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Why Governments Need to Recognize Indigenous People and Ethnic Minorities

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In the study of political science which I am very much acquainted with, indigenous groups and ethnic minorities are often discussed in periphery especially when it comes to topics of state-building or power structures. These groups are commonly seen as mere subjects of political changes rather than prime historical actors or movers. Consequently, much of the experiences of these groups of people are left unaccounted for. The beauty then with having to study the ethnohistory of different indigenous groups and ethnic minorities especially for students of political science like me is that one is able to view these groups as they are, absent the preference of political science towards understanding bigger societal institutions like the state. Also, in the study of indigenous people’s and ethnic minorities’ ethnohistory, one is able to understand how these groups situate themselves in the bigger context that they are in and how they grapple or succeed in trying to cope with such context.

In Southeast Asia – the home to diverse ethno-linguistic groups – indigenous peoples (IPs) and ethnic minorities (EMs) have coped with several challenges posed by their socio-historical context and oftentimes, by their state. From the way I see it, the issues faced by the Southeast Asian IPs and EMs are largely caused by a misunderstanding on the part of the state on what kinds of services, privileges and developments must be afforded to indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. For example, in Indonesia, the state demands a conservation project of forest lands which are also commonly ancestral lands. While at the surface level, the conservationist view of the Indonesian state to its forest lands clashes against the Iban hunter’s practice of hunting within these territories, a closer analysis of the beliefs and practices of the Iban hunters would point out the compatibility of the Iban’s practices and views on sacred forests to the goal of the Indonesian state which is to conserve forest lands. However, since the Indonesian state does not recognize this possibility so much, it still pushes for its conservationist views which the reporters on Indonesia described as detrimental. Since the state does not recognize the possibility of achieving state interests without sacrificing indigenous rights and practices, IPs and EMs are often left at a disadvantage.This particular case is mirrored all throughout Southeast Asia where IPs and EMs are subjected to various development projects that are claimed by the state as a means to “develop” these groups of people and integrate them within the mainstream society

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This is why it is no surprise that several Southeast Asian indigenous social movements are instrumentalist in nature. Or at the very least, a combination of both perennialist and instrumetalist elements. Primarily, the treatment of the Southeast Asian state to indigenous peoples has encouraged them to demand for better social and political services and rights that they need. However, it is quite unclear during the reports of the groups before whether these social movements have gained enough political traction for them to be recognized and actually, be heard by the state. This is an important thing to realize because absent state support for these social movements, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities are left with the alternative of trying to amass international support in their fight for their rights and welfare. And basing from the recent report about Burma, international support is not a very good alternative mainly because international organizations like the UN lack legal tools to penalize violations against IPs and EMs. Moreover, international organizations mostly rely on soft-power tools such as economic sanctions to reprimand states and given that most Southeast Asian states are not well-off, these economic sanctions may hurt the IPs and EMs more than it helps them.

But still, I think that the best way for IPs and EMs to forward their calls is to amass both domestic and international support. Gathering support from and within the state may prove to be difficult given the dismissive nature of Southeast Asian states to IPs and EMs and so pressure coming from international organizations and foreign countries would be of great help. Through these two mechanisms, hopefully, the indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities get the recognition and treatment that they deserve.

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Why Governments Need to Recognize Indigenous People and Ethnic Minorities. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-governments-need-to-recognize-indigenous-people-and-ethnic-minorities/
“Why Governments Need to Recognize Indigenous People and Ethnic Minorities.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/why-governments-need-to-recognize-indigenous-people-and-ethnic-minorities/
Why Governments Need to Recognize Indigenous People and Ethnic Minorities. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-governments-need-to-recognize-indigenous-people-and-ethnic-minorities/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Why Governments Need to Recognize Indigenous People and Ethnic Minorities [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-governments-need-to-recognize-indigenous-people-and-ethnic-minorities/
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