Developed by Rick Harp. Revised by Nicole Wegner, Department of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan.
Is identity political? The answer is as close as the nearest news source. From governments that discriminate against certain groups, to large-scale wars between people of different ethnicities or nationalities, identity clearly has political dimensions and consequences for everyday lives.
This module aims to promote a basic understanding of the politics of governance and Indigenous identity (membership and inter-group relations) in a multicultural state. As we improve our understanding about how identity works in the political realm, we can better appreciate identity-based claims and conflicts. By the end of this module, students should have a basic sense of how and why identity can play such a big part in shaping politics – and vice versa. Students should also be able to appreciate the role identity plays in Indigenous peoples’ ongoing efforts to regain greater control over their lives and lands, apart from state governments.
After a short introduction of what makes up identity and how it is formed, we will look at how this concept can be applied to Indigenous peoples. We will then be able to see how identity both contributes to, and reflects, the political dynamics of a state with colonized indigenous populations. Along the way, we will take note of one theorist’s provocative challenge to conventional interpretations of identity politics, and the promise it holds for an alternative approach to Indigenous self-government theory and practice. Finally, we will explore questions about what the future might bring for indigenous identities in an increasingly globalized world.
Self Tests and Answers
Quiz yourself by writing down responses to each of these questions below. When finished, click each question to reveal the suggested answer. Doing the Self-Test in this way will help you prepare for the Midterms and Final Exam.
Identity: In a simple sense, the arbitrary division and of individuals from one another based on a variety of markers (geography, language, sex, age, class, etc.).
Culture: A group of people who share a common history, language and way of life.
Ethnicity: A group of people related by blood and other forms of kinship that also share a culture. Ethnic groups may choose to make political demands for their members as a whole.
Objective approach to identity (hard): An approach to identity that tends to rely on mostly physical attributes, such as skin color or other ‘hard’ facts like language classifications to distinguish between groups.
Pluralism: A society that includes a number of prominent cultural, religious and/or political identity groups. Pluralist theories focus on how multicultural societies manage and balance relationships between these distinct identity groups.
Subjective approach to identity (soft): An approach that acknowledges that identity involves many ‘soft’ factors that cannot be reduced to any fixed traits or attributes. In this view, personal beliefs about identity, i.e., a chosen self-image, are just as important and relevant as any other potential factor. Subjective approaches often involve two components: someone who self-identifies as a member of a group, and the group accepting that person as a member.
Frideres, James and Lilianne E. Krosenbrink-Gelissen. Native Peoples In Canada: Contemporary Conflicts. Prentice Hall Canada, 1993.
Schouls, T. A. “Approaches to Aboriginal Identity”. In Shifting boundaries: Aboriginal identity, pluralist theory, and the politics of self-government. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2003.
Corntassel, Jeff. ”Who Is Indigenous? ‘Peoplehood’ and ethnonationalist approaches to re-articulating indigenous identity.” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 9 no.1 (2003): 75-100.
Harding, Robert. “The media, Aboriginal people and common sense.” Canadian Journal of Native Studies 25 no.1 (2005): 311-335.
Palmater, Pamela. Beyond Blood: ReThinking Indigenous Identity. Saskatoon, SK: Purich Publishing, 2011.