Recent conflict between indigenous people and a self-styled indigenous state in Bolivia has brought to the fore some of the paradoxes and contradictions within the concept of indigeneity itself. The contemporary politics of state sponsored indigeneity in Bolivia has as much capacity to create new inequalities as it does to address old ones and there is a conceptual deficit in understanding contemporary indigenous rights claims, in particular, as they relate to the state. I reject Peter Geschiere’s (2009) suggestion that one should distinguish between ‘autochthony’ and ‘indigeneity’ but am inspired by these arguments to suggest that one needs to make a critical distinction between the kinds of claims different indigenous people make against the state. Of interest here are the consequences of indigeneity being transformed from being a language of resistance to a language of governance. I propose a conceptual distinction between inclusive national indigeneity for the majority which seeks to co-opt the state through accessing the language of governance and a minority concept of indigeneity which needs protection from the state and continues to use indigeneity as a language of resistance. Only by looking at the kinds of claims people make through the rhetoric of indigeneity can we make sense of the current indigenous conflict in Bolivia and elsewhere.
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