What are the practical and cultural consequences of embracing the ‘Indigenous’ label? Despite universalising aspirations, the concept of indigeneity carries distinct political connotations in the Philippines, where the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act has created a bureaucracy that purportedly responds to the special needs of Indigenous Peoples, including the preservation of cultural traditions and securing title to ancestral lands. While laudatory on the surface, in practice the current legal and bureaucratic framework allows the state to impose its own definition of indigeneity, often compelling indigenous minorities to conform to stereotypes in order to acquire the fundamental rights and benefits that, by law, are supposed to be guaranteed. The Philippine states’ requirements for being recognised as ‘Indigenous’ are transforming how Indigenous Peoples maintain and perform their ancestral traditions, often leading to highly divisive internal debates about proper cultural and political representation. This article examines the case of Higaunon Lumads in northern Mindanao, who have been responding locally to over thirty years of national trends in participatory development that require increased engagement with government bureaucracy. I explore how ‘indigeneity’ has been defined and employed by Higaunons in the service of ‘preserving tradition’, the political and other consequences that have emerged in this context, and the perils of representing and commodifying indigeneity in modern Southeast Asia.
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