Reply To: Mon 14 Apr: The Perception of the Environment

Author Replies # Posted on April 15, 2014 at 10:36

Ingold Reflection by Morag Ramsey
April 15th

I find Tim Ingold to be an academic who offers interesting and somewhat challenging perspectives and thoughts on somewhat controversial subjects. This reflection will focus on chapter eight from his book, which deals with the categorization of indigenous people by the United Nations, and thus by the Nation State.

In this chapter Ingold begins by quoting an excerpt from the UN that categorizes indigenous people as people occupying a land before the arrival of settlers. He points to the inherent contradiction found in a categorization that places emphasis on descent, and yet, bases its claims on the habitation of land. Ingold’s goal is to examine different factors he thinks contributes to this categorization, and then offers what he feels to be an interpretation of those same factors with an indigenous lens. I feel he successfully accomplished what he set out to do with this chapter, and that it was an interesting and thought provoking read.

However, there was something that I found unsettling while reading, and I think after reading through the text again I feel less confused and clearer about what made me uneasy. While Ingold offers an extremely nuanced and insightful explanation early on in the chapter about the intricacies of indigenous and non-indigenous identity, I felt that he lost some of that insight while providing his interpretation with a more indigenous lens. This is perhaps the result of my own unfamiliarity with social anthropology and its complexities, and reading through the introduction and conclusion again I came to understand the aims of this chapter where more to challenge the hegemonic categorization than to offer another, although it seems a byproduct of this provides a different manner (the relational model) in which to categorize indigenous people at any rate. And this is what made me uneasy. While I understand global institutions such as the UN are designed to work on a large scale and are based on categorizations and classifications of all sorts of people, the simplicity of being able to understand the world as ‘indigenous’ and then ‘non-indigenous’ seems problematic to me.

Ingold criticizes the limitations of the nation state when it comes to understanding and categorizing indigenous people. I guess what I feel to be the root of the issues for me is the universal claim of ‘indigenous’ and not how it is defined. The categories of ‘hunter and gatherings,’ ‘indigenous,’ ‘minorities,’ ‘colonized,’ etc, seem to be intimately connected in ways which at times seem to suggest a universal history, culture and timeline for all those people classified under ‘indigenous.’ In a work such as this, Ingold is able to draw connections between aborigines in Australia and first nations people of Manitoba. While these connections may certainly exist, it is rather odd that while identity, and in particular indigenous identity, is so intricate and dependent on so many different factors and interactions that all indigenous people would fit nicely into one relational model. That being said, I do not think Ingold was placing different restrictions around how people can self identify, his work simply made me reflect about the problems attached to a global indigenous identity.