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State of the World’s Indigenous Nations


350370 million people in more than 70 countries identify themselves as Indigenous Peoples


5000 different Indigenous People’s in the world


1/3 of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people are Indigenous Peoples


30% of them live in America

Poverty & Well-Being:

Emphasizing both self determination and the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which in practice, means that indigenous peoples themselves must be free to determine their own development. This entails that indigenous peoples’ rights to their own lands and territories must be

respected and that indigenous peoples need to develop their own definitions and indicators of poverty and wellbeing.

Although global statistics on the situation of indigenous peoples are not readily available, it is clear that indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately from poverty, marginalization, lack of adequate housing and income inequality. Traditional modes of livelihood, such as fishing, hunting and gathering, livestock cultivation or small scale agriculture are under a great amount of stress from phenomena such as neo-liberalism and commodification, privatization, climate change and conflict. Many of these challenges are faced not only by indigenous peoples, but by all of humanity, and as the chapter concludes: “Indigenous peoples have vital contributions to make in addressing the contemporary challenges to renew ecological and social ethics and relationships, and in the fulfilment of peace, human rights and sustainable development.”


Discussing various definitions of culture, emphasising the remarkable contribution that indigenous peoples make to cultural diversity across the globe. Although it is estimated that indigenous peoples are some 370 million, or less than 6 per cent of the global population, they speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages, and are the stewards of some of the most biologically diverse areas accumulating an immeasurable amount of traditional knowledge about their ecosystems. Indigenous cultures face the dual and somewhat contradictory threats of discrimination and commodification. On the one hand, indigenous peoples continue to face racism and discrimination that sees them as inferior to non-indigenous communities and their culture as a hindrance to their development. On the other hand, indigenous peoples are increasingly recognized for their unique relationship with their environment, their traditional knowledge and their spirituality, leading to a commodification of their culture which is frequently out of their control, providing them no benefits, and often a great deal of harm.


Looking at the major environmental issues that indigenous peoples are facing today. The chapter emphasizes indigenous peoples’ spiritual, cultural, social and economic connection with their traditional lands and their tradition of collective rights to land in contrast with dominant models of individual land ownership, privatization and development which frequently lead to dispossession of indigenous peoples’ land. In addition to these threats, indigenous peoples face the consequences of rapid climate change, especially in the Arctic and the Pacific islands, while mitigation efforts have exacerbated

the situation, putting increased pressure on their lands, such as deforestation for biofuel plantations. The chapter reviews some of the international legal frameworks and mechanisms for environmental protection, from the Rio Summit in 1992 to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, and how indigenous peoples have used these mechanisms. A final section of the chapter looks at how international environmental law is being implemented, and which are the major gaps and challenges indigenous peoples have to confront at the local and national levels.


The stark contrast in access to education between indigenous and non-indigenous students. At all levels, and in all regions of the world, indigenous peoples tend to have lower levels of literacy, enjoy fewer years at school and are more likely to drop out of school. Education is seldom provided to indigenous children in their native languages and it is frequently offered in a context that is culturally inappropriate and has few and inadequate facilities. Far too often, those who do get an education are forced to assimilate within the dominant culture, unable to find jobs in their communities. Despite discouraging overall trends, there are a great number of initiatives that point the way forward for indigenous education, where the community as a whole is involved, where teachers speak both the dominant language and the relevant indigenous language, where ultimately indigenous peoples have the freedom to choose whether they pursue their careers in their own communities or elsewhere.


The interdependence between health and other factors, such as poverty, illiteracy, marginalization, environmental degradation and (the lack of) self determination. These forces, inherited from colonization, make indigenous peoples in general, and indigenous women and children in particular, vulnerable to poor health. The result is that indigenous peoples experience disproportionately high levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, diabetes, and in virtually all other indicators of poor health, including mental health. Indigenous peoples have poor access to state health systems while there is a palpable lack of recognition and support for indigenous peoples’ own health systems. Any successful plan to provide health care for indigenous peoples must involve intercultural

health system where Western and indigenous health systems are practiced with equal human, technological and financial resources and where indigenous peoples are involved in all decision making processes involving their health and health care provisions.

Human Rights:

The indivisibility and interrelatedness of indigenous peoples’ rights and how their human rights are intrinsically related to their right to self-determination, selfdetermination being indeed a pre-condition to the exercise of all other rights. From the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there are a significant number of international instruments that protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, and there have been marked improvements in recent years. However, indigenous peoples continue to face grave human rights abuses on a daily basis, from dispossession of land to violence and murder. Often the most serious of these abuses are committed against indigenous persons who are defending their rights and their lands and territories. There is therefore a serious gap between indigenous peoples’ internationally recognized human rights and their enjoyment of those rights

in reality which needs to be addressed through human rights education, more effective oversight and greater commitments from states.

Emerging Issues:

The emerging issues are affecting indigenous peoples, including violence and militarism, effects of conservation, globalization, migration and urbanization, and indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. These issues are in many ways interrelated and a common theme is indigenous peoples’ vulnerability in the face of outside pressures and the need to develop specific policies that address this vulnerability, while simultaneously ensuring that the principle of free, prior and informed consent is respected and that indigenous peoples participate in decision making processes that affect their well-being.