Jeffrey Sissons, "First Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and Their Futures"
Reaktion Books | 2005 | ISBN: 1861892411 | 176 pages | PDF | 1,1 MB
It is widely assumed that indigenous cultures are under threat: they are rooted in landscapes that have undergone radical transformations, and the opposing forces of business corporations and ruling political powers only seem to grow stronger. Yet Jeff Sissons argues here in First Peoples that, far from collapsing in the face of global capitalism, indigenous cultures today are as diverse and alive as they ever were.
First Peoples explores how, instead of being absorbed into a homogeneous modernity, indigenous cultures are actively shaping alternative futures for themselves and appropriating global resources for their own culturally specific needs. From the Inuit and Saami in the north to the Maori and Aboriginal Australians in the south to the American Indians in the west, Sissons shows that for indigenous peoples, culture is more than simply heritage-it is a continuous project of preservation and revival.
Sissons argues that the cultural renaissances that occurred among indigenous peoples during the late twentieth century were not simply one-time occurrences; instead, they are crucial events that affirmed their cultures and re-established them as viable political entities posing unique challenges to states and their bureaucracies. He explores how indigenous peoples have also defined their identities through forged alliances such as the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and how these allied communities have created an alternative political order to the global organization of states.
First Peoples is a groundbreaking volume that vigorously contends that indigenous peoples have begun a new movement to solve the economic and political issues facing their communities, and they are doing so in unique and innovative ways.
Summary: Thought provoking
Jeffrey Sissons' book provides a feast of new ideas. In under 200 pages, Sissons displays thoughtful and penetrating analysis to cover a remarkable breadth of material. _First Peoples_ is part of a series by Reaktion, which attempts to publish books that "offer points of view, take sides and are written with passion." In this, Sissons succeeds remarkably well. His experiences living with and representing Maori people in court informs his analysis, and yet his work is also alive to the diversity of global indigenous histories, with a focus on "settler societies" of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the US.
Sissons provokes us to rethink concepts that have been central to indigenous studies, such as "assimilation." Sissons argues that assimilation was not just an abstract force, almost with its own momentum, but one deeply tied to acts of settlement through acts of force and legislation (and that such "legislation" itself ultimately relied on the threat of force to make it work). In another section, Sissons gives powerful arguments against what he calls "oppressive authenticity" and "eco-indigneity." Oppressive authenticity refers to the range of ways that indigenous groups are required to perform their connections to the land and their people, through explicit legal means such as blood quotas, as well as more implicitly expecting `authentic' performance of language, clothing, and action. He also shows how such demands often exclude a large group of indigenous people that live in urban areas. Eco-indigeneity is the particular set of expectations whereby indigenous people, in some places more than others, are expected to be environmentally oriented. While such expectations have been strategically helpful in some situations, Sissons shows how precarious such expectations can be, and how indigenous groups can be excluded from land claims when these are not met.
My only reservation about the book hinges on the several times that the author drifts into dualistic statements about the differences between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures. At these times, however, Sissons maintains a critical sensibility, and is aware of the potential to overstate such distinctions. His book could be profitably read alongside Courtney Jung's wonderful book, The Moral Force of Indigenous Politics. Sissons avoids the common trope whereby indigenous actions are understood in relationship to maintaining or reclaiming the past (just look at how many books on First Peoples use old, sepia-toned photographs). Instead, he makes a strong argument about how much creative work has been carried out in creating indigenous futures, and how much work remains.
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