Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Example from New Zealand/Aotearoa: Defining Indigenous People's Identity in the Law

Identity has always been a contentious issue. People constantly seek to affirm their identity within various peer, social, and cultural groups. Likewise, larger social and ethnic groups often have to reaffirm their identity and sovereignty within state, national, and international structures. One group of people that often find themselves on the defensive in terms of reaffirming their identity, and the inherent rights associated with that identity, are indigenous peoples.

In a recent example from New Zealand involving the Maori indigenous peoples, researcher Ilana Gershon documents how identity and its definition can be manipulated, deconstructed, and reconstructed again. This example provides an excellent window onto one of the continuing struggles of indigenous peoples, and it highlights a struggle that is not unique to New Zealand/Aotearoa.

From 2003 to 2006, the New Zealand parliament explored the hazards of making Maori indigenous identity an explicit basis for legislation in debates between the ruling Labour Party and its allies and the opposing National Party and its allies. As Gershon discusses in Being Explicit About Culture: Maori, Neoliberalism, and the New Zealand Parliament, bringing cultural identity into the legislative process can have negative repercussions.

Read more about Defining Indigenous People’s Identity in the Law: An Example from New Zealand/Aotearoa here.

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