Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Identification of Indigenous Peoples

Photo Credit: Arthur Krasilnikoff (IWGIA)

"Indigenous peoples are the disadvantaged descendants of those peoples who inhabited a territory prior to colonisation or formation of the present state. The term indigenous is defined by characteristics that relate to the identity of a particular people in a particular area, and that distinguish them culturally from other people or peoples. 

When, for example, immigrants from Europe settled in the Americas and Oceania, or when new states were created after colonialism was abolished in Africa and Asia, certain peoples became marginalised and discriminated against, because their language, their religion, their culture and their whole way of life were different and perceived by the dominant society as being inferior. Insisting on their right to self-determination is indigenous peoples' way of overcoming these obstacles.

Today many indigenous peoples are still excluded from society and often even deprived of their rights as equal citizens of a state. Nevertheless they are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories and their ethnic identity. Self-identification as an indigenous individual and acceptance as such by the group is an essential component of indigenous peoples' sense of identity. Their continued existence as peoples is closely connected to their possibility to influence their own fate and to live in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.

At least 350 million people worldwide are considered to be indigenous. Most of them live in remote areas in the world. Indigenous peoples are divided into at least 5000 peoples ranging from the forest peoples of the Amazon to the tribal peoples of India and from the Inuit of the Arctic to the Aborigines in Australia. Very often they inhabit land, which is rich in minerals and natural resources.

Indigenous peoples have prior rights to their territories, lands and resources, but often these have been taken from them or are threatened. They have distinct cultures and economies compared to those of the dominant society. Indigenous peoples' self-identification as indigenous is a crucial part of their identity.

Indigenous peoples face serious difficulties such as the constant threat of territorial invasion and murder, the plundering of their resources, cultural and legal discrimination, as well as a lack of recognition of their own institutions."

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