Author Biography

Shae Frydenlund is a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Colorado – Boulder, where her research focuses on race, ethnicity, and labor in the Himalayas and Burma (Myanmar). Her dissertation work explores the economic geography of Muslim refugee resettlement. Shae is a co-founder of the Boulder Affordable Housing Research Initiative (BAHRI), which engages in collaborative, community-based research and outreach to enhance understandings of the varied meanings and experiences of housing, while innovating more inclusive affordable housing programs.


In Nepal, Khaling indigenous nationalities discourse draws our attention to the way ‘tribal’ and ‘peasant’ categories blur in articulations of indigeneity, rather than working as separate strategies for gaining political rights. Through their oral histories, territorial claims, and most importantly their stories about labor, activists within the Khaling indigenous nationalities movement advocate for government recognition and fuller citizenship in the Nepali state. While labor is often left out of definitions of indigeneity, Khaling activists make claims to being indigenous people with their own territory specifically because of their position in the mountain labor hierarchy. This paper examines the emergence of a distinct Khaling indigeneity in the context of broader historical, political and economic processes, specifically Nepal’s racialized ethnic hierarchies, to disrupt bifurcated understandings of ‘tribal’ versus ‘peasant’ trajectories of activism. In understanding the contextual formation of Khaling land claims and indigenous identity, this research sheds new light on the role of racialized labor hierarchies in shaping local and regional politics of indigeneity, and offers a fresh perspective on indigeneity as concept and political practice in Nepal and elsewhere.


The author thanks the residents of Bung, Salleri, and Chheskam villages, as well as students and activists at Tribhuvan University, who took time to share their stories and perspectives with her. She also thanks Niraj Karki and Sweta Gurung, for their friendship and wisdom. Special thanks to the author’s advisor, Dr. Emily Yeh, for her guidance and support.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.