The Cultural Contexts of Indigeneity in Southeast Asia


Over the past century, ‘indigenous’ as a political concept has become internationalized and, more recently, has risen in vogue as environmental protection movements worldwide are increasingly framed as Indigenous resistance to the enduring ills of settler colonialism. However, despite its trendiness, ‘indigeneity’ remains poorly defined, historically contingent, and the answers to its most basic questions (such as ‘who is Indigenous?’) remain in flux. In Southeast Asia, both Western and internal colonialism have been instrumental in the legal and political construction of Indigeneity and its application to specific populations. Meanwhile, Indigenous concepts of indigeneity typically diverge widely from State definitions, especially where territorial sovereignty is at stake. Drawing on my field research in the Philippines (and the work of others in Southeast Asia), I will discuss the cultural and political conundrums perpetuated by this nebulous term, and why grappling with ‘Indigeneity’ – as well as pondering its future – matters more than ever today.

OONA PAREDES is Assistant Professor in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, and is the author of A Mountain of Difference: The Lumad in Early Colonial Mindanao (Cornell SEAP, 2013). She is the inaugural Strom Visiting Professor in the Department of History, University of Toronto.