Who are Indigenous Peoples?

Called Tribal Peoples, First Peoples, Native Peoples, Indigenous Peoples constitute about 5% of the world’s population, yet account for about 15% of the world’s poor.

There are approximately 370 million Indigenous people in the world, belonging to 5,000 different groups, in 90 countries worldwide. Indigenous people live in every region of the world, but about 70% of them live in Asia.

There is no universally accepted definition for “Indigenous,” though there are characteristics that tend to be common among Indigenous Peoples: 

  • They tend to have small populations relative to the dominant culture of their country. However, in Bolivia and Guatemala Indigenous people make up more than half the population. 
  • They usually have (or had) their own language. Today, Indigenous people speak some 4,000 languages.
  • They have distinctive cultural traditions that are still practiced.
  • They have (or had) their own land and territory, to which they are tied in myriad ways. 
  • They self-identify as Indigenous.
  • Examples of Indigenous Peoples include the Inuit of the Arctic, Native Americans, hunter-gatherers in the Amazon, traditional pastoralists like the Maasai in East Africa, and tribal peoples in the Philippines.

Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
Indigenous Peoples are often thought of as the primary stewards of the planet’s biological resources. Their ways of life have and cosmovisions have contributed to the protection of the natural environment on which they depend on.  It is no coincidence that when the World Wildlife Fund listed the top 200 areas with the highest and most threatened biodiversity, they found that 95 percent are on Indigenous territories.

Indigenous communities and the environments they maintain are increasingly under assault from mining, oil, dam building, logging, and agro-industrial projects.

Indigenous communities resist this invasion with tremendous courage and skill, but their protests are too often ignored by governments and corporations.