Source: Amnesty International
There are 370 million Indigenous people around the world and spread across more than 90 countries. They belong to more than 5,000 different Indigenous peoples and speak more than 4,000 languages. Indigenous people represent about 5% of the world’s population. The vast majority of them – 70% – live in Asia.
Although they have different customs and cultures, they face the same harsh realities: eviction from their ancestral lands, being denied the opportunity to express their culture, physical attacks and treatment as second-class citizens.
Indigenous peoples are often marginalised and face discrimination in countries’ legal systems, leaving them even more vulnerable to violence and abuse. Indigenous human rights defenders who speak out face intimidation and violence, often supported by the state. In addition, individuals may be physically attacked and killed just for belonging to an Indigenous people.
Peaceful efforts by Indigenous Peoples to maintain their cultural identity or exercise control over their traditional lands, which are often rich in resources and biodiversity, have led to accusations of treason or terrorism.
Discrimination is the reason why Indigenous peoples make up 15% of the world’s extreme poor. Globally, they also suffer higher rates of landlessness, malnutrition and internal displacement than other groups.
Amnesty International has worked to defend the rights of Indigenous peoples in all regions of the world and demands that states apply and develop urgently needed laws to protect their lands, cultures and livelihoods.
WHO ARE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES?
Indigenous Peoples can be identified according to certain characteristics:
- Most importantly, they self-identify as Indigenous peoples
- There is a historical link with those who inhabited a country or region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived
- They have a strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
- They have distinct social, economic or political systems
- They have a distinct language, culture and beliefs
- They are marginalised and discriminated against by the state
- They maintain and develop their ancestral environments and systems as distinct peoples.
Each of these characteristics may be more or less important depending on the situation. Indigenous Peoples are also known as First Peoples, Aboriginal Peoples, or Native Peoples. In some countries there are specific terms such as Adivasis (India) or Janajatis (Nepal).
Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with the land on which they have lived for generations, sometimes for tens of thousands of years. They possess crucial knowledge about how to manage natural resources sustainably and act as guardians or custodians of the land for the next generation. Losing their land means a loss of identity.
INTERNATIONAL LAW AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Indigenous Peoples’ rights are laid out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is the central body within the UN system which deals with Indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Forum was established in 2000.
INDIGENOUS LAND RIGHTS
Indigenous Peoples’ land ownership rights are recognised under international law. States cannot relocate Indigenous Peoples without their free, prior and informed consent and without offering them adequate compensation.
The land that Indigenous Peoples live on is home to over 80% of our planet’s biodiversity and rich in natural resources, such as oil, gas, timber and minerals. However these lands are routinely appropriated, sold, leased or simply plundered and polluted by governments and private companies.
Many Indigenous Peoples have been uprooted from their land due to discriminatory policies or armed conflict. Indigenous land rights activists face violence and even murder when they seek to defend their lands.
Human rights abuses related to their land rights and culture, have prompted growing numbers of Indigenous Peoples to leave their traditional lands for towns and cities. Cut off from resources and traditions vital to their welfare and survival, many Indigenous Peoples face even greater marginalisation, poverty, disease and violence – and sometimes, extinction as a people.
REPLACING COLUMBUS DAY
An increasing number of countries in the Americas and several states in the US have replaced the national holiday Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day to celebrate the resilience and cultures of Indigenous peoples across the Americas.
Columbus Day has been traditionally celebrated in many countries in the region and elsewhere to mark the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival on 12 October 1492.
Nowadays, there is growing consciousness that Columbus’ landing does not simply mark the arrival of Europeans in the New World but also the start of violence, exploitation, suppression and suffering of Indigenous peoples across the Americas.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also called First People’s Day, National Indigenous Peoples Day, Indian Day (Brazil), or Native American Day.
RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION
Around the world, Indigenous Peoples have been denied self-determination – a binding principle in international law which refers to peoples’ right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Instead, Indigenous Peoples have suffered violence and oppression by both colonizers and mainstream society.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, Canada removed Indigenous children from their families and placing them in federally funded boarding schools, with the intent of assimilating them into broader Canadian society. At these “Indian Residential Schools”, they were not allowed to speak their languages or express their cultural heritage and identities. As a result, “Aboriginal people were expected to have ceased to exist as a distinct people with their own governments, cultures, and identities”. An estimated 150,000 First Nations children suffered abuse in these schools.
Aboriginal children in Australia were also forced to assimilate into white culture and were placed in institutions where they suffered abuse and neglect. These children are known as the “Stolen Generations”.
PROTECTING INDIGENOUS CULTURES
Indigenous peoples face exclusion and discrimination just because they identify as members of Indigenous groups. Discrimination impacts their everyday life, it restricts their rights to education, health care and housing.
All across the world, Indigenous peoples’ life expectancy is up to 20 years lower compared to non-Indigenous people.
Indigenous peoples often rank highest for prison inmates, illiteracy and unemployment. Globally, they suffer higher rates of poverty, landlessness, malnutrition and internal displacement.
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE IS CRUCIAL FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Although they comprise only 5% of the world’s population, Indigenous Peoples safeguard 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.
More than 20% of the carbon stored above ground in the world’s forests is found in land managed by Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon Basin, Mesoamerica, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia.
Their sophisticated knowledge of the natural world means that where Indigenous Peoples have control of the land, forests and biodiversity flourish. Their sustainable land use fights climate change and builds resilience to natural disasters.
We must support Indigenous peoples and preserve this knowledge as a vital tool to protect the environment and tackle climate change.
HOW DOES PHILOPOLITICS SUPPORT INDIGENOUS PEOPLES?
One of the basic goals of Philopolitics is to promote the rights and culture of indigenous peoples. We are working to introduce non-European social, political and economic concepts into the modern global theoretical arena. (More on it: Policies of Conquest and Integration in Tawantinsuyu; and Yanantin and Masintin).
This goal is inseparable from fighting and advocating for the collective rights of indigenous peoples. Philopolitics does this through research, campaigning, and raising awareness of the position of indigenous communities in wider society (More on it: It is Time for New Holidays).
Philopolitics will continue to focus on issues of culture, development and realisation of the rights of indigenous peoples in a globalised world.