Constructing Identity on the World Stage
Indigenous peoples the world over share significant similarities in their colonial and postcolonial history; they've all suffered loss and injury of one kind or another - from loss of land to broken treaties to psychological and social damage from destructive assimilation policies.
During the past several decades, however, many have begun to participate actively in the institutions of global governance, as they strive for greater recognition of their rights, in particular their rights to self-determination in international law. Few know better what this process entails than social anthropologist Dr. Ronald Niezen, who has worked with the Cree of James Bay and is well versed in Native American ethnohistory. As a Canada Research Chair, he is now studying how indigenous peoples have constructed politically distinctive identities that have shaped emerging patterns of transnational networking and cooperation, as well as political lobbying at multiple levels in international society.
Niezen's work situates indigenous political distinctiveness in the context of a more general understanding of "identity construction," which places particular emphasis on the dynamics of cooperation across cultural boundaries. The importance of these dynamics has been accentuated by the many new possibilities of communication and self-expression in the contemporary world.
Through his research, Niezen shows how contemporary processes of cultural expression are helping those who represent indigenous peoples to articulate the objectives of their communities as well as to engage in honest and informed negotiations with their counterparts, the representatives of nation-states and the institutions of global governance. In this way, these representatives are able to promote truly viable programs of community-based development.
Niezen's research program is enhancing the study of transnational political networking by turning our attention to the intercultural dynamics involved in identity formation. His findings will be useful to those who work with groups that identify themselves as culturally distinct, and that have political aspirations tied to that distinctiveness. His work will also help contribute to the health and survival of indigenous communities around the world and to the solving of problems in global governance.