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Indigenous peoples

(Redirected from Indigenous people)

Indigenous peoples are:

  • Peoples living in an area prior to colonization by a state
  • Peoples living in an area within a nation-state, prior to the formation of a nation-state, but who do not identify with the dominant nation.
  • The descendants of either of the above

Indigenous peoples are sometimes referred to as aborigines, native peoples, first peoples, first nations or as autochthonous, a Greek term that means "sprung from the earth".

Indigenous peoples are represented in the United Nations by an Indigenous Working Group. In late December 2004, the United Nations' General Assembly proclaimed a Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People. The main goal of the new decade will be to strengthen international cooperation around resolving the problems faced by indigenous people in areas such as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.



Greek authors of the classical period referred to the indigenous people of Greece, who had lived there since before any of the waves of Hellenic migration, as "Pelasgians." In antiquity, the Greek term for all non-Greek speaking peoples was "barbarians".

Indigenous peoples are also sometimes identified as primitives, savages, or uncivilized. These terms were common during the heyday of European colonial expansion. By the 17th century, indigenous peoples were commonly labeled "uncivilized". Proponents of civilization, like Thomas Hobbes, considered them merely savages; critics of civilization, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, considered them to be "noble savages". Those who were close to the Hobbesian view tended to believe themselves to have a duty to civilize and modernize indigenes. Although anthropologists, especially from Europe, used to apply these terms to all tribal cultures, it has fallen into disfavor as demeaning and, according to anthropologists, inaccurate (see tribe, cultural evolution).

After World War I, however, many Europeans came to doubt the value of civilization. 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, Europeans began to recognize that indigenous and tribal peoples should have the right to decide for themselves what should happen to their ancient cultures and their ancestral lands.

Various organizations are devoted to the preservation or study of tribes, such as Survival International. Anthropologists generally try not to interfere with tribal life, but usually do not interfere with attempts by government or business to relocate or "civilize" them...

Viewpoints on Indigeneity

The United Nations defines indigenous peoples as follows:

"Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, 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."

Advocates of the concept of indigenous peoples argue that, despite the diversity of indigenous peoples, they share common problems and issues in dealing with the prevailing, or invading, society. They are generally concerned that the cultures 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 of the Northern Indigenous Peoples of Siberia), who now control their own autonomous republics within the Russian state.

It is also sometimes argued that it is important for the human species as a whole to preserve a wide range of cultural diversity as possible, and that the protection of indigenous cultures is vital to this enterprise.

Several criticisms of the concept of indigenous peoples are:

  • In many cases, such as with some Native American tribes, some people claim that the people termed indigenous arrived in an area after the people termed non-indigenous.
  • Peoples have invaded or colonised each other's lands since before recorded history and so the division into indigenous and non-indigenous is a matter of judgement. Even in recent centuries there are difficulties: for example, are the Zulu people indigenous to South Africa?
  • Lumping indigenous peoples into one group ignores the vast amounts of diversity among them and at the same time imposes a uniform identity on them, which may not be historically accurate.

Some feel that those who argue that indigenous peoples should have the right of self-determination often are simply replacing the stereotype of the barbaric savage with another stereotype, that of the noble savage possessing mystic truths and at peace with nature, and that this second stereotype ignores some of the real issues of indigenous peoples such as economic development.

However, advocates of rights for indigenous peoples consider these arguments to be specious; if a tribe has lived self-sufficiently in an area for many centuries, why should "economic development" suddenly now be an issue when it never has been before? They argue that these arguments are usually put forward by industrialists (normally oil, mining or logging companies) who want to exploit the land for economic gain, or by governments who consider the indigenous population to be inferior and to be an obstruction to their plans for development.

An example of this occurred in 2002 when the Government of Botswana expelled all the Kalahari Bushmen from the lands they had lived off for at least twenty thousand years. Government ministers described the Bushmen as "stone age creatures" and likened their forced eviction to a cull of elephants. These events passed almost without comment in the world's media, at a time when the eviction of a number of white people from land in nearby Zimbabwe was headline news.

In response, many have pointed out that in many cases the indigenous peoples often haven't been living self-sufficiently in an area for centuries, and that economic development was not an issue before because it was not an option. They point out that when given a choice, indigenous peoples themselves often want economic development, and that this has indeed caused conflicts with environmental groups when indigenous peoples have been given title to land and then proceed to develop just like non-indigenous people. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that indigenous peoples are not necessarily any more self-sufficient or in tune with nature, and that indigenous peoples have themselves created environmental disasters such as those experienced by Easter Islanders, the Maya civilization, or the disappearance of Australian and North American megafauna.

Indigenous behavior in history many times is the opposite of what many film writers and authors portray. When the Spanish conquistadors invaded the new land, the indigenous behavior is portrayed as welcoming, friendly, and humble human being, but in actuallity the majority of the submissive attitude towards the Spanish was because they feared the strength of the Spaniards. In other words the Spaniards greatly outpowered the Indians. The Spaniards actually killed some of the indigenous peoples when they first invaded the indigenous territory. In most related history films the indigenous peoples are compared to child-like social animals that were being mistreated by the Spaniards. In actuality many indigenous peoples hated and envied the Spaniards.

The early church was closely related to the indigenous people and the Spanish. Catholic missionaries often times served as mediators of the Spanish government and the indigenous people. The Spanish had many agendas such as profiting for the New World and taxing the indigenous people. There were many members in indigenous life that were a part of a ayllu.

For some people (e.g. indigenous communities from India, Brazil, and Malaysia and some NGOs such as GRAIN and Third World Network ), indigenous peoples may be victims of biopiracy when they are subjected to unauthorised use of their biological resources, of their traditional knowledge on these biological resources, of unequal share of benefits between them and a patent holder. A controversial case of biopiracy was reported on human genes of a tribal community reported to be resistant to malaria and leprosy.

Etymology of "Aborigine"

The first group named Aborigines were a mythical people of central Italy, connected in legendary history with Aeneas, Latinus, and Evander. They were said to have descended from their mountain home near Reate (an ancient Sabine town) upon Latium, whence they expelled the Sicels and subsequently settled down as Latini under a King Latinus.

The most generally accepted etymology of the name (ab origine), according to which they were the original inhabitants (the Greek autochthones) of the country, is inconsistent with the fact that the oldest authorities (e.g. Cato in his Origines) regarded them as Hellenic immigrants, not as a native Italian people. Other explanations suggested are arborigines, "tree-born," and aberrigines, "nomads."

List of indigenous peoples

List of some indigenous peoples of the world:

Some international organisations that work for the rights of indigenous peoples:


  • United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, from Study of the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations, J. Martinez Cobo, United Nations Special Rapporteur (1987)


External links

  • Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation

Last updated: 10-11-2005 10:54:27
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