Indigenous Peoples' Rights

(Foreground) Kâhu Pataxó (also called Maicon Santos Soares), 19, from the indigenous village of Pataxó de Coroa Vermelha in Brazil’s north-eastern Bahia State, speaks at the ‘Listen & Act’ gathering at UNICEF House.© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0676/Susan Markisz

Who are Indigenous Peoples?

The word ‘Indigenous’ can be traced back to a Latin word that means native or original inhabitant. When we talk about indigenous peoples we often talk about groups that have a deep relationship with their land and natural environments, and have a culture and language that is different from other parts of the population in a country. But there is no definition of indigenous peoples that everyone agrees on. In fact, it is now generally agreed that no one can define an individual or a group as indigenous, except the group itself.

Indigenous peoples live in every region of the world and account for a large share of the cultural diversity in the world today. From Inuits in the northern arctic regions to Māoris in New Zealand, it is estimated that there are around 370 million indigenous peoples in 90 countries, representing as many as 5,000 different indigenous cultures.

Indigenous peoples have diverse cultures which are often based on a spiritual relationship with the land and natural resources. The language is an important part of their identity and there is a rich variety of arts, rituals and performances that is passed from generation to generation. Land, resources, art and language and more are considered to be the collective property of the group rather than individuals.

More action, less talk

In the last decades, the international community has paid more attention to the rights of indigenous peoples, and many indigenous groups are active in advocating for their own rights and in protecting their land and identity. There are many good examples where indigenous groups work with governments to protect their land and way of life.

However, there is still a long way to go. Despite all the progress in recognizing their rights, indigenous peoples continue to suffer from discrimination and exclusion. That will not change unless everyone, individuals and governments, start putting words into action and start realizing the rights of indigenous peoples.

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