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Indigenous Identity, Ancestral Knowledge and the Continuum of a Never-Ending Process for Comuneros of St. Elena, Ecuador



Construction of collective identity among Indigenous people often addresses structural dimensions of nation-state governance, international policies, and development schemes. In contrast, the approach of Situational Ethnicity (Okamura, 1981) criticizes academic debates on ethnicity that abstract the social group from the cognitive dimensions of everyday lived experiences. Alternatively, we focus on how ancestral knowledge reinforces the continuous process of collective identity. Thick ethnography allows us to analyze how the original people from the coast of Ecuador produce and reproduce ancestral knowledge in their everyday lives despite modernization and globalization hegemonic trends. Continually constructing their collective identity, the comuneros, as people in the Santa Elena peninsula are responding to ethnicity discussions, governmental policies, and international requirements for project development. This article opens debates on identity construction integrating cultural commitments and ancestral knowledge at the local level. We aim to expand the notion of traditional ecological knowledge toward the meanings of economic and productive systems in native communities. Ancestral wisdom reinforces the continuous process of collective identity particularly in communities harshly dispossessed of cultural symbolism. The integration of ancestral knowledge into discussions about collective identity among native peoples counters the exclusivity of structural dimensions. Shifting from these external factors deeply influencing identity construction this article highlights historically deep cultural values and local perspectives on collective community identities.


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