Victor Pasmore, The Green Land, 1979–80


Realizing that we are all indigenous – except for those who are not – is joining the fight for the retaking of the Earth by the land

“Indigenous” designates a person or a community originating from a specific place, who lives there or is linked to it by an immanent bond; who feels like a “property” of the land rather than its owner. In current French, “indigenous” is one of those words whose meaning has been somewhat corrupted by colonialism. The so-called indigenous peoples are first and foremost those who were invaded by the indigenous peoples of Europe in their imperial expansion from the XNUMXth century onwards. (Thus, the latter, believing they had been colonized – civilized – by themselves a long time ago, think that they are no longer indigenous).

The “indigenous” are also those peoples who did not adhere, either by force or voluntarily, to the unilinear march of “progress”, and who would have been imprisoned in the remote past of the species. Therefore, the extra-modernity of these peoples can only be seen as a pre-modernity by the “ex-indigenous” of Europe and their cultural descendants, whose beliefs reveal an obsession with temporality, erected in the ontological difference of Humanity within nature.

The spatial dimension of the world does not count for them much, except as a pure expanse from which they can extract material “resources” for capital accumulation. As we know, time is the measure of value – in several senses, beyond the purely economic.

Let us see, however, what Vine Deloria Jr, the Sioux thinker and activist, says: “When domestic [American] ideology is divided between American Indians and Western European immigrants, the fundamental difference is of great philosophical importance. The Indians of America consider their lands – their places – to be of the highest possible significance, and all their declarations are made with this reference point in mind. Immigrants regard the movement of their ancestors across the continent as a steady progression of fundamentally good events and experiences, thus placing history – time – in the most favorable of lights. Insofar as one group is concerned with the philosophical problem of space and the other with the philosophical problem of time, the statements of either group do not make much sense when transferred from one context to another, regardless of what happens. . The peoples of western Europe never learned to consider the nature of the world from a spatial point of view”.[1]

But behold, in view of the degradation of the planet's habitable conditions and the calculated impotence of the powers in reacting to the geohistorical catastrophe that received the name of Anthropocene, several peoples of Europe are rediscovering themselves as indigenous, that is, they are locating themselves in space and experiencing their intensities, although not always in the same direction. Some live their indigeneity under the guise of xenophobia, and think of their relationship to the land from the model of state sovereignty, as if it were possible to escape the world by closing in on the borders of a “country”, this beautiful name usurped by modern territorial states. .

Others, such as those who are part of the uprisings of the earth, become aware that every advance in the cause of the Earth goes through a struggle for the land – the earth as homeland, place of life and space for co-engendering involving countless other forms of life. This struggle must include, or even begin with, the defense of the territories of peoples officially classified as indigenous.

These peoples are spread over 20% of the earth's surface, present in virtually all biomes inhabited by the species. Their number is estimated at 476 million people, that is, 6% of all humans (more people, therefore, than the population of all of North America). Today they are all included in the population of modern nation-states, as “ethnic minorities”. Their territories are subjected to violent processes of mineral extraction and hoarding by agro-industry.

The forests, savannahs or other types of habitats that make up their territories are home to 80% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet. That last number alone should convince us of the central role played by indigenous peoples from the point of view of the future of the human species, if the simple – so to speak – respect for their right to exist were not enough to move us. They are one of the last barriers to the transformation of the entire world into one immense planting biopolitics, a planetary monoculture in both the anthropological and agro-industrial senses.

To realize that we are all indigenous – except for those who are not – is to join the fight for the retaking of the Earth by the land, parcel by parcel, place by place, zone by zone. A resumption that takes the cause of the earth out of the hands of fascism and nationalism, and that frees the dimension of space from its appropriation by the political imaginary of the State.

*Eduardo Viveiros de Castro is professor of anthropology at the National Museum of UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Inconstancies of the wild soul (Ubu).

Originally published on the website of Publisher n-1.


[1] Vine Deloria Jr. God Is Red: A Native View of Religion. Golden, CO: North American Press, 1992.

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