Indigenous peoples

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The first three presidents of the indigenous Sami parliament in Norway : Sven-Roald Nystø, Aili Keskitalo and Ole Henrik Magga (2006)
New Zealand Māori are celebrating their country's recognition in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010

Indigenous (from indigena "indigenous") people are as defined by the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982 the population claiming to be descendants of the inhabitants of a certain geographical area consider that before the conquest , colonization or statehood lived by strangers there who have a close (emotional, economic and / or spiritual) connection to their living space and who have a pronounced ethnic-cultural identity as a community with its own socio-political and cultural traditions . In certain contexts, the term autochthonous peoples (“original”) is or was also used . Beyond the definition, it is often assumed that these population groups are often exposed to political or social marginalization .

According to a 2012 study, an estimated 175 million indigenous and isolated peoples lived on earth at the time; On the Pacific island of New Guinea alone, there are 832 indigenous peoples, each with its own language.

The term indigenous peoples primarily includes political human rights claims, because members of indigenous peoples are often discriminated against and pushed to the margins of society ( marginalization ). The United Nations has three organs for this purpose: the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (formerly the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples ), the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs .

Efforts by traditional societies to integrate modern cultural elements as “something of their own” into indigenous culture, as well as modern societies to insert indigenous elements, are referred to as indigenization . When ethnic groups that have already largely been assimilated revive traditional elements and re- integrate them into their culture in a modified form, one speaks of re-indigenization .


The most widely used definition of the term goes back to the UN Special Rapporteur José Martínez-Cobo , who linked it to four criteria in his fundamental study on discrimination against indigenous peoples in 1986. The following wording deviates slightly from Cobo's definition and is based on the more precise version from 1996 by Erika-Irene Daes , the long-time chairman of the UN working group on indigenous populations :

  1. Temporal priority with regard to the use or settlement of a certain territory : Indigenous peoples are relatively the “first” inhabitants of an area .
  2. The voluntary preservation of cultural particularities in the areas of language, social organization, religion and spiritual values, modes of production and institutions : Indigenous peoples are culturally clearly different from the majority society .
  3. Self-identification and recognition by others as an independent community: The majority of those affected must themselves be of the opinion that they belong to an independent group (a people ) and that this is to be regarded as "indigenous". At the same time, this view must be shared to a significant extent by others, such as members of other indigenous peoples.
  4. An experience of oppression , marginalization , expropriation , exclusion or discrimination , regardless of whether these conditions persist or not: the degree of oppression that persists today can vary widely - from structural disadvantages in terms of opportunities for advancement to forced displacement and extermination ( ethnocide ). In any case, oppression experienced as a group fundamentally determines the political self-image of indigenous peoples.

These four criteria do not always have to apply in the same way; they are understood as a working definition that adequately describes the majority of cases. In the opinion of representatives of many indigenous groups, there cannot and should not be an exclusive, “hard” definition of the term indigenous peoples ; this view was also shared by the UN working group on indigenous peoples (dissolved in 2006 and replaced in 2008 by the expert mechanism for the Rights of indigenous peoples ).

The indigenous concept is also sometimes used when individual criteria do not apply or no longer apply. In this way, self-identification as indigenous people can continue even if the marginalization suffered has already been (largely) overcome, for example among the Inuit in Greenland .

A central element of the distinction between indigenous communities and the non-indigenous majority society is often the particularly close ties between indigenous cultures and their respective land areas, as well as the particularly close relationship to this, which mostly also includes spiritual areas.

The aspect of the collective is central to understanding the term : indigenous peoples exist as social societies, not as a mere collection of individuals. Accordingly, the demands for indigenous rights are predominantly demands for collective rights , especially social human rights .

Origin of the word "indigenous, autochthonous"

The term "indigenous peoples" is a relatively recent loan translation, probably from the Spanish pueblos indígenas and denotes communities of original inhabitants of a region or country. In Latin America, the term “indigenous peoples” has replaced the terms Indians and Indians as a collective term for all descendants of the pre-Columbian population , which was based on Christopher Columbus ' confusion of the American double continent with his destination at the time, India .

The word indigenous is composed of the old Latin indi- (indu-) “inside, one”, and -genus “born”, which can be translated as “native” or “native”. However, the meaning of indigenous was initially misinterpreted in the sense of "coming from India" or "Indian origin" ( Latin indus "Indian", after Columbus also "Indian", and genus "born, originating"), because with the name Peoples have been described which descend from pre-Columbian civilizations (ie "Indian" cultures).

In international political contexts, indigenous peoples ( indigenous people [s] , pueblos indígenas ) is the common collective term for native peoples of all continents, while other official collective terms are often used in the respective national context, for example Aborigines in Australia , native Americans and First Nations in North America as well Adivasi in India .

The term "autochthonous peoples" (from ancient Greek autós "self", and chthōn "earth": "indigenous, indigenous, long-established") is a synonym for indigenous peoples , which is often used especially in French (peuples autochtones) . The opposite would be allochthonous "of foreign origin".

In the Netherlands, even today, “native Dutch people”, ie people with two parents born in the Netherlands, are referred to as “autochthonous”, in contrast to those who are called “allochthonous”.

Definition of terms

Aborigines, indigenous people

“Aboriginal people” and “indigenous people” designate a group to which point 1 of the UN working group on indigenous peoples applies: “Temporal priority with regard to the use or settlement of a certain territory: Relatively speaking, the 'first' inhabitants of an area.” In Europe as such could perhaps be referred to as the Sami or the Basques (but that is also unclear), the term should be anthropologically correct to apply to the Neanderthals . In contrast to the indigenous population, points 2-4 of the UN working group on indigenous populations do not have to apply to indigenous people.


The German equivalent of the term indigenous is “indigenous”, but the word indigenous is rarely used today due to its colonial or romanticizing connotation.

Primitive peoples

The term primitive people is in German often synonymous with "indigenous peoples" used ( interchangeably ). Today, however, primitive people are a vague collective term for small peoples or local population groups who live largely untouched by technical civilization in a traditional way in sparsely populated wilderness areas . The word has a French equivalent (les Naturels) , but not an English one.

Modern ethnology (ethnology) largely rejects the term primitive peoples for classifying groups of people, as it is viewed as derogatory ( pejorative ) or misleading. It comes from historical German ethnology and was intended to distinguish groups with an allegedly " primitive and cultureless" way of life from the " civilized cultural peoples". In the 20th century there was a change in meaning in the sense of "nature-adapted peoples". In the end, however, all attempts at reallocation failed. As a popular category , the term continues to be used in common parlance , the mass media and some reference works regardless of the terminological problem. A major criticism today concerns the possible equation with the romantically transfigured image of the “ noble savage ” from the Enlightenment .

"Indigenous" is a political category defined under international law that does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the way of life and is therefore unsuitable as a substitute for "indigenous peoples." Today, a large number of indigenous people have a Western lifestyle . In addition, the term "indigenous" is sometimes used in this context inapplicable, for example for the Brazilian quilombolas - descendants of African slaves - or for many traditionally living ethnic groups in Africa who are not minorities in their countries and therefore should not be considered indigenous according to the current definition .

For a differentiated designation of traditionally living population groups, various paraphrases are used today: According to Anja von Hahn , the designation " local communities " comes closest to the value-free interpretation of the term natural people.

National minorities, ethnic groups

Representatives of indigenous peoples attach great importance to the distinction between their designation as national minorities , as ethnic groups , or as indigenous . The most important distinguishing features include the original ties of indigenous groups to their respective areas, the circumstance of social, political and economic displacement ( marginalization ) and the greater cultural and social distance to the respective majority society . In addition, the term “national minority” also includes groups that have themselves overlaid a previous population or who immigrated afterwards .

Members of an ethnic group who represent the titular nation in another state , from whose name the designation of the home state and its citizens are derived , are clearly national minorities . These are, for example, Hungarians in Romania , Danes in Schleswig-Holstein , Serbs in Croatia or Poland in Lithuania . In the Federal Republic of Germany , Danes, Frisians , Sorbs and Roma of German citizenship are legally recognized as national minorities. In Switzerland,travelers ” are recognized as a minority that is not territorially bound . The extent to which these groups then fall under the term indigenous is not related to their official minority status.

In the legal context, an ethnic group is only synonymous with a national minority in Austria . The term ethnic group can also refer to individual ethnic groups within multiethnic societies relate ( multiethnic states ), and in the vernacular so all can ethnic minorities be meant.

Myths and religions of indigenous peoples

With a few exceptions, all indigenous peoples come from cultures that originally only passed on their knowledge orally and who lived in local communities , so that many independent religions, myths and worldviews could develop. It is true of all ethnic religions that they know neither holy scriptures nor religious founders and do not do missionary work . Very often there is a spiritual reference to the natural environment, omnipotent gods or even (strictly) monotheistic ideas are almost nowhere to be found. Likewise, there are rarely religious institutions; Everyday life and religion are not viewed as something separate. This also means that the respective "teachings" have a great versatility: each member can contribute his or her personal religious experience and foreign ideas are quickly adopted if they prove to be advantageous. In this respect, there is almost no indigenous religion today that has not been influenced by one of the world religions.

New findings from research into myths indicate that the oldest cultural conceptions were of a mythical nature: people were convinced that all processes both inside and outside the human being are caused by the world of spirits or gods . The stories their activity, the philosopher and myth researcher Kurt Hübner as archai designated witness to a great emotional relationship with the world, a ubiquitous spirituality and a cyclical sense of time that the annual course of nature ritualized. This cyclical awareness of time is typical of many indigenous peoples.

The age of discovery by the Europeans heralded the beginning of colonialism , in the course of which traditional worldviews were massively influenced in a variety of ways. The first to appear in Latin America were the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, who officially legitimized their violent takeover as a “divine commission”. They were followed by Catholic missionaries across America in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Africa and Oceania the tribal religion came under pressure especially from the 18th century; most recently the Australian Aborigines from the middle of the 19th century. The colonial rulers complemented each other - through settlement plans and military actions - as well as the missionaries of different Christian denominations. Despite all of this, many local religions have been able to maintain their position to this day. In addition, numerous “new syncretistic mixed religions ” emerged, which emerged as a “crisis response” as a result of the influence of foreign cultures. Examples are the Ratana Church of the Māori, the spirit dance movement of the Plains Indians, peyotism in North America or Laestadianism among the northern European Sámi.

As before, fundamentalist religious organizations strive to convert even the last “ pagans ” or “ kāfir ” - even if it is forbidden (as in Brazil, for example) and the negative consequences are well known. For example, the evangelical Joshua Project has built an Internet-based network to a. to evangelize in all possible languages ​​with the help of a Jesus film. The “successes” of thousands of supporters worldwide are published in a database and assessed with a visual “conversion traffic light” in order to motivate further efforts.

Areas of conflict

James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until 2014 , and his successor Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (2013 in Kuala-Lumpur)

Land and resource conflicts

Frequently controversial questions are the rights to land ownership , sometimes more extensive over entire areas of land. Many indigenous peoples understand land ownership as group-specific, collective rights that are independently administered and inherited within a family , ancestry group , lineage or clan . The power of disposal and use of land (areas) is always linked to precisely negotiated land use rights of other groups in the social fabric, as well as their own use and crossing rights to their land (ownership). Their own land is considered fundamentally inalienable by indigenous groups and especially by entire peoples. In the case of nomads and semi-nomads , the area required can expand widely, often associated with seasonal changes of location. For example, some indigenous peoples and ethnic groups still live as hunters and gatherers (see also indigenous peoples in wilderness areas ).

In contrast, in modern industrialized countries as well as in European, liberal societies, property is understood as an individual right, as private property . Various interests in the exploitation of raw materials and materials by the industrialized countries quickly come into conflict with indigenous peoples with regard to their ideas about land use. In addition, indigenous peoples have an interest in their “own land” that may conflict with their own legal traditions.

Since many indigenous peoples live in partially resource-rich areas of the world, conflicts , especially over land use and rights, are a general problem for these peoples . Much of the earth's uranium, oil, gold and coal extraction takes place in the areas of indigenous peoples. The same applies to a large part of the nuclear tests carried out in recent decades, for nuclear waste repositories and large dams. The activities of transnational corporations often result in militarization, violence and armed conflicts, for example on the island of Bougainville , which belongs to Papua New Guinea , where a civil war over a copper mine owned by the Rio Tinto Group killed around 10,000 people.

The establishment of large protected areas to preserve nature is not always free of conflict for the indigenous people. In several African countries in particular, indigenous groups have been driven from their ancestral land in order to convert the areas into national parks. Representatives of the indigenous peoples see economic interests in this: previously economically worthless areas, in which the peoples living in the subsistence economy did not allow money to flow in or out, are monetized by the status of national parks and as a result of tourism and infrastructure measures. The major environmental protection organizations WWF , Conservation International and Nature Conservancy are also named as perpetrators or at least tolerators of this approach . On the other hand, in 2011 the WWF awarded a Sami association in northern Sweden an award for the pioneering indigenous management of the Laponia World Heritage Park. The realization that traditional indigenous ways of life and economy are an integral part of original natural landscapes would be an important step in the right direction for the peoples affected. As a model z. B. the Parque Indígena do Xingu in Brazil called (see also: "Traditional peoples and communities" in Brazil ). The establishment of large protected areas for nature and the indigenous peoples as their "administrators" could certainly defuse land rights conflicts.

In Canada , the USA and several South American countries there have been Indian reservations of very different sizes and with very different rights for the ethnic groups living there for many decades . In addition, Canada has huge territories with special rights for First Nations such as Nunavut and Nunavik . Australia's Aborigines have again owned large areas of land since the beginning of the 21st century, some of which are designated as Indigenous Protected Area to protect nature and the indigenous people. From the purely legal definition of areas for indigenous people on these three continents, however, no conclusions can be drawn about the ecological condition or the specific situation of their inhabitants.

Languages ​​under threat

The centuries of colonization were very often associated with efforts to uproot the indigenous peoples and assimilate them into European cultures . Since one's own language makes a significant contribution to the preservation of a culture, there have been a number of systematic attempts to eradicate indigenous languages ​​- just like with linguistic minorities in their own countries. The fact that this strategy was "successful" can be seen from the large number of languages that are already extinct and threatened , the majority of which are indigenous languages ​​from North and South America, Australia and Asia. Depending on the estimate, between 50% and 90% of all living languages ​​will be seriously endangered or disappear in the 21st century.

Statute of international law

In the discussion, there has been a long-standing debate as to whether or which indigenous peoples should have the status of a people under international law . This is associated with far-reaching and specific rights, first and foremost the right to self-determination (the right of peoples to self- determination ), which includes the free disposal of land and resources. Since some indigenous peoples often live in resource-rich regions, many states fear that they will lose control of these mineral resources if this right is recognized . Furthermore, in countries where there are violent conflicts between governments and indigenous peoples, there are sometimes fears of secession .

This debate is also known as the dispute about the little "s" - shortened to whether there should be a language regime in favor of indigenous peoples or indigenous people . Avoid some UN institutions this issue specifically, the competent UN Working Group called Working Group on Indigenous Populations ( Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP)), the 2008 newly established UN body in New York's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues ( Standing Forum on Indigenous Affairs ) .

Uncontacted tribes and tribes in voluntary isolation

More than a hundred indigenous groups around the world have chosen to live in isolation from the outside world - mostly not voluntarily, but due to catastrophic experiences. These groups are mostly referred to as " uncontacted peoples" . The degree of isolation varies, with some of the groups maintaining contact with neighboring tribes or allowing administrators or researchers occasional access. Unwanted contact and displacement result from clearing, mining, road construction and intrusion by gold prospectors. Due to their isolation, members of such groups sometimes have no effective immune defense against diseases that are mostly harmless for members of the majority society.

Numerous isolated groups live in the rainforests of Peru and Brazil . On to India belonging Andaman live with the Sentinelese and Jarawa two peoples in various degrees of isolation.

Criticism and claims of the indigenous people

In various publications, representatives of different indigenous peoples repeatedly point out that their cultures and worldviews could offer alternatives for the modern western way of life and their global problem areas. It is often criticized that the western world regards its cultures as primitive or underdeveloped, even though they can usually look back on a successful life strategy that has lasted thousands of years. All of these publications are not about a romanticized return to life in nature, but rather the incorporation of tried and tested elements or traditional , often sustainable values ​​of their cultures into the modern way of life. Globalized capitalism in particular stands in the way of this. So has z. For example, the situation of the small peoples of Northern Siberia after the collapse of the Soviet Union has deteriorated drastically due to the new market structures and the price pressure for reindeer meat is forcing more and more Northern European Sami to intensify or abandon traditional reindeer herding, which is harmful to the environment. At the 8th World Social Forum in Belem (2009), indigenous organizations called for a turn away from the “ capitalist exploitation ” that “colonialist western civilization” had brought over the countries of South America. New and creative options are needed for a “coexistence between nature and society” based on the model of indigenous cultures. The American Indian professor Jack D. Forbes developed a far-reaching anti-Western philosophy that portrays Europeans as pathologically evil people, whose symptoms (called "Wétiko psychosis") would spread epidemically to the subjugated peoples .

Demands of indigenous peoples

The central demand of most organizations of indigenous peoples is the binding and unrestricted recognition of their human rights , beginning with the right to self-determination , as stated in the first articles of the international covenants on economic, social and cultural rights as well as on civil and political rights , i.e. the two most important ones Human rights documents binding under international law are expressly recognized.

It is self-determination by no means synonymous with secession (though the right to secession is discussed as part of the self-determination of peoples) and the establishment of an independent state, but it comes to the recognition in principle of a law .

In cases where e.g. Plan as transnational corporations large industrial projects (construction of large dams, oil or uranium mining, nuclear testing, toxic waste disposal) on indigenous peoples used or occupied territories, calling for indigenous peoples that this is just for a free, prior and informed consent must happen .

In some countries, the requirement for Free, Prior and Informed Consent has already been legally implemented, for example in the Philippines .

At the level of international law, the adoption of a declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007 (resolution 61/295 of the UN General Assembly) (more than 20 years after the relevant working group began drafting it), and the ratification of Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization on the main demands.

Indigenous peoples worldwide

The total number of members of the indigenous peoples of the world is estimated at around 350 million people, the greatest density of indigenous peoples occurs on the island of New Guinea (over 1000), of which over 770 in Papua New Guinea. There are considerable in Asia and Africa Uncertainties, because many governments on these continents take the position that the entire population is indigenous , while for ethnologists "real" indigenous groups are often further suppressed even after the independence of former colonies , which is not the case with the majority population. They therefore often refer to indigenous peoples as inner colonies or the fourth world .

In the course of time, cross- cultural social research has led to various attempts (in some cases heavily criticized) to combine similar indigenous cultures into geographically delimited cultural areas or (mostly historical) cultural areas . Both concepts offer a simple possibility to gain an initial overview of the indigenous diversity of the earth (compare North American cultural areas and the Australian cultural areas Desert and the Western Desert cultural areas ).

Overviews of indigenous peoples:

Australia and Oceania

In order to draw the world's attention to the problems of the indigenous peoples, the United Nations dedicated an International Year to them for the first time in 1993 . From 1994 to 2004 the first "International Decade of the Indigenous Peoples of the Earth" followed and from 2005 to 2014 the second international decade. In 1994, August 9th was set up as the annual International Day of Action for Indigenous Peoples.

See also


  • Kerstin Asmuss: Claims of indigenous peoples to return illegally exported cultural property. A study for claims from Art. 5 UNIDROIT Convention 1995 and from general international law (= publications from the Institute for International Affairs of the University of Hamburg. Volume 36). Nomos, Baden-Baden 2011, ISBN 978-3-8329-6538-9 (doctoral thesis 2010 University of Hamburg).
  • Erika-Irene Daes: Indigenous Peoples. Keepers of our Past - Custodians of our Future. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen 2008, ISBN 978-87-91563-43-0 (English).
  • Janne Mende: Culture as a human right? Ambivalences of collective legal claims . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2015, ISBN 978-35-93503-15-8 .
  • James S. Anaya: Indigenous peoples in international law . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996, ISBN 0-195-17349-X (English).
  • Ronald Niezen: The origins of indigenism. Human rights and the politics of identity . University of California Press, Berkeley / Los Angeles 2003, ISBN 978-05-20235-54-0 (English).
  • Dieter Gawora, Maria Helena de Souza Ide, Romulo Soares Barbosa (ed.): Traditional peoples and communities in Brazil (= development perspectives. No. 100). Latin America Documentation Center, Kassel University Press, Kassel 2011, ISBN 978-3-86219-150-5 .
  • Bruce E. Johansen (Ed.): Indigenous Peoples and Environmental Issues: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood, Westport 2003, ISBN 0-313-32398-4 (English).
  • Iris Pufé: climate, forests, indigenous peoples. Environmental and development policy within the framework of the “Climate Alliance” for the conservation of nature and culture in the Amazon. Oekom, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-86581-063-2 .
  • Roque Roldan; Climate Alliance / Alianza del Clima e. V / National Indian Organization of Colombia / Center for Cooperation with the Indians (ed.): Oil, natural gas, bauxite, coal and gold production on indigenous territories (= development perspectives . No. 73–74). Kassel University Press, Kassel 2005, ISBN 3-89958-523-2 .
  • Frank Sowa: Indigenous Peoples in World Society. The cultural identity of the Greenland Inuit in the field of tension between nature and culture , transcript, Bielefeld 2014, ISBN 978-3-8376-2678-0 .
  • Julia Collins-Stalder: Oil rigs and reindeer sleighs. Indigenous people and the oil and gas industry in post-socialist Russia. University of Bern, Bern 2010, ISBN 978-3-906465-52-4 ( PDF file; 1.1 MB; 108 pages on

Web links

Commons : Indigenous Peoples  - Pictures and Media Files
Wiktionary: indigen  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: autochthonous  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  5. a b Erika-Irene Daes : Working Paper by the Chairperson-Rapporteur, Mrs. Erica-Irene A. Daes, on the concept of indigenous people. UN document E / CN.4 / Sub.2 / AC.4 / 1996/2, 1996 ( online at
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  12. Klaus E. Müller: The better and the worse half. Ethnology of the gender conflict. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1984, ISBN 3-593-33360-0 , pp. 394-396.
  13. Dieter Gawora, Maria Helena de Souza Ide, Romulo Soares Barbosa (ed.), Mirja Annawald (transl.): Traditional peoples and communities in Brazil. Latin America Documentation Center. Kassel University Press, Kassel 2011, pp. 19-20.
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  21. For a general analysis see the working paper by Miguel Alfonso Martínez: Indigenous Peoples and Conflict Resolution. UN document E / CN.4 / Sub.2 / AC.4 / 2004/2, July 5, 2004 (current chairman of UNWGIP ;  ( page no longer available , search in web archives ) PDF file: 96 kB; 22 pages on 2Template: Toter Link /
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  31. Coyote - Indianische Gegenwart No. 81, spring 2009, p. 8.
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  33. United Nations adopts Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In:
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