Exploring Claims of Indigenous Rights and Ethnic Minority Rights in Northeast India

The term ‘indigeneity’ and ‘ethnicity’ are often used interchangeably. Both tend to represent a group of people, who claim common identity based on the basis of shared experiences of marginalization, oppression and exclusion. They also tend to represent people or communities engaged in varying degrees of self-assertion, power struggle and demand for autonomy or independence. However, some ethnic minority communities in India who already enjoy a distinct ethnic identity, autonomy and rights over resources go on to claim indigeneity. Why would recognized ethnic minorities feel the need to be identified as indigenous people? What is the difference in their claim as ethnic minorities and indigenous communities? This paper closely examines the categories ‘indigenous people’ and ‘ethnic minority’. Using case studies from South Asia, in particular Northeast India, it explores the context in which such claims are made. Finally, it argues that although these terms share conceptual similarities their usage in practice makes them distinct entities for community and individual agency.