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Indigenous religion(s): Local grounds, global networks (global/local) (2/4)

27-124 | Thursday, 9 a.m. | CT
Panel Chair: Bjørn Ola Tafjord

Globalizing discourses concerning indigenous religion(s) exist today in contexts like academia, the art world, indigenous peoples’ activism, judicial practices, tourism, and the UN. They thrive on a flexible but fairly standardized repertoire of assumed similarities in religions of indigenous peoples: harmony with nature, sacred land, healing and holism, antiquity and spirituality, shamanism and animism. Scholars like James Clifford (2013) and Ronald Niezen (2012) have referred to the increasing cultural and political importance of such formations. Yet we know little about articulations and implications on local indigenous grounds. Neither do we know well the dynamics and the reach of the networks through which these discourses travel. How are they performed, translated, and mediated? And how do they get related to claims of belonging and struggles for sovereignty? The case studies presented in this panel examine these questions from different geographical, historical, and methodological perspectives. Organizers of the panel are Greg Johnson (Colorado), Siv Ellen Kraft (Tromsø) and Bjørn Ola Tafjord (Tromsø).

Claire Scheid

Donyi-Polo’s Roots and Routes: Tracing ‘Sun-Moon’ Formalization among the Tani Groups of Arunachal Pradesh, India

Donyi-Polo (‘Sun-Moon’) is the ‘common but flexible sacred frame’ (Mibang & Chaudhuri, 2005) of the varieties of indigenous religion practiced among the Tani groups in Arunachal Pradesh, India (such as the Adi, the Apatani, the Nyishi). Since the mid-1980s, these ethnic communities have been restructuring their faith to fit the model of more mainstream religions via ‘institutionalisation’ processes. This paper explores the origins and transmissions of these changes in religious articulation through examining: 1) the participation of Adi community leaders in international ‘religious freedom’ conferences in India and Germany, events that influenced the practical aspects of reformation; 2) the unifying nature of these movements among the Tani groups, encouraged by Adi emphasis on 'shared mythological heritage'; and 3) the manner in which this 'new religious blueprint' has sparked dialogue with other Northeast Indian indigenous religious organizations and has led to secular, state-wide expressions of 'indigeneity'.

Greg Johnson

Kingdom Gone or Kingdom Come? Religious Discourse in the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Process of 2014

The United States Department of the Interior held fifteen heavily attended, dramatic public meetings on the topic of Native Hawaiian federal recognition during the summer of 2014. Taking these fraught meetings as its focus, this paper will explore the ways different groups of Hawaiians invoked religious idioms and quasi-religious discourses in the process of asserting a range of positions regarding Hawaiian sovereignty. My analysis attends to the rhetoric of the two most prominent and counter-posed camps that emerged in the course of the meetings, with special attention to the juridico-spatial reach of their claims. I will explore the ways some groups appealed to international entities (e.g., the U.N. and the World Court) as a means to position their claims beyond and against the state even while seeking to expand their localized authority within it. The paper will conclude with an analysis of the surprisingly faith-based rhetoric of some sovereignty activists.

Cato Christensen

Indigenous Film – Storytelling for a Global Religious Identity

Filmmaking has become a vehicle of indigenous identity politics. Variously called “indigenous film”, “native film” or “first nation film”, films by indigenous filmmakers on indigenous themes have become something like a genre of its own, and a global one as such. The growing corpus of films, film festivals, special tracks, and their discourses of reception also seem to outline a specialized language of mediated indigeneity. Film, in this context, is often presented as a continuation of indigenous storytelling traditions, and there is a marked tendency to promote spirituality as a core characteristic of indigenous communities, paired with strong bonds to the land and the past. This article explores the phenomenon of indigenous film with special emphasis on how it draws upon and influence broader discourses of “indigenous religion”. Empirical examples are drawn from Scandinavia, North America and Australia.

Siv Ellen Kraft

UN-Discourses on Indigenous Religion(s)

The UN-publication State of the World`s Indigenous Peoples refers in fact-like manners to “indigenous spirituality” as rooted in people`s relationship to the land, and central to all that they are and strive for: “For indigenous peoples, the land is the core of all spirituality and this relationship to the spirit of the earth is central to all the issues that are important to indigenous peoples today” (2007:59). Similar claims to assumed religious commonalities and to a spiritual core of indigeneity appear to be wide-spread in UN-texts and contexts. This chapter is an attempt to explore this discourse systematically, on the basis of (primarily) published documents and official websites; in regard to content, extent, and links to others discourses, and with a focus on implied concepts of “religion” and “indigeneity”. Finally, I will explore the life of these texts among the Norwegian Sami, thereby to provide local ex-amples of how they travel – how they are used, by whom, for which reasons, and whether they are discussed, negotiated and opposed.