- Managing Multiculturalism: Indigeneity and the Struggle for Rights in Colombia by Jean E. Jackson
Jackson’s highly readable monograph makes an important contribution to the literature about ethnicity, identity formation, and interstate and ethnic-minority relations through a series of case studies that center on [End Page 172] Colombian indigenous communities. This book, the result of fifty years devoted to the study of Colombia, discovers that Tukanoans (a Colombian indigenous group in the Vaupes) were supposed to marry people who were not members of their community and who spoke a different language. Jackson’s ethnography of the Tukanoans had led her to question the prevailing notion in anthropological studies of the 1970s that indigenous communities were closed. Hence, Jackson argued for the constructed nature of ethnic identities and rejected cultural essentialism early in her scholarly trajectory. Based on this approach, she was able to identify the key role that the state and grassroots regional indigenous organizations played in ethnic identity formation in Colombia. Although scholars have documented the role of Colombian state actors and others in ethnic identity formation for “Andean” indigenous communities, they have not brought the same attention to indigenous groups located in the lowlands of Colombia who may be semi-nomadic. Jackson’s book offers a much-needed look into the political organization of indigenous groups in the tropical forest.
Jackson finds that the arrival of the Regional Indian Council of Vaupés (criva), an indigenous grassroots organization, in the 1980s led to the formation of an indigenous ethnic identity that was modeled on the highland groups of Cauca and Nariño. The paradox of the criva was that it sought to preserve an “authentic” and “traditional” indigenous culture in Vaupés that was based on preconceived notions of indigenous culture that were often inaccurate for that locality. The last chapter of her monograph examines the process of identity formation for the Muiscas, an urban indigenous group that resides in Bosa, a municipality of Bogota. Urban indigenous groups have also received less study than their rural counterparts. Jackson highlights the difficulty that urban indigenous groups such as the Muiscas face when trying to persuade institutional authorities and Colombian society at large that they are truly indigenous. Jackson’s discussion of the formation of indigenous ethnic identity stresses the importance of the cabildo/council in the construction of indigenous identity in Colombia. The other aspect to which she alludes but does not fully develop is that Colombian indigenous ethnic identity is tightly bound to the relationship that a community has with land. This criterion presents a unique challenge to urban indigenous groups, leading them to reconstruct and re-indigenize their identity through performative acts, which are aimed at persuading the powers that be of their authenticity.
Jackson’s overall analysis of ethnic identity formation in Colombia will interest not only Latin Americanists but also scholars who study similar themes in other areas of the world. Readers will appreciate her summaries of each chapter in the introduction, as well as her careful and comprehensive explication of such terms as multiculturalism, indigeneity, and neoliberalism. Last but not least, Jackson’s monograph sheds light on an American anthropologist’s scholarly journey; her humility (evident in her many confessions about errors of judgment) allows us to see how [End Page 173] her understanding of the discipline of anthropology evolved. This same humility may have prevented her from sharing more of her personal journey; she chooses to stay firmly in the background, as she did when attending an indigenous ritual, kneeling for hours in silence by the side of the Tukanoans who were displaced to Bogota.