Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are culturally distinct ethnic group
s who are native to a particular place. The term ''indigenous'' was first, in its modern context, used by Europeans, who used it to differentiate the indigenous peoples of the Americas
from black people
who were brought to the Americas
. It may have first been used in this context by Sir Thomas Browne
in 1646, who stated "and although in many parts thereof there be at present swarms of ''Negroes'' serving under the ''Spaniard'', yet were they all transported from ''Africa'', since the discovery of ''Columbus''; and are not indigenous or proper natives of ''America''."
Peoples are usually described as indigenous when they maintain traditions or other aspects of an early culture that is associated with a given region.
Not all indigenous peoples share this characteristic, as many have adopted substantial elements of a colonizing culture, such as dress, religion or language. Indigenous peoples may be settled in a given region (sedentary
) or exhibit a nomadic
lifestyle across a large territory, but they are generally historically associated with a specific territory on which they depend. Indigenous societies are found in every inhabited climate zone and continent of the world except Antarctica. It is estimated that there are approximately five thousand indigenous nations throughout the world.
Since at least the 15th century, indigenous peoples' homelands have been invaded and occupied by European colonizers
, who initially justified colonization
under the authority of the Catholic Church
to spread Christianity
through the Doctrine of Discovery
Thousands of indigenous nations throughout the world remain occupied by about two hundred political constructs known as states
which formed as a result of colonialism. Indigenous peoples continue to face threats to their sovereignty, economic well-being, languages, ways of knowing
, and access to the resources on which their cultures depend. Indigenous rights
have been set forth in international law by the United Nations
, the International Labour Organization
, and the World Bank
In 2007, the UN issued a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(UNDRIP) to guide member-state national policies to the collective rights of indigenous peoples, including culture, identity, language and access to employment, health, quality education
and natural resources.
Estimates of the total global population of Indigenous peoples usually range from 250 million to 600 million. This is because official designations and terminology on who is considered Indigenous vary widely between countries
. In settler state
s colonized by Europeans, such as in the Americas
, New Zealand
, and Oceania
, Indigenous status is generally unproblematically applied to groups descended from peoples who lived there prior to European invasion and settlement. In Asia
and Africa, where the majority of indigenous peoples live, indigenous population figures are less clear and may fluctuate dramatically as states tend to underreport the population of indigenous peoples or define them by different terminology.
''Indigenous'' is derived from the Latin word , meaning "sprung from the land, native" and ''-genus'' "to be born from." The Latin ''indigena'' is based on the Old Latin
''indu'' "in, within" + ''gignere'' "to beget, produce." ''Indu'' is from the archaic Greek
word ''endo'', "in, within," which is an extended form of the Proto-Indo-European
''en'' or "in." The origins of the term ''indigenous'' are not related in any way to the origins of the term ''Indian'', which, until recently, was commonly applied to indigenous peoples of the Americas
. Any given people, ethnic group
or community may be described as indigenous.
[Mario Blaser, Harvey A. Feit, Glenn McRae, ''In the Way: indigenous Peoples, Life Projects, and Development'', IDRC, 2004, p. 53]
''Autochthonous'' originates from the Greek αὐτός autós meaning self/own, and χθών chthon meaning Earth. The term is based in the Indo-European
root ''dhghem-'' (earth). The earliest documented use of this term was in 1804.
The term 'indigenous peoples' refers to culturally distinct groups affected by colonization
. As a reference to a group of people, the term ''indigenous'' first came into use by Europeans who used it to differentiate the indigenous peoples of the Americas
from enslaved Africans
. It may have first been used in this context by Sir Thomas Browne
. In Chapter 10 of ''Pseudodoxia Epidemica
'' (1646) entitled "Of the Blackness of Negroes," Browne wrote "and although in many parts thereof there be at present swarms of ''Negroes'' serving under the ''Spaniard'', yet were they all transported from ''Africa'', since the discovery of ''Columbus''; and are not indigenous or proper natives of ''America''."
In the 1970s, the term was used as a way of linking the experiences, issues, and struggles of groups of colonized people across international borders. At this time 'indigenous people(s)' also began to be used to describe a legal category in indigenous law created in international and national legislation. The use of the 's' in 'peoples' recognizes that there are real differences between different indigenous peoples.
, former Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, defined indigenous peoples as "living descendants of pre-invasion inhabitants of lands now dominated by others. They are culturally distinct groups that find themselves engulfed by other settler societies born of forces of empire and conquest".
Throughout history, different states designate the groups within their boundaries that are recognized as indigenous peoples according to international or national legislation by different terms. Indigenous people also include people indigenous based on their descent from populations that inhabited the country when non-indigenous religions and cultures arrived—or at the establishment of present state boundaries—who retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions, but who may have been displaced from their traditional domains or who may have resettled outside their ancestral domains.
The status of the indigenous groups in the subjugated relationship can be characterized in most instances as an effectively marginalized or isolated in comparison to majority groups or the nation-state as a whole. Their ability to influence and participate in the external policies that may exercise jurisdiction
over their traditional lands and practices is very frequently limited. This situation can persist even in the case where the indigenous population outnumbers that of the other inhabitants of the region or state; the defining notion here is one of separation from decision and regulatory processes that have some, at least titular, influence over aspects of their community and land rights
The presence of external laws, claims and cultural mores either potentially or actually act to variously constrain the practices and observances of an indigenous society. These constraints can be observed even when the indigenous society is regulated largely by its own tradition and custom. They may be purposefully imposed, or arise as unintended consequence of trans-cultural interaction. They may have a measurable effect, even where countered by other external influences and actions deemed beneficial or that promote indigenous rights and interests.
The first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
(WGIP) was on 9 August 1982 and this date is now celebrated as the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
. In 1982 the group accepted a preliminary definition by Mr. José R. Martínez-Cobo, Special Rapporteur
on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations:
Indigenous communities, peoples, and nations are those that, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.
The primary impetus in considering indigenous identity comes from considering the historical impacts of European colonialism. A 2009 United Nations report published by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on indigenous Issues stated:
For centuries, since the time of their colonization, conquest or occupation, Indigenous peoples have documented histories of resistance, interface or cooperation with states, thus demonstrating their conviction and determination to survive with their distinct sovereign identities. Indeed, Indigenous peoples were often recognized as sovereign peoples by states, as witnessed by the hundreds of treaties concluded between Indigenous peoples and the governments of the United States, Canada, New Zealand and others. And yet as indigenous populations dwindled, and the settler populations grew ever more dominant, states became less and less inclined to recognize the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples themselves, at the same time, continued to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their distinct identity as sovereign peoples.
[State of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Secretariat of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN, 2009](_blank)
. pg. 1-2.
The World Health Organization
defines indigenous populations as follows: "communities that live within, or are attached to, geographically distinct traditional habitats or ancestral territories, and who identify themselves as being part of a distinct cultural group, descended from groups present in the area before modern states were created and current borders defined. They generally maintain cultural and social identities, and social, economic, cultural and political institutions, separate from the mainstream or dominant society or culture."
Greek sources of the Classical
period acknowledge people whom they referred to as "Pelasgian
s". These peoples inhabited lands surrounding the Aegean Sea
before the subsequent migrations of the Hellenic
ancestors claimed by these authors. The disposition and precise identity of this former group is elusive, and sources such as Homer
give varying, partially mythological accounts. However, it is clear that these cultures were distinguished by the subsequent Hellenic cultures (and distinct from non-Greek speaking 'foreigners,' termed "barbarian
s" by the historical Greeks). Greco-Roman
society flourished between 330 BCE and 640 CE and commanded successive waves of conquests that gripped more than half of the known world at the time. But because already existent populations within other parts of Europe at the time of classical antiquity
had more in common culturally speaking with the Greco-Roman world, the intricacies involved in expansion across the European frontier were not so contentious relative to indigenous issues.
The Catholic Church and the Doctrine of Discovery
The Doctrine of Discovery
is a legal and religious concept tied to the Roman Catholic Church
which rationalized and 'legalized' colonization and the conquering of Indigenous peoples in the eyes of Christianized Europeans. The roots of the Doctrine go back as far as the fifth century popes and leaders in the church who had ambitions of forming a global Christian commonwealth. The Crusades
(1096-1271) were based on this ambition of a holy war
against who the church saw as ''infidels''
. Pope Innocent IV
's writings from 1240 were particularly influential. He argued that Christians were justified in invading and acquiring infidel's lands because it was the church's duty to control the spiritual health of all humans on Earth.
The Doctrine developed further in the 15th century after the conflict between the Teutonic Knights
to control 'pagan
. At the Council of Constance
(1414), the Knights argued that their claims were "authorized by papal proclamations dating from the time of the Crusades hich
allowed the outright confiscation of the property and sovereign rights of heathens." The council disagreed, stating that non-Christians had claims to rights of sovereignty and property under European natural law
. However, the council upheld that conquests could 'legally' occur if non-Christians refused to comply with Christianization
and European natural law. This effectively meant that peoples who were not considered 'civilized' by European standards or otherwise refused to assimilate under Christian authority were subject to war and forced assimilation: "Christians simply refused to recognize the right of non-Christians to remain free of Christian dominion."
Christian Europeans had already begun invading and colonizing lands outside of Europe before the Council of Constance, demonstrating how the Doctrine was applied to non-Christian indigenous peoples outside Europe. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the indigenous peoples of what are now referred to as the Canary Islands
, known as Guanches
(who had lived on the islands since the BCE era
) became the subject of colonizers' attention. The Guanches had remained undisturbed and relatively 'forgotten' by Europeans until Portugal
began surveying the island for potential settlement in 1341. In 1344, a papal bull
was issued which assigned the islands to Castile
, a kingdom in Spain. In 1402, the Spanish began efforts to invade and colonize the islands.
By 1436, a new papal edict was issued by Pope Eugenius IV
known as ''Romanus Pontifex
'' which authorized Portugal to convert the Indigenous peoples to Christianity and control the islands on behalf of the pope.
The Guanches resisted European invasion until the surrender of the Guanche kings of Tenerife
to Spain in 1496. The invaders brought destruction and diseases to the Guanche people, whose identity and culture disappeared as a result.
As Portugal expanded southward into North Africa in the 15th century, new edicts were added by subsequent popes which extended Portuguese authority over indigenous peoples. In 1455, Pope Nicholas V
re-issued the ''Romanus Pontifex'' with more direct language, authorizing Portugal "to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracen
s and pagans" as well as allowing non-Christians to be placed in slavery
and have their property stolen. As stated by Robert J. Miller
, Jacinta Ruru
, Larissa Behrendt
, and Tracey Lindberg
, the doctrine developed over time "to justify the domination of non-Christian, non-European peoples and the confiscations of their lands and rights." Because Portugal was granted 'permissions' by the papacy to expand in Africa, Spain was urged to move westward across the Atlantic Ocean
, searching to convert and conquer Indigenous peoples in what they would understand as the 'New World
.' This division of the world between Spain and Portugal was formalized with the Treaty of Tordesillas
Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
hired Christopher Columbus
, who was dispatched in 1492, to colonize and bring new lands under the Spanish crown. Columbus 'discovered' a few islands in the Caribbean
as early as 1493 and Ferdinand and Isabella immediately asked the pope to 'ratify' the discovery. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI
issued the ''Inter caetera divinai
'', which affirmed that since the islands had been "undiscovered by others" that they were now under Spanish authority. Alexander granted Spain any lands that it discovered as long as they had not been "previously possessed by any Christian owner." The beginnings of European colonialism in the 'New World' effectively formalized the Doctrine of Discovery into 'international law
,' which at that time meant law that was agreed upon by Spain, Portugal, and the Catholic Church. Indigenous peoples were not consulted or included in these arrangements.
European colonialism in the 'New World'
Spain issued the Spanish Requirement of 1513
(''Requiremento''), a document that was intended to inform indigenous peoples that "they must accept Spanish missionaries and sovereignty or they would be annihilated." The document was supposed to be read to indigenous peoples so that they theoretically could accept or reject the proposal before any war against them could be waged: "the ''Requiremento'' informed the natives of their natural law obligations to hear the gospel and that their lands had been donated to Spain." Refusal by indigenous peoples meant that, in the Spaniard's eyes, war could 'justifiably' be waged against them. Many conquistador
s apparently feared that, if given the option, indigenous peoples would actually accept Christianity, which would legally not permit invasion of their lands and the theft of their belongings. Legal scholars Robert J. Miller, Jacinta Rura, Larissa Behrendt, and Tracey Lindberg record that this commonly resulted in Spanish invaders reading the document aloud "in the night to the trees" or reading it "to the land from their ships." The scholars remark: "so much for legal formalism
and the free will
and natural law rights of New World Indigenous peoples."
Being Catholic countries in 1493, England
as well as France
worked to 're-interpret' the Doctrine of Discovery to serve their own colonial interests. In the 16th century, England established a new interpretation of the Doctrine: "the new theory, primarily developed by English legal scholars, argued that the Catholic King Henry VII
of England, would not violate the 1493 papal bulls, which divided the world for the Spanish and Portuguese." This interpretation was also supported by Elizabeth I
's legal advisors in the 1580s and effectively set a precedent among European colonial nations that the first Christian nation to occupy land was the 'legal' owner and that this had to be respected in international law. This rationale was used in the colonization of what was to become the American colonies
. James I
stated in the First Virginia Charter
(1606) and the Charter to the Council of New England
(1620) that colonists could be given property rights because the lands were "not now actually possessed by any Christian Prince or People...." English monarchs issued that colonists should spread Christianity "to those ho
as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, nd
to bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human civility, and to a settled and quiet Government."
This approach to colonization of indigenous lands resulted in an acceleration of exploration and land claiming, particularly by France, England, and Holland
. Land claims were made through symbolic "rituals of discovery" that were performed to illustrate the colonizing nation's legal claim to the land. Markers of possession such as crosses, flags, and plates claiming possession and other symbols became important in this contest to claim indigenous lands. In 1642, Dutch explorers were ordered to set up posts and a plate that asserted their intention to establish a colony on the land. In the 1740s, French explorers buried lead plates at various locations to reestablish their 17th century land claims to Ohio country
. The French plates were later discovered by Indigenous peoples of the Ohio River
. Upon contact with English explorers, the English noted that the lead plates were monuments "of the renewal of rench
possession" of the land. In 1774, Captain James Cook
attempted to invalidate Spanish land claims to Tahiti
by removing their marks of possession and then proceeding to set up English marks of possession. When the Spanish learned of this action, they quickly sent an explorer to reestablish their claim to the land.
The English developed the legal concept of ''terra nullius
'' (land that is null or void) or ''vacuum domicilium
'' (empty or vacant house) to validate their lands claims over indigenous peoples' homelands. This concept formalized the idea that lands which were not being used in a manner that European legal systems approved of were open for European colonization. Historian Henry Reynolds
captured this perspective in his statement that "Europeans regarded North America as a vacant land that could be claimed by right of discovery." These new legal concepts were developed in order to diminish reliance on papal authority to authorize or justify colonization claims.
As the 'rules' of colonization became established into legal doctrine agreed upon by between European colonial powers, methods of laying claims to indigenous lands continued to expand rapidly. As encounters between European colonizers and indigenous populations in the rest of the world accelerated, so did the introduction of infectious diseases
, which sometimes caused local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. For example, smallpox
, yellow fever
, and other diseases were unknown in pre-Columbian
Americas and Oceania
Settler independence and continuing colonialism
Although the establishment of colonies throughout the world by various European powers was intended to expand their nation's wealth and influence, settler populations in some localities became anxious to assert their own autonomy. For example, settler independence movements in the American colonies
were successful by 1783, following the American Revolutionary War
. This resulted in the establishment of the United States of America
as a separate entity from British Empire
. The United States continued and expanded European colonial doctrine through adopting the Doctrine of Discovery as the law of the American federal government in 1823 with the US Supreme Court
case ''Johnson v. M'Intosh
''. Statements at the ''Johnson'' court case illuminated the United States' support for the principles of the discovery doctrine:
The United States ... ndits civilized inhabitants now hold this country. They hold, and assert in themselves, the title by which it was acquired. They maintain, as all others have maintained, that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest; and gave also a right to such a degree of sovereignty, as the circumstances of the people would allow them to exercise. ... his loss of native property and sovereignty rights was justified, the Court said, bythe character and religion of its inhabitants ... the superior genius of Europe ... ndample compensation to the ndiansby bestowing on them civilization and Christianity, in exchange for unlimited independence.
Population and distribution
Indigenous societies range from those who have been significantly exposed to the colonizing or expansionary activities of other societies (such as the Maya peoples
of Mexico and Central America) through to those who as yet remain in comparative isolation from any external influence (such as the Sentinelese
of the Andaman Islands
Precise estimates for the total population of the world's Indigenous peoples are very difficult to compile, given the difficulties in identification and the variances and inadequacies of available census data. The United Nations estimates that there are over 370 million Indigenous people living in over 70 countries worldwide. This would equate to just fewer than 6% of the total world population
. This includes at least 5,000 distinct peoples
in over 72 countries.
Contemporary distinct Indigenous groups survive in populations ranging from only a few dozen to hundreds of thousands and more. Many Indigenous populations have undergone a dramatic decline and even extinction, and remain threatened in many parts of the world. Some have also been assimilated by other populations or have undergone many other changes. In other cases, Indigenous populations are undergoing a recovery or expansion in numbers.
Certain Indigenous societies survive even though they may no longer inhabit their "traditional" lands, owing to migration, relocation, forced resettlement or having been supplanted by other cultural groups. In many other respects, the transformation of culture
of Indigenous groups is ongoing, and includes permanent loss of language, loss of lands, encroachment on traditional territories, and disruption in traditional ways of life due to contamination and pollution of waters and lands.
Environmental and economic benefits of having indigenous peoples tend land
A WRI report mentions that “tenure-secure” Indigenous lands generates billions and sometimes trillions of dollars’ worth of benefits in the form of carbon sequestration
, reduced pollution, clean water and more. It says that tenure-secure Indigenous lands have low deforestation rates, they help to reduce GHG emissions, control erosion and flooding by anchoring soil, and provide a suite of other local, regional and global ecosystem services
However, many of these communities find themselves on the front lines of the deforestation crisis, and their lives and livelihoods threatened.
Indigenous peoples by region
Indigenous populations are distributed in regions throughout the globe. The numbers, condition and experience of indigenous groups may vary widely within a given region. A comprehensive survey is further complicated by sometimes contentious membership and identification.
In the post-colonial
period, the concept of specific indigenous peoples within the African continent has gained wider acceptance, although not without controversy. The highly diverse and numerous ethnic groups that comprise most modern, independent African states contain within them various peoples whose situation, cultures and pastoralist
lifestyles are generally marginalized and set apart from the dominant political and economic structures of the nation. Since the late 20th century these peoples have increasingly sought recognition of their rights as distinct indigenous peoples, in both national and international contexts.
Though the vast majority of African peoples are indigenous in the sense that they originate from that continent, in practice, identity as an ''indigenous people'' per the modern definition is more restrictive, and certainly not every African ethnic group claims identification under these terms. Groups and communities who do claim this recognition are those who, by a variety of historical and environmental circumstances, have been placed outside of the dominant state systems, and whose traditional practices and land claims often come into conflict with the objectives and policies implemented by governments, companies and surrounding dominant societies.
Indigenous peoples of the American continent are broadly recognized as being those groups and their descendants who inhabited the region before the arrival of European colonizers and settlers (i.e., Pre-Columbian
). Indigenous peoples who maintain, or seek to maintain, traditional ways of life are found from the high Arctic north to the southern extremities of Tierra del Fuego
The impacts of historitcal and ongoing European colonization of the Americas
on indigenous communities have been in general quite severe, with many authorities estimating ranges of significant population decline
primarily due to disease, land theft and violence. Several peoples have become extinct, or very nearly so. But there are and have been many thriving and resilient indigenous nations and communities.
North America is sometimes referred to by indigenous peoples as Abya Yala
or Turtle Island
In Mexico, about 25 million people self-reported as indigenous in 2015. Some estimates put the indigenous population of Mexico as high as 40-65 million people, making it the country with the highest Indigenous population in North America. In the southern states of Oaxaca
(65.73%) and Yucatán
(65.40%), the majority of the population is indigenous, as reported in 2015. Other states with high populations of Indigenous peoples include Campeche
(44.54%), Quintana Roo
, (44.44%), Hidalgo
, (36.21%), Chiapas
(35.28%), and Guerrero
Indigenous peoples in Canada
comprise the First Nations
The descriptors "Indian" and "Eskimo
" have fallen into disuse in Canada.
More currently, the term "Aboriginal" is being replaced with "Indigenous". Several national organizations in Canada changed their names from “Aboriginal” to “Indigenous.” Most notable was the change of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) in 2015, which then split into Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Development Canada in 2017. According to the 2016 Census, there are over 1,670,000 indigenous peoples in Canada. There are currently over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands
spread across Canada, such as the Cree, Mohawk, Mikmaq, Blackfoot, Coast Salish, Innu, Dene and more, with distinctive indigenous cultures, languages, art, and music.
First Nations peoples signed 11 numberetreaties
across much of what is now known as Canada between 1871 and 1921, except in parts of British Columbia. Many treaty promises have been historically and contemporarily broken.
have achieved a degree of administrative autonomy with the creation in 1999 of the territories of Nunavik
(in Northern Quebec), Nunatsiavut
(in Northern Labrador) and Nunavut
, which was until 1999 a part of the Northwest Territories. The autonomous territory of Greenland
within the Kingdom of Denmark
is also home to a recognised indigenous and majority population of Inuit (about 85%) who settled the area in the 13th century, displacing the indigenous Dorset people
and Greenlandic Norse
In the United States, the combined populations of Native Americans, Inuit and other indigenous designations totaled 2,786,652 (constituting about 1.5% of 2003 U.S. census figures). Some 563 scheduled tribes are recognized at the federal level, and a number of others recognized at the state level.
In some countries (particularly in Latin America), indigenous peoples form a sizable component of the overall national population — in Bolivia, they account for an estimated 56–70% of the total nation, and at least half of the population in Guatemala and the Andean and Amazonian nations of Peru. In English, indigenous peoples are collectively referred to by different names that vary by region and include such ethnonyms as Native Americans
, and American Indians
. In Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries, one finds the use of terms such as índios, ''pueblos indígenas
'', ''amerindios'', ''povos nativos'', ''povos indígenas'', and, in Peru, ''Comunidades Nativas'' (Native Communities), particularly among Amazonian societies like the Urarina
. In Chile, there are indigenous peoples like the Mapuches
in the Center-South and the Aymaras
in the North; also the Rapa Nui
indigenous to Easter Island
are a Polynesian
The Amerindians make up 0.4% of all Brazilian population, or about 700,000 people. Indigenous peoples are found in the entire territory of Brazil, although the majority of them live in Indian reservations in the North and Center-Western part of the country. On 18 January 2007, FUNAI
reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted peoples
in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this addition Brazil has now overtaken the island of New Guinea
as the country having the largest number of uncontacted peoples.
The vast regions of Asia contain the majority of the world's present-day indigenous populations, about 70% according to IWGIA figures.
: are the indigenous people of the Armenian Highlands
. There are currently more Armenians living outside their ancestral homeland because of the Armenian Genocide
: are indigenous to Mesopotamia. They claim descent from the ancient Neo-Assyrian Empire
, and lived in what was Assyria
, their original homeland, and still speak dialects of Aramaic, the official language of the Assyrian Empire.
: are an indigenous people to Upper Mesopotamia
: are one of the indigenous peoples of Mesopotamia
There are claims that Jews
and Palestinian Arabs
are indigenous to Land of Israel
, which forms the territory of the modern State of Israel
and the Palestinian territories
. The World Directory of Minorities and indigenous Peoples recognizes the Negev Bedouin
as indigenous to modern-day Israel.
The most substantial populations of indigenous people are in India, which constitutionally recognizes a range of "Scheduled Tribes
" within its borders. These various people number about 200 million, but these terms "indigenous people" and "tribal people" are different.
There are also indigenous people residing in the hills of Northern, North-eastern and Southern India like the Tamils
(of Tamil Nadu), Shina
(of Sikkim), Naga
(of Nagaland), indigenous Assamese communities
(of Mizoram), Tripuri
(Arunachal Pradesh), Kodava
(of Kodagu), Toda
(of the Nilgiris), Irulas
India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean are also home to several indigenous groups such as the Andamanese of Strait Island, the Jarawas of Middle Andaman and South Andaman Islands, the Onge of Little Anadaman Island and the uncontacted Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island. They are registered and protected by the Indian government.
In Sri Lanka, the indigenous Vedda
people constitute a small minority of the population today.
The Russians invaded Siberia and conquered the indigenous people
in the 17th–18th centuries.
are an ethnic group indigenous to Sakhalin
, having a few speakers of the Nivkh language
, but their fisher culture has been endangered due to the development of oil field of Sakhalin from 1990s.
, definition of "indigenous peoples" is contested largely referring to a number of population (less than 50 000 people), and neglecting self-identification, origin from indigenous populations who inhabited the country or region upon invasion, colonization or establishment of state frontiers, distinctive social, economic and cultural institutions.
Thus, indigenous peoples of Russia such as Sakha, Komi, Karelian and others are not considered as such due to the size of the population (more than 50 000 people), and consequently they "are not the subjects of the specific legal protections." The Russian government recognizes only 40 ethnic groups as indigenous peoples, even though there are other 30 groups to be counted as such. The reason of nonrecognition is the size of the population and relatively late advent to their current regions, thus indigenous peoples in Russia should be numbered less than 50,000 people.
are an ethnic group indigenous to Hokkaidō
, the Kuril Islands
, and much of Sakhalin. As Japanese settlement expanded, the Ainu were pushed northward and fought against the Japanese in Shakushain's Revolt
and Menashi-Kunashir Rebellion
, until by the Meiji period
they were confined by the government to a small area in Hokkaidō, in a manner similar to the placing of Native Americans on reservations. In a ground-breaking 1997 decision involving the Ainu people
of Japan, the Japanese courts recognized their claim in law, stating that "If one minority group lived in an area prior to being ruled over by a majority group and preserved its distinct ethnic culture even after being ruled over by the majority group, while another came to live in an area ruled over by a majority after consenting to the majority rule, it must be recognized that it is only natural that the distinct ethnic culture of the former group requires greater consideration."
The Dzungar Oirats
are indigenous to the Dzungaria
in Northern Xinjiang
are indigenous to the Tashkurgan
are indigenous to Tibet.
The Ryukyuan people
are indigenous to the Ryukyu Islands
The languages of Taiwanese aborigines
have significance in historical linguistics
, since in all likelihood Taiwan was the place of origin of the entire Austronesian language
family, which spread across Oceania.
In Hong Kong
, the Indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories
are defined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration
as people descended through the male line
from a person who was in 1898, before Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory
. There are several different groups that make of the Indigenous inhabitants, the Punti
, and Tanka
. All are nonetheless considered part of the Han Chinese
majority, although some like the Tanka have been shown to have genetic and anthropological roots in the Baiyue
people, the pre-Han Chinese inhabitants of Southern China.
The Malay Singaporeans
are the indigenous people of Singapore, inhabiting it since the Austronesian migration. They had established the Kingdom of Singapura
back in the 13th century. The name Singapore itself comes from the Malay word Singapura (Singa=Lion, Pura=City) which means the Lion City.
are the indigenous people of the former state of Champa
which was conquered by Vietnam in the Cham–Vietnamese wars
during Nam tiến
. The Cham in Vietnam are only recognized as a minority, and not as an indigenous people by the Vietnamese government despite being indigenous to the region.
(Montagnards) are indigenous to Central Highlands (Vietnam)
and were conquered by the Vietnamese in the Nam tiến
The Khmer Krom
are the indigenous people of the Mekong Delta
which were acquired by Vietnam from Cambodian King Chey Chettha II
in exchange for a Vietnamese princess.
In Indonesia, there are 50 to 70 million people who classify as indigenous peoples. However, the Indonesian government does not recognize the existence of indigenous peoples, classifying every Native Indonesian
ethnic group as "indigenous" despite the clear cultural distinctions of certain groups. This problem is shared by many other countries in the ASEAN
In the Philippines, there are 135 ethno-linguistic groups, majority of which are considered as indigenous peoples by mainstream indigenous ethnic groups in the country. The Indigenous people of Cordillera Administrative Region
and Cagayan Valley
in the Philippines are the Igorot people
. The indigenous peoples of Mindanao
are the Lumad peoples
and the Moro
, Maguindanao Maranao
and others) who also live in the Sulu archipelago
. There are also others sets of indigenous peoples in Palawan
, and the rest central and south Luzon
. The country has one of the largest indigenous peoples population in the world.
, indigenous peoples include the Shan, the Karen, the Rakhine, the Karenni, the Chin, the Kachin and the Mon. However, there are more ethnic groups that are considered indigenous, for example, the Akha, the Lisu, the Lahu or the Mru, among others.
In Europe, the majority of ethnic groups are indigenous to the region in the sense of having occupied it for numerous centuries or millennia. Present-day indigenous populations as recognized by the UN definition, however, are relatively few, and mainly confined to its north and far east.
Notable indigenous minority populations in Europe which are recognized by the UN include the Finno-Ugric Nenets
, and Komi
peoples of northern Russia; Circassians
of southern Russia and the North Caucasus
; Crimean Tatars
of Crimea in Ukraine; and Sámi
peoples of northern Norway
, and Finland
and northwestern Russia (in an area also referred to as Sápmi
) and the Sorbian
people of Germany and Poland.
In Australia, the indigenous populations are the Aboriginal Australian
peoples (comprising many different nations and tribes) and the Torres Strait Islander
peoples (also with sub-groups). These groups are often together spoken of as Indigenous Australians
n and Micronesia
n peoples originally populated many of the present-day Pacific Island
countries in the Oceania
region over the course of thousands of years. European, American
colonial expansion in the Pacific brought many of these areas under non-indigenous administration, mainly during the 19th century. During the 20th century, several of these former colonies gained independence and nation-states formed under local control. However, various peoples have put forward claims for indigenous recognition where their islands are still under external administration; examples include the Chamorros
and the Northern Marianas
, and the Marshallese
of the Marshall Islands
. Some islands remain under administration from Paris, Washington, London or Wellington
The remains of at least 25 miniature humans, who lived between 1,000 and 3,000 years ago, were recently found on the islands of Palau
In most parts of Oceania, indigenous peoples outnumber the descendants of colonists. Exceptions include Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii
. According to the 2013 census, New Zealand Māori
make up 14.9% of the population of New Zealand, with less than half (46.5%) of all Māori residents identifying solely as Māori. The Māori are indigenous to Polynesia and settled New Zealand relatively recently, with migrations thought to have occurred in the 13th century CE. In New Zealand, pre-contact Māori groups did not necessarily see themselves as a single people, thus grouping into tribal (''iwi
'') arrangements has become a more formal arrangement in more recent times. Many Māori national leaders signed a treaty with the British, the Treaty of Waitangi
(1840), seen in some circles as forming the modern geo-political entity that is New Zealand.
A majority of the Papua New Guinea
(PNG) population is indigenous, with more than 700 different nationalities recognized in a total population of 8 million. The country's constitution and key statutes identify traditional or custom-based practices and land tenure, and explicitly set out to promote the viability of these traditional societies within the modern state. However, conflicts and disputes concerning land use and resource rights continue between indigenous groups, the government, and corporate entities.
Indigenous rights and other issues
Indigenous peoples confront a diverse range of concerns associated with their status and interaction with other cultural groups, as well as changes in their inhabited environment. Some challenges are specific to particular groups; however, other challenges are commonly experienced. These issues include cultural and linguistic preservation, land rights
, ownership and exploitation of natural resources, political determination and autonomy, environmental degradation and incursion, poverty, health, and discrimination.
The interactions between indigenous and non-indigenous societies throughout history and contemporarily have been complex, ranging from outright conflict and subjugation to some degree of mutual benefit and cultural transfer. A particular aspect of anthropological study
involves investigation into the ramifications of what is termed ''first contact''
, the study of what occurs when two cultures first encounter one another. The situation can be further confused when there is a complicated or contested history of migration and population of a given region, which can give rise to disputes about primacy and ownership of the land and resources.
Wherever indigenous cultural identity is asserted, common societal issues and concerns arise from the indigenous status. These concerns are often not unique to indigenous groups. Despite the diversity of indigenous peoples, it may be noted that they share common problems and issues in dealing with the prevailing, or invading, society. They are generally concerned that the cultures and lands of indigenous peoples are being lost and that indigenous peoples suffer both discrimination and pressure to assimilate into their surrounding societies. This is borne out by the fact that the lands and cultures of nearly all of the peoples listed at the end of this article are under threat. Notable exceptions are the Sakha
and Komi peoples
(two northern indigenous peoples of Russia
), who now control their own autonomous republics within the Russian state, and the Canadian Inuit
, who form a majority of the territory of Nunavut
(created in 1999). Despite the control of their territories, many Sakha people have lost their lands as a result of the Russian Homestead Act
, which allows any Russian citizen to own any land in the Far Eastern region of Russia. In Australia, a landmark case, ''Mabo'' v ''Queensland'' (No 2), saw the High Court of Australia reject the idea of . This rejection ended up recognizing that there was a pre-existing system of law practised by the Meriam people.
A 2009 United Nations publication says "''Although indigenous peoples are often portrayed as a hindrance to development, their cultures and traditional knowledge are also increasingly seen as assets. It is argued that it is important for the human species as a whole to preserve as wide a range of cultural diversity
as possible, and that the protection of indigenous cultures is vital to this enterprise."''
Human rights violations
The Bangladesh Government has stated that there are "no indigenous peoples in Bangladesh."
[No 'indigenous', reiterates Shafique](_blank)
. bdnews24.com (18 June 2011). Retrieved on 11 October 2011.
This has angered the indigenous peoples of Chittagong Hill Tracts
, Bangladesh, collectively known as the Jumma.
[Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs](_blank)
mochta.gov.bd. Retrieved on 28 March 2012.
Experts have protested against this move of the Bangladesh Government and have questioned the Government's definition of the term "indigenous peoples."
[INDIGENOUS PEOPLEChakma Raja decries non-recognition](_blank)
. bdnews24.com (28 May 2011). Retrieved on 11 October 2011.
['Define terms minorities, indigenous'](_blank)
. bdnews24.com (27 May 2011). Retrieved on 11 October 2011.
This move by the Bangladesh Government is seen by the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh as another step by the Government to further erode their already limited rights.
. Himalmag.com. Retrieved on 11 October 2011.
Hindus and Chams have both experienced religious and ethnic persecution and restrictions on their faith under the current Vietnamese government, with the Vietnamese state confiscating Cham property and forbidding Cham from observing their religious beliefs. Hindu temples were turned into tourist sites against the wishes of the Cham Hindus. In 2010 and 2013 several incidents occurred in Thành Tín and Phươc Nhơn villages where Cham were murdered by Vietnamese. In 2012, Vietnamese police in Chau Giang village stormed into a Cham Mosque, stole the electric generator, and also raped Cham girls. Cham in the Mekong Delta have also been economically marginalised, with ethnic Vietnamese settling on land previously owned by Cham people with state support.
The Indonesian government has outright denied the existence of indigenous peoples within the countries' borders. In 2012, Indonesia stated that ‘The Government of Indonesia supports the promotion and protection of indigenous people worldwide ... Indonesia, however, does not recognize the application of the indigenous peoples concept ... in the country’.
Along with the brutal treatment of the country's Papuan people
(a conservative estimate places the violent deaths at 100,000 people in West New Guinea
since Indonesian occupation in 1963, see Papua Conflict
) has led to Survival International
condemning Indonesia for treating its indigenous peoples as the worst in the world.
The Vietnamese viewed and dealt with the indigenous Montagnards from the Central Highlands as "savages," which caused a Montagnard uprising against the Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese were originally centered around the Red River Delta but engaged in conquest and seized new lands such as Champa, the Mekong Delta (from Cambodia) and the Central Highlands during Nam Tien. While the Vietnamese received strong Chinese influence in their culture and civilization and were Sinicized, and the Cambodians and Laotians were Indianized, the Montagnards in the Central Highlands maintained their own indigenous culture without adopting external culture and were the true Indigenous of the region. To hinder encroachment on the Central Highlands by Vietnamese nationalists, the term ''Pays Montagnard du Sud-Indochinois'' (PMSI) emerged for the Central Highlands along with the indigenous being addressed by the name Montagnard.
The tremendous scale of Vietnamese Kinh colonists flooding into the Central Highlands has significantly altered the demographics of the region.
The anti-ethnic minority discriminatory policies by the Vietnamese, environmental degradation, deprivation of lands from the indigenous people, and settlement of indigenous lands by an overwhelming number of Vietnamese settlers led to massive protests and demonstrations by the Central Highland's indigenous ethnic minorities against the Vietnamese in January–February 2001. This event gave a tremendous blow to the claim often published by the Vietnamese government that in Vietnam “There has been no ethnic confrontation, no religious war, no ethnic conflict. And no elimination of one culture by another.”
In May 2016, the Fifteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
(UNPFII) affirmed that indigenous peoples are distinctive groups protected in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their linguistic and historical ties to a particular territory, prior to later settlement, development, and or occupation of a region.
The session affirms that, since indigenous peoples are vulnerable to exploitation, marginalization
, oppression, forced assimilation
, and genocide
by nation states formed from colonizing populations or by different, politically dominant ethnic groups, individuals and communities maintaining ways of life indigenous to their regions are entitled to special protection.
In December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly
proclaimed the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, and requested UN specialized agencies to consider with governments and indigenous people how they can contribute to the success of the Decade of Indigenous People, commencing in December 1994. As a consequence, the World Health Organization
, at its Forty-seventh World Health Assembly, established a core advisory group of indigenous representatives with special knowledge of the health needs and resources of their communities, thus beginning a long-term commitment to the issue of the health of indigenous peoples.
The WHO notes that "Statistical data on the health status of indigenous peoples is scarce. This is especially notable for indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe," but snapshots from various countries (where such statistics are available) show that indigenous people are in worse health than the general population, in advanced and developing countries alike: higher incidence of diabetes
in some regions of Australia; higher prevalence of poor sanitation and lack of safe water among Twa households in Rwanda; a greater prevalence of childbirths without prenatal care
among ethnic minorities in Vietnam; suicide rates among Inuit youth in Canada are eleven times higher than the national average; infant mortality
rates are higher for Indigenous peoples everywhere.
The first UN publication on the State of the World's Indigenous Peoples revealed alarming statistics about indigenous peoples' health. Health disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous populations are evident in both developed and developing countries. Native Americans in the United States are 600 times more likely to acquire tuberculosis and 62% more likely to commit suicide than the non-Indigenous American population. Tuberculosis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes are major health concerns for the indigenous in developed countries.
Globally, health disparities touch upon nearly every health issue, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, malaria, cardiovascular disease, malnutrition, parasitic infections, and respiratory diseases, affecting indigenous peoples at much higher rates. Many causes of indigenous children's mortality could be prevented. Poorer health conditions amongst indigenous peoples result from longstanding societal issues, such as extreme poverty and racism, but also the intentional marginalization and dispossession of indigenous peoples by dominant, non-indigenous populations and societal structures.
Racism and discrimination
Indigenous peoples have frequently been subjected to various forms of racism and discrimination. Indigenous peoples have been denoted ''primitives'', ''savages'' or ''uncivilized''. These terms occurred commonly during the heyday of European colonial expansion, but still continue in use in certain societies in modern times.
During the 17th century, Europeans commonly labeled indigenous peoples as "uncivilized". Some philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes
(1588-1679), considered indigenous people to be merely "savages". Others (especially literary figures in the 18th century) popularised the concept of "noble savage
s". Those who were close to the Hobbesian view tended to believe themselves to have a duty to "civilize" and "modernize" the indigenous. Although anthropologists, especially from Europe, used to apply these terms to all tribal cultures, the practice has fallen into disfavor as demeaning and is, according to many anthropologists, not only inaccurate, but dangerous.
runs a campaign to stamp out media portrayal of indigenous peoples as "primitive" or "savages".
[Survival International website – About Us/FAQ] Friends of Peoples Close to Nature
Survivalinternational.org. Retrieved on 28 March 2012.
considers not only that indigenous culture should be respected as not being inferior, but also sees indigenous ways of life as offering frameworks in sustainability and as a part of the struggle within the "corrupted" western world, from which the threat stems.
[ Retrieved from Internet Archive 13 December 2013.]
After World War I
(1914-1918), many Europeans came to doubt the morality of the means used to "civilize" peoples. At the same time, the anti-colonial movement, and advocates of indigenous peoples, argued that words such as "civilized" and "savage" were products and tools of colonialism
, and argued that colonialism itself was savagely destructive. In the mid-20th century, European attitudes began to shift to the view that indigenous and tribal peoples should have the right to decide for themselves what should happen to their ancient cultures and ancestral lands.
The cultures of indigenous peoples can become a happy hunting ground for New Age
advocates seeking to find ancient traditional truths, spiritualities
and practices to appropriate
into their worldviews.
At an international level, indigenous peoples have received increased recognition of their environmental rights since 2002, but few countries respect these rights in reality. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, established indigenous peoples' right to self-determination
, implying several rights regarding natural resource management. In countries where these rights are recognized, land titling and demarcation procedures are often put on delay, or leased out by the state as concessions for extractive industries
without consulting indigenous communities.
Many in the United States federal government are in favor of exploiting oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
, where the Gwich'in
indigenous people rely on herds of caribou
. Oil drilling could destroy thousands of years of culture for the Gwich'in
. On the other hand, some of the Inupiat Eskimo
, another indigenous community in the region, favor oil drilling because they could benefit economically.
The introduction of industrial agricultural
technologies such as fertilizers, pesticides, and large plantation schemes have destroyed ecosystems that indigenous communities formerly depended on, forcing resettlement. Development projects such as dam construction, pipelines and resource extraction have displaced large numbers of indigenous peoples, often without providing compensation. Governments have forced indigenous peoples off of their ancestral lands in the name of ecotourism
and national park development. Indigenous women are especially affected by land dispossession because they must walk longer distances for water and fuel wood. These women also become economically dependent on men when they lose their livelihoods. Indigenous groups asserting their rights has most often results in torture, imprisonment, or death.
Most indigenous populations are already subject to the deleterious effects of climate change. Climate change has not only environmental, but also human rights and socioeconomic implications for indigenous communities. The World Bank
acknowledges climate change as an obstacle to Millennium Development Goals
, notably the fight against poverty, disease, and child mortality, in addition to environmental sustainability.
Use of indigenous knowledge
Indigenous knowledge is considered as very important for issues linked with sustainability
* Collective rights
* Cultural appropriation
* Ethnic minority
* Genocide of indigenous peoples
* Human rights
* The Image Expedition
* Indigenous Futurisms
* Indigenous intellectual property
* Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment Initiative
* Indigenous rights
* Intangible cultural heritage
* International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
* Canadian National Indigenous Peoples Day
* U.S. Indigenous Peoples' Day
* List of active NGOs of national minorities
* List of ethnic groups
* List of indigenous peoples
* Missing and murdered Indigenous women
* Uncontacted peoples
* United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
* Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
* Virgin soil epidemic
Awareness raising film by Rebecca Sommer for the Secretariat of the UNPFII
"First Peoples" from PBS
* ttps://web.archive.org/web/20060810100556/http://ipsnews.net/new_focus/indigenous_peoples/index.asp IPS Inter Press Service
News on indigenous peoples from around the world