native americans and development

Wed, 31 May 1995 10:20:27 -0400

Since I have been subsribing to this list (a few months) I have read
a number of threads relating to native Americans and various other
indigenous peoples. Working in South Africa, I don't know very much
about this area, and the situation here is in many ways quite
different. I do, however, think there are some interesting parallels,
and would appreciate comments on my ideas or useful literature

I am designing a course on development for third-year undergraduates,
and I have started getting interested in the relationship between
development and the politics of identity. In South Africa, the buzz-
word today is community-based or community-driven development (in
line with the Reconstruction and Development Programme). While this
is a laudable objective, in many cases the concept is used quite
uncritically. What often seems to happen is that business enterprises
gain legitimacy by defining the nearest collection of people as
a 'community', claiming to be community-based by virtue of
employing some of the locals, and occasionally giving local authority
figures/entrepreneurs managerial positions.

On the other hand, many groups of people in South Africa are defining
themselves as 'communities' which are opposing other local power-
holders. This often accompanies land claims and land invasions. Eg
squatters have just moved into the army's Lohatla battle school,
claiming (probably quite justifiably) that they should have rights to
the land since they were removed from the area under apartheid. The
point is that it is not a question of individuals claiming back their
land but a community - a much more powerful claim.

What is interesting is that the concept of community, which has
become central in political/developmental discourse, is increasingly
being associated with attachment to land: those who were on a piece of
land first; not necessarily those who currently occupy that land.
While this is not the same as claiming to be 'indigenous' (that would
be very tricky in some parts of South Africa that used to have
large hunter-gatherer populations!), there are clearly some parallels.

In my opinion, if we are to evaluate development in South Africa,
we have to look at how access to resources is related to people's
abilities to use ideas about history and culture to construct
territorially- based identities. (Business enterprises may capitalise
on these identities, but they may also act as cultural brokers and
participate in the actual construction).

This seems to have significant parallels in north America, Canada and
Australia. I was particularly interested in the recent thread on
the idea that native Americans are more 'in tune' with the
environment. The construction of an identity based on an
environmental spirituality (or spiritual environmentalism?) is
a potentially powerful tool in land claims/competition for resources,
especially given the environmental damage cause by big industrial

I would be grateful for any suggestions on literature relating to
this issue, and would be interested to hear about courses using this
kind of material.

Thanks in advance,

Justine Lucas
Department of Social Anthropology
University of the Witwatersrand
South Africa