The word indigenous reminds people of something or someone who is rooted in an area they live, as if “digging” into the ground. In the case of culture, we are referring to a group of people who are original to a given area. Many times these people are called first nations or peoples, native peoples or tribal peoples but collective we can call them indigenous peoples. There are over 5,000 different groups of indigenous peoples living in more than 70 countries around the world with more than 4,000 distinct vernaculars or languages.
While there is no standard definition of what an indigenous people are, they share commonalities, such as:
- Live in small groups,
- Have a unique language,
- Practice unique cultural traditions,
- Tied to the land they occupy for cultural, religious, ethnic reason.
(Cultural Survival, 2013)
Fig. 1 Women from indigenous community perform a group dance in Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu. (Sharma, 2012)
“Indigenous peoples have rich and ancient cultures and view their social, economic, environmental and spiritual systems as interdependent. They make valuable contributions to the world’s heritage thanks to their traditional knowledge and their understanding of ecosystem management. But indigenous peoples are also among the world’s most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged groups. There are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous peoples in some 70 countries around the world. In Latin America alone there are more than 400 groups, each with a distinct language and culture. But the biggest concentration of indigenous peoples is in Asia and the Pacific – an estimated 70 per cent. ” (Cordone, 2013)
Fig. 2 Man from the remote indigenous tribes of the Matses (Loreto, 2012)
“Indigenous peoples have in-depth, varied and locally rooted knowledge of the natural world. And because traditional indigenous lands and territories contain some 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, indigenous peoples can play a crucial role in managing natural resources.
Unfortunately, indigenous peoples too often pay a price for being different and far too frequently face discrimination. Over the centuries, they have been dispossessed of their lands, territories and resources and, as a consequence, have often lost control over their own way of life. Worldwide, they account for 5 per cent of the population, but represent 15 per cent of those living in poverty.
One of the most effective ways to enable indigenous peoples to overcome poverty is to support their efforts to shape and direct their own destinies, and to ensure that they are the co-creators and co-managers of development initiatives.” (Cordone, 2013)
Fig. 3 Indigenous women of North Russia. (Greenpeace. 2013)
Furthermore, indigenous people live “far from centers of commerce and power, indigenous peoples may find it hard to influence the policies, laws and institutions that could improve their living conditions and shape their futures. Many of them do not have the legal right to live on the lands they depend on for survival or to use the resources they have managed on a sustainable basis for thousands of years. Resources are increasingly exploited by outsiders, with few benefits flowing to indigenous communities and with little regard for the natural environment.” (IFAD , 2009)
Fig 4. The look of various indigenous peoples in the world. (United Nations Radio. 2012)
“In the past, paternalistic development schemes often attempted to assimilate indigenous peoples into mainstream cultures. Such efforts were not only unwelcome but were also unsuccessful. To overcome poverty, indigenous peoples need special assistance that is based on their own objectives and that addresses the barriers they face and helps them protect their livelihoods, heritage and cultural identity. ” (IFAD , 2009)
Fig. 5 Indigenous Umoja Women’s Village. Archers Point, Kenya. (Indigenous Knowledge Project. 2011)
“Most indigenous peoples are proud of their diversity and of their languages and knowledge systems. In some cases, their unique cultural assets may help them raise their standards of living. Over the millennia many indigenous cultures have come to understand the importance of shifting cultivation, of recognizing plants with healing powers and of sustainable harvesting of food, fodder and fuel wood from forests. ” (IFAD , 2009)
Fig. 6 Indigenous peoples known as the Guarani tribe being removed from their native land. (Marchus, L. M. 2010)
“Revitalizing this knowledge helps improve food security, raise household incomes and foster self-esteem. Creating market links between indigenous communities and external buyers can increase incomes and reduce poverty levels. National and local economies can greatly benefit from the contributions of indigenous peoples to ecotourism and environmental services.
There are many ways of enabling indigenous peoples to overcome poverty. One of the most effective is to support their efforts to shape and direct their own destinies, and to seek their free, prior and informed consent. By strengthening organizations of indigenous peoples it is possible to increase their ability to negotiate successfully with others on their own behalf. More and more indigenous peoples are seeking international recognition and the right to participate in defining agreements on issues that affect them, such as global warming.” (IFAD , 2009)
Each indigenous peoples group is unique; having a culture rooted in rich and ancient traditions. Many indigenous peoples see their way of life from its social to economic systems and environmental to spiritual systems as an interdependent part of the continuation of their way of life. As a whole indigenous peoples make up the most exploited, disregarded and weakened people in the world with an estimated 370 million people living on the outer most margins of mainstream society. Many times indigenous people do not technically own the rights to land they live on and depend on for survival but are routinely taken advantage of by outsiders. The outsider’s goals are to plunder the natural resources of the indigenous peoples land with little regards for how indigenous people will survive and less regard for the natural environment.
At various times in history people have tried to integrate indigenous peoples into mainstream society. However, these types of attempts usually do not end well and now days these attempts are unwelcome and not successful. This is because of awareness of the part of the indigenous peoples. They are becoming increasingly proud of their heritage, realizing their diverse way of life and knowledge is unique with the help of conservation groups.
Cultural Survival. (2013). who are indigenous peoples?. Retrieved from http://www.culturalsurvival.org/node/10275.
Cordone, A. (2013). Indigenous peoples: valuing, respecting and supporting diversity. Retrieved from http://www.ifad.org/english/indigenous/.
Greenpeace. (2013). Defend the rights of indigenous peoples of russia. Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/getinvolved/Defend-Indigenous-Peoples-of-Russia/.
IFAD (2009). Indigenous people and rural poverty . Retrieved from http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/topic/home/tags/indigenous_peoples.
Indigenous Knowledge Project. (2011). Who are indigenous people?. Retrieved from http://indigenousknowledgeproject.org/who-are-indigenous-people.
Loreto, J. (2012, August 4). Amazon explorer: Expeditions and survival in the amazon rainforest. Retrieved from http://amazon-explorer.blogspot.com/2012/08/matses-indigenous-traditions-iii.html.
Marchus, L. M. (2010, december 15). Those with guns, courts, & prisons, stealing land again. Retrieved from http://www.firstsoundpress.com/2010/12/those-with-guns-courts-prisons-stealing.html.
Sharma, S. (2012, August 9). Nepal celebrates international day of the world’s indigenous people. Retrieved from http://www.demotix.com/news/1379715/nepal-celebrates-international-day-world-s-indigenous-people.
United Nations Radio. (2012, August 9). Day of indigenous peoples focuses on role of media. Retrieved from http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2012/08/day-of-indigenous-peoples-focuses-on-role-of-media/.