Should Uyghurs be considered an Indigenous people?

Musapir ., Sean R. Roberts


This article asks whether Uyghurs should be considered an Indigenous people. In doing so, it highlights the contested issues this question raises and seeks to initiate a more comprehensive debate on the question among Uyghurs themselves, who ultimately decide the appropriateness of such identification. The Chinese state is implementing an intense campaign against Uyghurs that bears striking resemblance to those historically waged by other settler-colonial regimes against the Indigenous peoples they displaced. Embracing indigeneity could serve as a useful strategy for at least contextualizing Uyghurs’ present repression and dispossession, but Uyghurs in the diaspora are ambivalent about the concept. The article examines both why Uyghurs can be considered an Indigenous people under UN criteria and why they are reticent to embrace this status. While Uyghurs’ ultimate acceptance of indigeneity as a means of self-identification would require the participation of all Uyghurs, including those living in the PRC who are currently unable to engage in such discussions, we argue that even a limited debate on the relevance of indigeneity to their identity among Uyghurs in exile would widen the possibilities of responses to the acts of repression, erasure, and dispossession carried out against their people inside China.

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/721181