On the meaning of “indigenous”
September 1st, 2010 · 13 Comments
Over at CiF we’ve got someone telling us what “indigenous” means.
As with most such things, it’s difficult to offer perfect definitions … however the term is generally used to describe the original inhabitants of a territory prior to its colonization during the last 500 years or so. You see, a lot of the world (all of the Americas, all of Africa, all of Australasia and Oceania, etc.) have been conquered and ruled by Europeans at some point during the last few centuries. This process resulted in the death, displacement and marginalization of many of these conquered peoples. Even after these countries gained independence from the European powers, the original inhabitants still remained within a marginal social and economic position. Thus Quechua-speakers in Peru are often poorer and politically weaker than Spanish-speakers and people of a European ancestry.
These people are what is meant when we talk about the “indigenous” peoples of the world. It therefore doesn’t apply to Britain because it relates specifically to the experience of having been colonized, which did not happen to Britain or its people.
If the definition of “indigenous” is to have been subjected to colonisation then certainly England was in 1066 (and perhaps before that, in the North at least, around 800 with the Vikings, the whole country again around 400/500 with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes etc).
And Wales was colonised by the English from 12 th cent to 15th, Scotland could arguably be said to have been colonised again and Ireland most certainly was: Cromwell in Wexford and Drogheda is difficult to describe in any manner other than as a violent colonisation: to say nothing of the Plantation of the North.
Entirely possible to extend this over other parts of Europe as well: the suppression of Occidan and Breton as languages, Madrid’s relationship with certain parts of what is now Spain like Cataluna etc etc etc. Prussia’s creation of Germany anyone? The Soviet actions in the Baltic States?
Neither colonisation, and therefore “indignous”, are events or words that should be reserved for what Europeans did to non-Europeans.