The purpose of this paper is to examine the other forgotten indigenous populations around the globe that exist today, their origins and history, their characteristics, their rich cultures and most importantly their rights as unique human beings living among modern societies
According to current statistics, there are approximately 300-500 million indigenous peoples on all continents, occupying 20 % of the earth’s land surface.87 In most cases, they are the first human beings in a region who lived in that region for a long time before the first intruders or colonialism.
In other words, they have been the first inhabitants historically connected with a particular area. In other cases, although they might have a specific origin, they have abandoned their “traditional” lands and moved elsewhere due to forced migration, relocation or resettlement. That is how many tribes were spread in many places, living nowadays in different countries.
Surprisingly they maintain the same customs, folkways and mores, with the only differentiation in most cases, of a new language. The Romany, or as they are more commonly called the Gypsies, are one good example of this case.
Indigenous peoples, as history has shown until today, have suffered as a result of political, social and economical factors. As a matter of fact, throughout the past centuries, millions of indigenous peoples have been killed or burglarized under circumstances that are totally inhumane, and thousands of distinct tribes have been wiped off of the map. The human rights of these people have been violated in the worst manner and until today no reparations have been made by the governments of the countries where they have been settled.
The right of the indigenous peoples to self-determination and to a preservation of their diverse features, their lush cultures and their rare languages, is a matter of great importance to be taken into consideration by all governments and national organizations.
Indigenous populations embody and nurture 80 % of the world’s cultural and biological diversity.88 Due recognition of their vast contribution would lead to the protection of their human rights and the elimination of any possibility of their extinction.
Indigenous, from the Latin word “indigent” which means native or original inhabitant, are the people who have first inhabited a particular geographic region and are attached to it historically or still have a historical continuity with it. They are considered by others to be distinct, or they consider themselves distinct, from the rest of the population of the location or the country they live in. They usually have peculiar cultural characteristics that differentiate them from the vast majority of the population.
Some synonyms of the word indigenous are: autochthon which derives from Greek word “Αυτόχθων=autochthon” and means “sprung from the earth”, aboriginal people, enchorial (domestic) or as it is very often used, native people.
As defined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur indigenous communities, peoples and nations are: “those which having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies, that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. 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 systems”.89
Characteristics of the Indigenous Peoples
Even though every tribe or ethnic group is distinguished by its own characteristics, language or dialect and unique cultural specialties, it is a matter of fact that indigenous people have some characteristics common to each other even if they are located in completely different regions or even continents. Their strong connection and respect for the earth and nature, their admirable hunting or fishing techniques, and their nomadic lifestyle are some features common to almost every tribe or indigenous group of people.
But in addition, indigenous peoples appear to have a close attachment to their ancestral territories and their natural resources, they are self-identified or identified by others as members of a distinct cultural group, sharing an indigenous language, and known to be self-subsistent in the production of goods.90
Indigenous Peoples around the World
Indigenous people are found in every continent of the earth and in every inhabited climate zone. No matter how unbearable the living conditions might seem to be due to intense weather conditions or dangerous wild life, they have survived throughout the centuries, thus proving the strong association that exists between themselves and the land they live in.
In the stricter sense of the term, as identified by the United Nations, there are not so many indigenous populations in Europe nowadays. On the other hand, in the whole geographical area of Europe, the Eurasian peninsula which includes the region from the Ural mountains and the Mediterranean Sea islands to the North Atlantic Ocean, we meet a variety of ethnic minorities, few of which are perceived as indigenous per se.
Indigenous populations of Europe are mainly found in the North in Scandinavia, and in the Far East, or in very small numbers in other regions of Balkans and the Mediterranean coasts.
The Basque people of northern Spain and southern France, the Crimean Karaites, the Crimean Tartars and the Krymchaks of the Crimean Peninsula in Southern Ukraine, the Sami people of northern Scandinavia in Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, the Nenets, the Evenks, the Enets, the Oroks, the Izhorians, the Veps and other Samoyedic peoples of the north Russian Federation, the Komi peoples of the western Urals. In addition, the Roma people mostly in the Balkans and Romania but also spread all over the continent and other parts of the world, such as the Americas and the Middle East. Other ethnic groups that exist today that are trying to be identified as indigenous include the Guances of the Canary Islands or the Kvens of Norway.91
In the so-called New World, the Americas, consisting North and South America and all the associated Islands and regions, there are millions of indigenous populations living today. The history of these peoples is very rich and is dated long before the European colonization of the Americas, which totally changed their lives, bloodlines and cultures.
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those peoples. They are often also referred to as Native Americans, First Nations, and due to Christopher Columbus’ historical mistake, Indians, also referred to as the American Indian race, American Indians, Amerindians, or Red Indians.92
According to the still-debated New World migration model, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which formerly connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The minimum time depth by which this migration had taken place is confirmed at 12,000 years ago.93
In North America, Canada, Greenland, Mexico and the United States there exist the indigenous groups of: Haida, Nuu-chah-nuth, Innu, Inuit, Secwepeme, Statimc, Tsimshian.
In the Caribbean or West Indies one can meet the Tainos, the Galibis and the Neo-Taino nations such as the: Ciboney, Ciguayo, Luchaya, Macorix, Guanahatabey and Eyeri (or Carib).
A large variety of indigenous populations live in Central America, from Panama to the south of Mexico, some of which are: the Mayan Peoples (in the southern Mexican states, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize and the western Honduras), the Miskito people (whose territory extends from Cape Cameron, Honduras, to Rio Grande, Nicaragua along the Mosquito Coast), the Boruca and Guatusos in Costa Rica, the Chorti people (one of the indigenous Mayan peoples, who primarily reside in communities and towns of southeastern Guatemala and west-northern Honduras), the Jakaltek (Mayan people of Guatemala), the Kuna or Cuna people(of Panama and Colombia), the Lenca people (situated in the western highland regions of Honduras and eastern El Salvador), the Mixe or Mije of the Mexican State Oaxaca, the Naso, Teribe or Tjer Di people (located in northwest Panama, in the province of Bocas del Toro), the Pech in Honduras, the Sumo or also known the Sumu or Mayangna located in Nicaragua and Honduras, the Tolupan people in Honduras, the Xinca in Guatemala, and the Yasika (a Misumalpan or Matagalpan Indian tribe that lived in the highlands of Nicaragua).94
In South America there are numerous indigenous populations in every country. There are more than two hundred indigenous peoples in Brazil alone some of which are the: Ache, Amanye, Awa, Baniwa, Botocudo, Caingang (Kaingang), Enawene Nawe, Guarani, Kamayura (Kamaiura), Karaja, Kayapo, Korubo, Matses, Mayoruna, Munduruku, Nambikwara, Ofaye, Panara, Piraha, Quilombolo, Tapirape, Ticuna, Tremembe, Tupi, Tupiniquim (Tupinikim), Waorani, Xavante, Xoko, Xucuru, Yanomami, Yawanawa, and the Zuruaha.95
In Bolivia one can find the Bororo people (also living in the state Mato Grosso of Brazil), the nomadic Guato, the Toba (also living in Argentina and Paraguay) and the wichi (also in Argentina). The indigenous groups of Argentina are the: Charrua, Lule, Mbya-Guarani, Mocovi, Pilaga, Toba, Tonocote, Vilela, Wichi, Atacama, Ava-Guarani, Chane, Chorote, Chulupi, Diaguita-Calchaqui, Kolla, Ocloya, Omaguaca, Tapiete, Toba, Tupi-Guarani, Mapuche, Ona, Tehuelche, Yamana, Diaguita-Calchaqui, Huarpe, Kolla, Rankulche, and the Comechingon. In Chile, the 2002 census recorded approximately 692,000 self-identified persons of indigenous origin (5 percent of the total population). The Mapuches, from the south, accounted for approximately 85 percent of this number. There were also small populations of Aymara, Atacameno, Rapa Nui, and Kawaskhar in other parts of the country.
Many similar Amerindian groups are found in every other country of southern Latin America, in Colombia, in Paraguay and Uruguay, in Ecuador and Peru, in Belize, Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana.
The vast majority of the African peoples are considered to be inherently indigenous. The ethnic groups who claim to be recognized as indigenous are those who have been placed outside the state systems due to historical and environmental circumstances or the fact that their customs and land claims brought them into conflict with the rest of the society of the nation state. Some of those indigenous peoples are: the Pygmy peoples in Central and Western Africa, the Tuareg and Berber (or Amazigh) in North Africa, the Bushmen, the Khoikhoi and Namaqua in Southern Africa, the Baka, Balengue, Benga, Bubi, Bujeba, Combe or Ndowe, Duala people, Fang, Ogoni people, Tuareg, and Toubou in West Africa. A large number of indigenous people live in East Africa and particularly in Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Comoros, Sudan, Malawi, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti. Some indigenous peoples living in these countries are the: Acholi, Afar, Agaw, Akisho, Alur, Ambo, Amhara, Ankole, Anuak, Antalote, Arap, Aushi, Aw-Qutub, Ayoup, Baganda, Bagisu, Bagwere, Chopi, Dir (clan), Tutsi, Zulu, and many other tribes.96
The central and eastern parts of Eurasia (with the exclusion of Europe), the Middle East and India contain a huge variety of indigenous peoples and ethnic groups, each with a different culture rich in history and traditions. These groups face many problems related to their preservation. The list can be endless. In Central Asia there are the Tibetans. In East Asia, we meet the indigenous peoples of the Ainu in Japan and the Taiwanese aboriginal ethnic groups of: Ami, Atayal, Bunun, Kavalan, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Tao, Thao, Tsou, and Truku.
In Northern Asia there are approximately 40 distinct peoples with their own language and culture in Siberia, and the Turkic peoples in Russia and the Central Asian states. Some of these peoples are the: Sakha (or Yakut Turkic people), Tuvans (Turkic people known also as Uriankhai), Altayans (Turkic people inhabiting the Altai region), Buryats (or Buriats), Khakas (Turkic people living in Khakassia) and Tungus (or Evenks of Russia and China).
A large population of indigenous peoples lives in the Southern part of Asia. In the South and mainly around India and the Himalayan states, there are the Adivasi (autochtonous peoples in India), the Kisan tribals, the Andamanese indigenous peoples, the Nicobari and Shompen, the Naga in north-east India, the Kalash in northern Pakistan and the Wanniyala-Aetto in Sri Lanka.
In the south-east region of Indochina and the Malay Archipelago there are the: Bajau (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines), Akha (Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China), Degar, Igorot, Lumad and Mangyan in the Philippines, Negrito (includes the Semang of the Malay peninsula, the Aeta of Luzon, the Ati of Panay, the Mani of Thailand, and the Andamanese), Penan in Malaysia, Sakai in the Malay peninsula, the Palawan in Philippines and the Hmong.
Finally, in the southwest of Asia there are the Aramean-Syriac people (a Christian Aramaic-speaking minority that inhabits northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and Lebanon) and the Assyrians (the Aramaic-speaking minority inhabiting northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and northwestern Iran).97
The region of Oceania is comprised of Australia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. The original inhabitants of this vast area were the Aborigines, Melanesians, and Austronesians, who first arrived from Southeast Asia about 60,000 years ago. The various forms of social organization and isolation gave rise to a large diversity of languages and customs among indigenous groups in the region98. There are approx. 400,000 aborigines living in Australia. The Torres Strait Islanders and the Australian Aborigines, together 2.6 % of the total population of Australia, encompass many different communities and societies which are further divided into local communities with unique cultures and alternate characteristics.
In Melanesia, and in particular in New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands from the Arafura Sea to Fiji we meet the Papuans, as well as the Wopkaimin, a small aboriginal tribe living in the Star Mountains.
In Micronesia and in particular the islands of Guam and the Mariana Islands there are the Chamorro people (or Chamoru) who also live nowadays in a few US States. Finally, in Polynesia and New Zealand there are the Aborigines of Kanaka maoli in Hawaii (native Hawaiians), the Maohiin in Tahiti, the Maôri in New Zealand, the Moriori at the archipelago of the Chatham Islands, the Rarotongans in the Cook Islands, the Samoan, the Fijian and the Tongan people.
Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Self-determination is the inherent right of all peoples to determine their own social, economical and cultural development, and is a fundamental principle in international law.99 "We, the indigenous peoples, maintain our inherent rights to self-determination. We have always had the right to decide our own forms of government, to use our own ways to raise and educate our children, to our own cultural identity without interference… We continue to maintain our rights as peoples despite centuries of deprivation, assimilation, and genocide”.100
The United Nations
To date, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most comprehensive statement on the rights of indigenous peoples. It affirms the inherent dignity, equality, and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. The rights of all members of indigenous populations are included in this declaration. However, indigenous peoples also have rights as distinct cultural groups or nations. The Declaration establishes the rights of indigenous peoples to their protection of their cultural property and identity as well as their rights to education, employment, health, religion, language and in addition their right to own land collectively.
The European Union
The development of European Union policy on indigenous peoples is relatively recent. Indigenous peoples were involved in the development of the European Commission Working Document of 1998. This document was rapidly followed by the adoption of the Council Resolution on Indigenous Peoples within the Framework of the Development Cooperation of the Community and Members States, which provides the main guidelines for support to indigenous peoples.
In this Resolution, the Council calls for “concern for indigenous peoples to be integrated into all levels of development cooperation, including policy dialogue with partner countries”. It also encourages “the full participation of indigenous peoples in the democratic processes of their country” within an approach that “asserts they should participate fully and freely in the development process”, recognizing “their own diverse concepts of development” and “the right to choose their own development paths”, including “the right to object to projects, in particular in their traditional areas” which includes “compensation where projects negatively affect the livelihoods of indigenous peoples”. It thereby acknowledges the importance that indigenous peoples attach to their own self-development, that is, the shaping of their own social, economic and cultural development and their own cultural identities. The Resolution states that “indigenous cultures constitute a heritage of diverse knowledge and ideas, which is a potential resource to the entire planet”.101
Many other national and international organizations have accredited the importance of the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples all over the world. They have been devoted to the preservation or study of indigenous peoples and some of them have been widely-recognized as credentialed to act as an intermediary or representative on behalf of indigenous peoples’ groups in negotiations on indigenous issues with governments and international organizations. Some of these organizations are: The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STP), the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability and many other regional organizations, mainly protecting the needs of the indigenous peoples at a local scale.