Indigeneity Without Territory: How Indigenous Migrants Work to Decolonize Indigeneity in Chile
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During this presentation, I focus on Pachakuti, as I call the largest of the 70 or so "encampments" that predominantly Indigenous and Black Latin American migrants have built in Antofagasta, the Atacama Desert's mining capital in northern Chile, beginning in 2014. As myths of mestizaje and racial democracy have given way to race-conscious movements throughout Latin America, scholars have focused on claims to full citizenship and special rights made on the nation-state by historically marginalized groups. Most of these studies have found that Indigenous claims to citizenship on the nation-state have been successful when they conform to an ethnic model that emphasizes the historical occupation of particular territories and the continuity of cultural traditions in the context of settler colonialism. How, then, is it that Pachakuti—a territory with no legal recognition by the state that migrants from different Quechua- and Aymara-speaking ethnic groups in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador “colonized,” in their own words, six years ago—has become a key site for Indigenous claims in Antofagasta? The prickly question of migrant colonization, I argue, challenges a basic assumption in decolonial literature regarding the ethics of Indigenous claims based on notions of prior existence. As colonizers of previously unoccupied spaces, I show that the bonds that Pachakuti residents share are neither the bonds of ethnicity, language, and territory often presumed to be at the basis of Indigenous politics, nor are they the bonds of citizenship, nationality, occupation, or partisanship presumed to be at the basis of politics more generally. Rather, these are emergent bonds that migrant women constantly make and unmake in their shared territories. The presentation draws from ethnography in Pachakuti to examine how these bonds developed in Packakuti as migrant leaders and residents resisted resettlement, when for the first time Pachakuti neighbors began talking about the fact—previously known but never acknowledged—that they were all “Indigenous." As they discovered that the Chilean state cannot legally recognize them as Indigenous for they are migrants and do not belong to any of the ethnic groups that the state recognizes, Pachakuti neighbors have begun to argue that their Indigeneity is not contingent on their recognition as citizens by the nation-state but simply on their presence in the city. Taking claims by Pachakuti neighbors seriously, the presentation proposes a decolonial theory of Indigenous politics based not on notions of prior existence but on the everyday work required to articulate precarious and open-ended intersectional coalitions in messy urban spaces.