9583 - Being Indigenous in the Bolivian Lowlands: Paradoxes and Multiple Meanings

This paper seeks to add to the debate around the meanings Bolivians attach to ‘being indigenous’. These meanings have been shaped in a context where ‘being indigenous’ has become a ‘rights and resource bearing identity’ (Povinelli, 1998) through the promotion of neoliberal multicultural reforms during the 1990s, and more recently, because Evo Morales and the MAS party have promoted the ‘indigenous’ as an inclusive political project that may unite the majority of Bolivians. Shifting the gaze to the lowland Bolivian Chiquitano people reveals that while leaders and comunarios have chosen to adopt the politically laden term ‘indigenous’ to advance their political project, some nevertheless choose to reject this label for purposes of self-identification. They see it as an attempt by ‘the whites’ to subordinate them, to make them inferior and ‘classify them, like animals’. The Chiquitano political project is further challenged by the fact that local whites and mestizos are seeking to undermine the Chiquitano struggle for rights and resources. They do this by drawing connections between the Chiquitano 'indigenous' struggle and that of the MAS and the 'unruly highland Indians', which they very much oppose.

The Chiquitano case reveals problematic aspects of framing political projects through the language of indigeneity. While reflecting on this, the paper also examines the usefulness of engaging the contested term ‘indigenous modernities’ when analysing the recent wave of indigenous organising in highland and lowland Bolivia.

Keywords: Bolivia, lowland, Chiquitano, indigeneity, ethnic movements

Author: Weber, Katinka (University of Liverpool, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)


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