This article explores issues of authenticity, legal discourse, and local requirements of belonging by considering the recent surge of indigenous recognitions in northeastern Brazil. It investigates how race and ethnicity are implicated in the recognition process in Brazil, based on a successful struggle for indigenous identity and access to land by a group of African-descended rural workers. This article argues that the relationship between two processes – law making and indigenous identity formation – is crucial to understanding how the notion of mixed heritage is both reinforced and disentangled. It illustrates how these two processes interact over time and how that interaction can open up possibilities for the production of political subjectivities for African-descended people who can successfully make claims as indigenous. Finally, this article reconfigures and clarifies the heated contemporary debate over mestizaje (ethnoracial and cultural mixing) in Spanish-speaking Latin America by broadening it to include the Brazilian experience.

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Copyright © 2005, Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellow, Northwestern University.