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INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RECRUITED INTO MODERN MILITARIES:
A COMPARATIVE APPROACH, THE AMERICAS AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
Alton Carroll...
abilities. As wrongheaded as these beliefs are, indigenous people have learned to use such myths to our
own benefit, to wi...
It is not enough to see the military as intrinsically opposed to indigenous interests, or to list
abuses and even atrociti...
say it must always be so is false. Tribal peoples are not “used” by the military. Tribal peoples and
today’s militaries us...
This integration into the military, done largely in indigenous terms, fits well with my main
thesis, that the degree of in...
the Dutch colonial army were largely excluded from Indonesia’s military post-independence. There is a
strong Batak presenc...
the Dutch colonial army were largely excluded from Indonesia’s military post-independence. There is a
strong Batak presenc...
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Indigenous peoples recruited into modern militaries

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This paper discusses indigenous soldiers in modern militaries in Southeast Asia compared to the Americas, especially their recruitment by the military under both colonial rulers and today's governments since independence. I will also discuss my writings on indigenous people of Latin America and North America, especially the use of the military to preserve, strengthen, and defend traditional beliefs and practices, and the use of indigenous naming, symbolism, and warrior traditions by modern governments to give themselves legitimacy. By contrast, indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia were widely recruited by colonial powers for use against lowland peoples. But since independence the indigenous have often been as marginalized within the military as within the larger national societies. However, one nation-state, the Philippines, has begun employing indigenous people, recruiting them on their own terms, and this may be a sign that patterns seen in the Americas could be repeated in Southeast Asia.

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Indigenous peoples recruited into modern militaries

  1. 1. INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RECRUITED INTO MODERN MILITARIES: A COMPARATIVE APPROACH, THE AMERICAS AND SOUTHEAST ASIA Alton Carroll Northern Virginia Community College Sterling, Virginia, US acarroll@nvcc.edu ABSTRACT: This paper discusses indigenous soldiers in modern militaries in Southeast Asia compared to the Americas, especially their recruitment by the military under both colonial rulers and today's governments since independence. I will also discuss my writings on indigenous people of Latin America and North America, especially the use of the military to preserve, strengthen, and defend traditional beliefs and practices, and the use of indigenous naming, symbolism, and warrior traditions by modern governments to give themselves legitimacy. By contrast, indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia were widely recruited by colonial powers for use against lowland peoples. But since independence the indigenous have often been as marginalized within the military as within the larger national societies. However, one nation-state, the Philippines, has begun employing indigenous people, recruiting them on their own terms, and this may be a sign that patterns seen in the Americas could be repeated in Southeast Asia. Keywords: Cordillera, Hill Tribes, Indigenous, Lumad, military Hello to all of you. I am Dr. Al Carroll. Like many American Indians, I have an interest in the tribal peoples of Asia, an interest that began because of contact between American Indians in the US military and the Hill Tribes recruited to fight as US allies during the Indochina Wars. In my experiences meeting Torajans in Indonesia while teaching as a Fulbright Scholar, I sas so many similarities in culture, worldview, and in common issues. I wrote about such experiences in my book, Medicine Bags and Dog Tags: American Indian Veterans from Colonial Times to the Second Iraq War. My book is the first work to ever take an international comparative approach looking at American Indian veteran traditions in the US, Canada, and Mexico. In my work I argued voluntary indigenous participation in militaries is ultimately tied to how Natives use the military to maintain or revive tribal traditions and how much the nation-state is perceived to be defending Native sacred lands or other community needs. No matter the individual’s motives for joining, each indigenous soldier ultimately becomes part of a debate and contestation over the question of assimilation into the dominant society. This is what I observed during my own time as an American Indian soldier of Apache ancestry. Other soldiers treated me differently. Other enlisted men, sergeants, and officers all expected me to be a good soldier, and indeed often thought I was a better soldier than I actually was. So many people think tribal people are naturally good warriors. When Native peoples join the military, there are usually those who want to assimilate them, make them take on the values of the dominant culture. There are also those who either admire Native peoples, or admire romanticized Noble Savage images of Natives. This second group likes to use tribal peoples for perceived martial qualities and fighting abilities. Often they endow us with almost mythical
  2. 2. abilities. As wrongheaded as these beliefs are, indigenous people have learned to use such myths to our own benefit, to win acceptance, to continue old traditions and build new ones, to practice spiritual beliefs inside the military, and to take skills back to tribal communities that benefit them. Veterans often make up the overwhelming majority of tribal leaders elected to public office and activists. Indigenous peoples have become generals and admirals in nation-states like the US and Venezuela. In countries like Guatemala and Peru, indigenous people make up the majority of the military, from enlisted to general staffs. Newer syncretic veteran traditions often come at a high price, being placed in harm’s way in the most dangerous combat. But all indigenous soldiers become part of questions and struggles over the place of tribal peoples within the dominant societies, especially the question of assimilation. The first line of conflict between indigenous peoples and governments thus can start within militaries themselves. I was often asked while doing this study: How do indigenous and tribal peoples reconcile military service with the treatment often accorded us by today’s nation-states? As my study proceeded, I asked myself, how do tribal peoples answer this question for themselves, not only in North America, not only in Latin America, and but also in Southeast Asia? What part has this military service played in the development of nationalism among tribal peoples in the region? How can tribal peoples expect to achieve self-determination, or even in some cases simple survival, if indigenous soldiers enforce the status quo? Could indigenous peoples be not only in physical danger but also in danger of cultural extinction caused by nationalism and assimilation, and how can we guard against this? The big questions are, what can and have tribal peoples done in these situations, and do in the future? My project and my study strives to explain identities and loyalties in terms of nationalism vs. identification with indigenous communities. My ultimate goal is to seek out practical methods to avoid or limit future violence or forced assimilation attempts by nation-states and their militaries against indigenous people and tribal communities. Above all, I want my work to serve a decolonizing purpose, to aid in the struggle for cultural survival against dominant societies and institutions. I also hope that others outside the communities working on tribal peoples’ issues will come to understand indigenous motivations and interactions beyond simplistic victimology. Voluntary tribal participation in militaries rises or falls based on how the particular peoples perceive the nation-state to be capable of, interested in, or useful for defending community needs, especially sacred homelands. Militaries that protect indigenous needs will gain indigenous loyalties, but importantly, will do so on the terms of tribal peoples. Understanding tribal roles in past and present societal conflicts will help us prevent future ones. There is a great need (moral, ideological, and practical) for turning away from and preventing a return to the sheer brute force and repression.
  3. 3. It is not enough to see the military as intrinsically opposed to indigenous interests, or to list abuses and even atrocities done by the military. This is certainly not to diminish or defend any outrages done against any tribal people anywhere. It is not defend militarization as a tactic used to control communities. It is certainly not to diminish the valuable and brave work done by human rights activists. It is to suggest there are other ways that ultimately offer a way forward which prevent future abuse and marginalization, namely reform the institutions from within where possible. These reforms can best be carried out by the very peoples who have the most at stake, tribal peoples, working in tandem with those in the dominant society who admire perceived indigenous martial abilities. An anti-military approach ignores the reality that at least some indigenous peoples choose to be part of militaries for pragmatic or strategic reasons or working from their own convictions. My very preliminary research shows this is also at least partly true of at least some nation’s militaries in Southeast Asia, for example in both Indonesia and Laos. As far as joining the military as a strategy to change it from within, sometimes tribal peoples have proven this does work to preserve traditions. I thus see a need to urge others to see the military as an institution capable of not being a reactionary force. There is a long history of people in militaries serving as agents of progressive or even revolutionary change. If you doubt that, all I need to refute that to Americans in the audience is to say the name of General George Marshall, father of the Marshall Plan. If you doubt that the military can serve as agents of revolutionary change, I remind you of the recent president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Chavez was what is called in Latin America a pardo, a mix of Black and American Indian. There are important things to look for to see if the conditions which make it possible for the military to be a means to preserve indigenous traditions and spiritual practices, as was the case in the US, Canada, and parts of Latin America. Tribal people must be no longer viewed as a serious potential military or societal threat, either because of small numbers or perceived familiarity. Another is the willingness of the nation-state to deal with the indigenous collectively as a people. The adoption of tribal tactics and the use of tribal symbols by the military may be a means to gain acceptance, or be a sign of an opening. In American Indian Studies, scholars promote decolonization methodology that includes the willingness to use the conqueror’s tactics against themselves to counter colonialism. Under decolonization theory, tribal soldiers are a marker of colonialism, and represent a corruption of tradition. I have no illusions this is possible, and argued it in my own book. The way of a warrior is often different from a soldier. A warrior follows his conscience and sacrifices himself for his people. A soldier follows orders, which may or may not include his conscience or putting his people first. This distortion and conflation of the two roles sometimes produces morally indefensible results. In Guatemala for example, Native soldiers often slaughtered other Native people in huge numbers. But to
  4. 4. say it must always be so is false. Tribal peoples are not “used” by the military. Tribal peoples and today’s militaries use each other, and we need to discuss how to use militaries and change them. My work on the topic, on North America, is done and published. My work researching the subject in Latin America is completed, in the writing stage. My work on Southeast Asia is in the research phase for several years now. I realized I should also look at indigenous veterans in another part of the world for comparison. I began looking at Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I looked at Hill Tribes allied to the US during the US Vietnam War, Hmong in the US. This eventually led to being a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia, where I was teaching many students of the Toraja tribe. Speaking to Indonesian scholars, I saw a pattern that colonial powers in Asia, whether Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, or Japan, often used highland tribes against lowland peoples. After independence, many of these indigenous tribes faced retaliation from these new nations, or at least isolation and exclusion. This is true not only in Indonesia but also in Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Taiwan. This leads to my discussion of Filipino indigenous peoples, the Cordillera and Lumad groups. Under Spanish rule, the Cordillera peoples stayed largely independent, and American rule was only somewhat more successful in conquest. The Lumad also largely avoided Spanish conquest, though more by withdrawing than by fighting as the Cordillera did. Both American and Filipino national efforts to assimilate Cordillera peoples were successful in conquest, but far less at assimilation. So did this new military tradition begin very early for some Filipino tribal peoples, as was the case in the US and many Latin American nations? As best I can find, no. While the Cordillera peoples often gave sanctuary to Filipino independence fighters, there was no formal alliance. Unlike the Cordillera, some Lumad did take part in independence uprisings against Spaniards. Many Lumad also fought against American and then Japanese conquerors, but not necessarily in alliance with majority Filipinos. In the Filipino national period, like the Cordillera peoples, Lumad peoples may have been politically subject to the Filipino national government, but were socially far less integrated. Some Cordillera and Lumad individuals likely joined, but I have found no evidence of indigenous tribal military veteran traditions. That is, until the past few decades of Filipino history. I started looking at the long insurgency of the New People’s Army or NPA, at the offshoot of the NPA, the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army or CPLA. After splitting with the NPA, the CPLA later agreed to lay down its arms. The CPLA and the Filipino government agreed to integrate CPLA fighters into the Filipino military. Several hundred former CPLA fighters became part of the Filipino army, while over 500 more were deployed throughout the Cordillera area as paramilitaries. The number of Cordillera peoples integrated in total was intended to be nearly 4,000, but budget cuts limited that.
  5. 5. This integration into the military, done largely in indigenous terms, fits well with my main thesis, that the degree of indigenous participation in the military rises and falls based on how the military, government, and society are perceived to be serving indigenous needs, especially holding onto traditional lands. One of the CPLA’s central demands was they provide the security for the region in conjunction with the Filipino military. This provides a way for them to preserve older warrior traditions, while adapting them to newer needs. Indigenous soldiers tend to practice their older religious traditions, ceremonies, dance, songs, speaking in their own languages, carrying spiritual talismans, and think of themselves as warriors first, soldiers second. But there is a very disturbing side to indigenous military veteran tradition, a colonial pattern of divide and conquer, fighting against other tribal peoples, even against other members of the same tribe, their own people. A similar pattern can at times be seen with Filipino indigenous soldiers. In recent conflicts the paramilitaries played often horrific roles. In fighting against the insurgencies of the New People's Army and Muslim separatist movements in the south, some paramilitaries committed or were accused of committing human rights violations against other indigenous peoples. In Mindanao as far back as the 1970s, many Christian armed paramilitary groups were used against Muslim secessionists. These in more recent years have included the Alamara, a band of Lumads of the Ata-Manobo group. Alamara may have as many as 500 members, and has forcibly displaced hundreds, been accused of several murders, accused of being bandits, and of carrying out kidnappings. The Alamara have mostly targeted those of their own background, other Lumads of the Ata-Manobo group. Cordillera and Lumad military veteran traditions are so far very recent, no more than a generation old for most. How will these new traditions change over time? The Orang Asli of Malaysia were used versus Communist guerilla groups by the British. Since independence, they are some of the most marginalized peoples in their own nation, and I cannot find much presence of them in the Malaysian military. In Taiwan, many of the tribal people joined the Takasago Volunteers while under Japanese imperial rule. Many of them did so because they completely assimilated Japanese culture. I have found little presence of them in Taiwan’s military. The Hill Tribes of Southeast Asia were allies to the US during the US-Vietnam War and suffered disastrously for that. Most of them were displaced to the United States. Virtually none of the warrior traditions survive, and most Hill Tribes people strongly discourage their children from joining the US military, or any military. Within Southeast Asia, in Thailand and Vietnam, both nations have strong policies of assimilation, and little visible presence of the Hill Tribes in their militaries. In Indonesia, tribal peoples like the Ambonese, Minahasans, and Torajans that made up most of
  6. 6. the Dutch colonial army were largely excluded from Indonesia’s military post-independence. There is a strong Batak presence in the Indonesian military, and a few prominent Papuan leaders in the Indonesian military. This limited presence may be similar to what is will happen with Filipino tribal veterans. Will Filipino or other Southeast Asian indigenous veteran traditions follow instead the pattern of those in the United States or Latin America? If so, here are some things we may expect to see: 1. Many indigenous veterans will go into politics. The leadership within tribal communities may be elected mostly from military veterans. This is true for tribal people in the US. 2. Tribal peoples likely bring their religious traditions into the military itself. This means they practice their rituals inside the military, spiritual charms, ceremonies, dances, and songs. 3. The military experience will be honored by the tribal communities themselves. There may be community ceremonies for those going off to the military, and welcoming them back. 4. Those who use violence against other tribal peoples may be ostracized. They may be shunned by their own people, or even driven from the community. This has happened in much of Latin America, in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. 5. Many veterans will bring violence into their communities, domestic violence against women and children, and also alcoholism or other drug abuse. 6. Some veterans may turn to radical activism. 7. Some veterans and other members of tribal communities may turn very right wing, may adopt extreme forms of patriotism and nationalism. One could argue this has already happened with the co optation of some tribal peoples into paramilitaries. Is there any way to avoid the worst aspects of indigenous veteran traditions? Yes, veteran traditions do preserve indigenous culture. But they damage indigenous peoples and communities, alter them, distort the traditional meaning of what it is to be a warrior who fights for his people, turning one instead into a soldier who follows orders, even if you disagree with those orders. Decolonization theory has quite a few advocates among many indigenous scholars such as Devon Mihesuah in the US and Linda Tuwahi Smith in New Zealand. Lakota author Francis Whitebird's model of decolonization sees tribal veteran traditions as a sign of colonialism. I debated with decolonization ideas and scholars before, that indigenous veteran traditions are a mixed blessing, a means of cultural survival, but also a symptom of colonialism, and destructive. I argued in my book, articles, and at conferences, one should replace the veteran tradition with one of activism, go from being a soldier to being an advocate for one’s people. In other words, return to being a warrior, though one avoids violence. It is this I leave you with today. Thank you.
  7. 7. the Dutch colonial army were largely excluded from Indonesia’s military post-independence. There is a strong Batak presence in the Indonesian military, and a few prominent Papuan leaders in the Indonesian military. This limited presence may be similar to what is will happen with Filipino tribal veterans. Will Filipino or other Southeast Asian indigenous veteran traditions follow instead the pattern of those in the United States or Latin America? If so, here are some things we may expect to see: 1. Many indigenous veterans will go into politics. The leadership within tribal communities may be elected mostly from military veterans. This is true for tribal people in the US. 2. Tribal peoples likely bring their religious traditions into the military itself. This means they practice their rituals inside the military, spiritual charms, ceremonies, dances, and songs. 3. The military experience will be honored by the tribal communities themselves. There may be community ceremonies for those going off to the military, and welcoming them back. 4. Those who use violence against other tribal peoples may be ostracized. They may be shunned by their own people, or even driven from the community. This has happened in much of Latin America, in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. 5. Many veterans will bring violence into their communities, domestic violence against women and children, and also alcoholism or other drug abuse. 6. Some veterans may turn to radical activism. 7. Some veterans and other members of tribal communities may turn very right wing, may adopt extreme forms of patriotism and nationalism. One could argue this has already happened with the co optation of some tribal peoples into paramilitaries. Is there any way to avoid the worst aspects of indigenous veteran traditions? Yes, veteran traditions do preserve indigenous culture. But they damage indigenous peoples and communities, alter them, distort the traditional meaning of what it is to be a warrior who fights for his people, turning one instead into a soldier who follows orders, even if you disagree with those orders. Decolonization theory has quite a few advocates among many indigenous scholars such as Devon Mihesuah in the US and Linda Tuwahi Smith in New Zealand. Lakota author Francis Whitebird's model of decolonization sees tribal veteran traditions as a sign of colonialism. I debated with decolonization ideas and scholars before, that indigenous veteran traditions are a mixed blessing, a means of cultural survival, but also a symptom of colonialism, and destructive. I argued in my book, articles, and at conferences, one should replace the veteran tradition with one of activism, go from being a soldier to being an advocate for one’s people. In other words, return to being a warrior, though one avoids violence. It is this I leave you with today. Thank you.

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