Indigenous Recognition as State Consolidation

In the APSA Public Scholarship Program, graduate students in political science produce summaries of new research in the American Political Science Review. This piece, written by Maria Nagawa, covers the new article by Nina McMurry, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany,From Recognition to Integration: Indigenous Autonomy, State Authority, and National Identity in the Philippines ‘.  

Nearly half of UN member states recognize Indigenous or customary governance institutions in their constitutions, while dozens more provide this recognition through statutory provisions. Historically, social scientists have argued that attachments to sub-national identity groups and non-state authorities can undermine state legitimacy, compliance, and consolidation. Provisions recognizing the collective self-governance rights of Indigenous groups may therefore reinforce societal divisions. Nina McMurry pushes back on this argument by showing that in the Philippines, while Indigenous recognition increases Indigenous self-identification, it also increases state compliance.

Identification with sub-national groupings, such as ethnic groups, has long been considered an Achilles’ heel in state building and consolidation. By enacting policies that strengthen sub-national identities and non-state authorities, governments potentially risk weakening the state’s authority and ability to achieve policy goals. Citizens may come to rely less on state authority and more on customary authority, sub-group divisions are intensified resulting in withdrawal from national identity and in conflict, and democratic representation is eroded by empowering unelected leaders.

However, the author suggests there is insufficient evidence to support these arguments. First, it is unclear that societal fragmentation is a cause of state weakness. Rather, state weakness might reflect a state’s inability to homogenize populations under its authority. Secondly, customary and state authority can be mutually reinforcing rather than competing and therefore, strengthening Indigenous authority structures can bring peripheral populations closer to the state. Finally, group-based representation can increase state legitimacy, particularly when it brings marginalized groups into the fold.

To address the contradictions in the literature, the author focuses on the recognition of communal land rights to Indigenous communities – referred to as Indigenous Peoples (IPs) or Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) – in the Philippines. The Philippines constitution recognizes rights of IPs to occupy their ancestral lands and to practice their traditional cultures. The 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) established the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), guaranteeing IPs legal title to their ancestral lands. Furthermore, within legally recognized ancestral lands, customary law supersedes state law in certain domains. However, not all eligible IP communities have received CADTs. The author leverages this sub-national variation to test the effects of recognition on Indigenous self-identification and state compliance.

Contrary to dominant perspectives in the state-building literature, she finds that recognition in the form of titling increases both Indigenous self-identification and state compliance. Using data from various waves of the Philippines Census of Population and Housing, the author finds up to a ten percentage point increase in the proportion of residents identifying with an Indigenous ethnic group in areas that received a CADT compared to those that did not. To capture state compliance, the author uses birth registration rates, which have historically been lower among IP communities compared to the rest of the country. She finds up to a three percentage point increase in birth registration rates in titled communities. This increase accounts for 24 percent of the difference in birth registration rates between majority Indigenous and majority non-Indigenous rural communities prior to the roll-out of CADTs.

To explore the underlying mechanisms driving these effects, the author conducts a survey experiment as part of a face-to-face survey of Indigenous respondents in three provinces. She primes a randomly selected group of respondents with information about the IPRA law’s recognition of collective rights for IPs. Thereafter, both primed and unprimed groups are asked to rank four types of identity groupings — tribe, religion, gender, and nationality — in order of importance. The priming led to an increase — up to nine percentage points — in the likelihood that a respondent ranked nationality in the top two positions. Her findings suggest that collective recognition of marginalized groups can increase identification with the broader national community.

These findings are important for countries in the developing world struggling to integrate diverse sub-national communities into the nation state. Contrary to theories suggesting that state consolidation can only be achieved when diverse identities are erased in favor of a singular national identity, this study shows that group recognition by the state does not necessarily undermine state-building efforts.​ Instead, by collectively recognizing marginalized groups, the state can increase its legitimacy and consolidate its authority.​ At the same time, these findings suggest that collective recognition policies, by encouraging greater engagement with state institutions, may have effects in tension with their stated objectives of supporting self-determination.