Indigenous people, Definition of indigeneity

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Indigenous people are people defined in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant.Coates 2004:12 The concept of indigenous people defines these groups as particularly vulnerable to exploitation, marginalization and oppression by nation states that may still be formed from the colonising populations, or by politically dominant ethnic groups. As a result, a special set of political rights in accordance with international law have been set forth by international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and the World Bank. The United Nations has i


There is no single, universally accepted definition of the term "indigenous peoples"; however, the most often invoked elements are:

  • the voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness
  • an experience of subjugation, marginalisation and dispossession, and
  • self-identification.

Martínez-Cobo's working definition of “indigenous communities, peoples and nations” found in the WGIP's Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the 1980s

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.

This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:

a. Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them

b. Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands

c. Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.)

d. Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language)

e. Residence in certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world

f. Other relevant factors.

On individual basis, an indigenous person is one who self-identifies as indigenous (group consciousness), and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group). This working definition is recognised and employed by international and rights-based non-governmental organizations, as well as among national/sub-national governments themselves. However, the degree to which indigenous peoples' rights and issues are accepted and recognised in practical instruments such as treaties and other binding and non-binding agreements varies, sometimes considerably, from the application of the above definition.

Academics who define 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" have encountered criticism as they fail to consider regions and states where indigenous peoples constitute a majority as in PRC, Fiji, Bolivia, and Mexico, or where the entire population is indigenous, as in Iceland, Tonga and the Papua New-Guinea.

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