Who Are Indigenous Peoples

The Challenges We Face

With so many assets, how can Indigenous Peoples be so poor?
Indigenous Peoples possess vast tracts of territories rich in natural resources and a wealth of intellectual assets and cultural property. Yet we are the most marginalized and disenfranchised people in the world, and our situation is getting worse. Because we have been stripped of our rights to self-governance and control over our assets, globalization has accelerated the exploitation of Indigenous territories and resources to an extent that threatens our very existence.

As this map illustrates, the largest concentrations of Indigenous people overlap with the main focus areas of the world’s extractive industries. Our stewardship practices have preserved the earth’s precious resources for millennia, but because of the richness of our lands, our people are under attack.

External threats to Indigenous Peoples take two forms:

● State discrimination, such as withholding citizenship or rights afforded other citizens, the tactical use of violence to intimidate and control, and legislation that defines basic Indigenous activities as illegal and punishable by imprisonment, torture and death.
● Eviction from our native lands, carried out by governments, so that our assets can be exploited by outside interests.
● The physical removal or “stripping” of our natural assets, including mineral resources, timber, water, and agricultural lands for business interests. Not only does this process impoverish the land on which we depend for sustenance, it also destroys our sacred sites and upsets the ecological balance that forms the foundation of our cultures.
● Eviction from our native territories in the name of conservation. Despite the fact that our lands remain intact and healthy because of our continued stewardship, outside conservation efforts have led to the eviction of millions of Indigenous people in order to create “pristine,” human-free protected areas.
● Exploitation of intellectual property, such as our stories, traditional ways and artwork, without compensation because we do not have access to patents or other legal framework for ownership.

● Few countries recognize Indigenous Peoples as legitimate groups, leading to our exclusion from political forums in which to defend our rights.
● Denial of access to legal avenues to secure and defend our rights. Many governments have laws to protect Indigenous Peoples, but they are not enforced or the legal process required in order to benefit from them is prohibitively difficult (such as the right to hunt on our lands requiring a 15-hour drive to a capital city in order to apply for a short-term permit).
● Exclusion from philanthropic, state and charitable funding and support. Less than .01% of all development funding goes directly to Indigenous communities. The funding that is intended to benefit Indigenous Peoples is placed in the hands of outsiders who often do not act in our best interest, or simply do not understand what we need.
● Benign neglect by civil society. The willful ignorance of the global public leaves a dearth of political will to address the urgent problems facing Indigenous Peoples.


“Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life!”
   -The Lancet

Indigenous people are often beaten or killed during evictions, or to intimidate them into giving up their rights. Their homes are burned and their property destroyed. Violence is more prevalent in resettlement situations, where Indigenous people are forced to compete for limited resources. Indigenous women and children are often more likely to be raped than other groups because of their less-than-human status in the dominant culture.

When assets are stripped, or the benefits of those assets are diverted outside of a community, the community becomes impoverished. Indigenous Peoples suffer higher rates of poverty, homelessness and malnutrition. They have lower levels of literacy and less access to health services, further contributing to their poverty.
Indigenous Peoples constitute about 5% of the world’s population, yet they account for about 15% of the world’s poor
Indigenous people make up the poorest demographic in every single country in Latin America.
In Guatemala 86.6% of indigenous people are poor, and in Mexico 80.6% of them are poor.
In some countries, the poverty gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations is widening.
Living conditions on Canadian Indian reserves are at the same level as those in a country with a ranking of 78 on the UN Human Development Index. Canada as a whole ranks #6.
● Poverty leads to desperation. In Thailand, more than 40% of Indigenous girls and women who migrate to cities work in the sex trade. The majority of females trafficked across state borders in south-east Asia are from Indigenous communities.

Indigenous health systems are intimately linked to the health of the ecosystem, both physical and spiritual. When our environment is destroyed or we are removed from it, our ability to obtain these necessities collapses. Health indicators for Indigenous populations versus national rates within their countries of residence indicate the following conclusions:
Indigenous people have the same infectious diseases but at much higher rates.
HIV/AIDS is disproportionately higher among Indigenous people, especially women.
Endemic diseases such as yaws and leprosy are more prevalent, and more likely to be severe and frequently fatal.
Chronic diseases—such as diabetes and heart disease—are more prevalent.
Increased alcoholism and violence are linked to evictions and resettlement.

Cultural norms collapse when a community is stripped of its assets, displaced from its homeland and denied access to its sacred places. As Indigenous Peoples are forced to assimilate into the dominant culture, we lose the essential cultural practices that preserve our well-being and make us who we are. Eviction, environmental degradation and assimilation result in:
Loss of language. For most Indigenous societies, which rely heavily on oral communication in every aspect of life, this is devastating. Legal structures, cultural practices, and the sharing of traditional knowledge are all inextricably linked to the specific language of the community. Without it the society breaks down.
● Loss of clanship. Due to loss of cultural practices and diaspora, family ties break down. This results in loss of identity and sense of belonging.
● Loss of traditional knowledge that sustains our societies and contributes to medicine, science and technology.
● With the extinction of whole cultures, the world’s diversity is diminished and it becomes increasingly difficult to learn from positive differences. Indigenous Peoples provide the world’s best examples of sustainable living. Indigenous social and economic models, as well as our ways of looking at and solving problems, are being extinguished.

These problems unite all Indigenous Peoples worldwide, and so do the solutions. Click here to learn about the worldwide Indigenous Movement.

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