Indigenous peoples

Inuit on a traditional qamutik (dog sled) in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada

Indigenous peoples, also known as first peoples, aboriginal peoples or native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the pre-colonial original inhabitants of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Groups 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, usually having adopted substantial elements of a colonising 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.[1][2]

Since indigenous peoples are often faced with threats to their sovereignty, economic well-being and their access to the resources on which their cultures depend, political rights have been set forth in international law by international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and the World Bank.[1] The United Nations has issued a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to guide member-state national policies to the collective rights of indigenous people, such as culture, identity, language and access to employment, health, education and natural resources. Estimates put the total population of indigenous peoples from 220 million to 350 million.[3]

International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is celebrated on 9 August each year.


The adjective indigenous was historically used to describe animals and plant origins. During the late twentieth century, the term Indigenous people began to be used to describe a legal category in indigenous law created in international and national legislations; it refers to culturally distinct groups affected by colonization.[4] It is derived from the Latin word indigena, which is based on the root gen- 'to be born' with an archaic form of the prefix in 'in'.[5] Any given people, ethnic group or community may be described as indigenous in reference to some particular region or location that they see as their traditional native land claim.[6] Other terms used to refer to indigenous populations are aboriginal, native, original, or first (as in Canada's First Peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Métis)).

The use of the term peoples in association with the indigenous is derived from the 19th century anthropological and ethnographic disciplines that Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as "a body of persons that are united by a common culture, tradition, or sense of kinship, which typically have common language, institutions, and beliefs, and often constitute a politically organized group".[7]

James Anaya, former Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has 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".[8][9]

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 system. The International Day of the World's Indigenous People falls on 9 August as this was the date of the first meeting in 1982 of the United Nations Working Group of Indigenous Populations of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Commission on Human Rights.

National definitions

Ainu man of Hokkaidō, Japan in traditional dress

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, isolated or minimally participative one, 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.

In a ground-breaking 1997 decision involving the Ainu people of Japan, the Japanese courts recognised 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 recognised that it is only natural that the distinct ethnic culture of the former group requires greater consideration."[10]

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.

United Nations

In 1982 the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) accepted as a preliminary definition a formulation put forward by Mr. José R. Martínez-Cobo, Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations. This definition has some limitations, because the definition applies mainly to pre-colonial populations, and would likely exclude other isolated or marginal societies.[11]

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 the post-colonial movements and considering the historical impacts on populations by the European imperialism. The first paragraph of the Introduction of a report published in 2009 by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues published a report,[12] states

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.[13]

In May 2016, the Fifteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) affirmed that indigenous people (also termed aboriginal people, native people, or autochthonous people) 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.[14] 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 politically dominant, different ethnic groups, special protection of individuals and communities maintaining ways of life indigenous to their regions, are entitled to special protection.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Ureinwohner
العربية: سكان أصليون
azərbaycanca: Aborigenlər
Bân-lâm-gú: Goân-chū-bîn
беларуская: Абарыгены
български: Коренни народи
Чӑвашла: Тĕпри халăх
čeština: Domorodec
فارسی: بومیان
galego: Indíxena
한국어: 원주민
हिन्दी: आदिवासी
Bahasa Indonesia: Pribumi
ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ/inuktitut: ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᓯᒪᔪᑦ
íslenska: Frumbyggjar
italiano: Popoli indigeni
עברית: ילידים
Basa Jawa: Pribumi
ქართული: აბორიგენი
қазақша: Аборигендер
Кыргызча: Аборигендер
Latina: Indigenae
latviešu: Autohtons
lietuvių: Čiabuviai
മലയാളം: ആദിവാസി
मराठी: आदिवासी
Bahasa Melayu: Orang asli
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Nguòng-cê̤ṳ-mìng
မြန်မာဘာသာ: တိုင်းရင်းသား
Nederlands: Inheemse bevolking
日本語: 先住民
norsk: Urfolk
norsk nynorsk: Urfolk
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Aborigenlar
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਮੂਲ ਨਿਵਾਸੀ
Plattdüütsch: Indigene Völker
português: Indígenas
română: Indigen
Runa Simi: Ayllu runa
Simple English: Indigenous peoples
slovenščina: Domorodno ljudstvo
српски / srpski: Аутохтони народи
svenska: Ursprungsfolk
Tagalog: Mga katutubo
తెలుగు: మూలవాసులు
тоҷикӣ: Аборигенҳо
Türkçe: Yerli halklar
Türkmençe: Aborigenler
українська: Корінні народи
Tiếng Việt: Người bản địa
吴语: 土著
粵語: 原居民
中文: 原住民