning of an end. As Nelson Mandela rightly put it, “Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”
Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Kenya: Hunter-gatherers, January 2018, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49749cf84a.html
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Fact Sheet, Indigenous People, Indigenous Voices
Gabrielle Lynch; Becoming Indigenous in The Pursuit of Justice: The African Commission on Human Rights and Endorois, African Affairs, Volume 111, Issue 442, January 2012. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/afraf/adr063
ACPHR, Report of the Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/ Communities (Transaction Publishers/ ACPHR and IWGIA Pistachaway, NJ) 2005.