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Who are indigenous peoples ?

There is no universally accepted definition of ‘Indigenous Peoples’. This is because it is almost impossible
to create one simple definition to describe a large number of very different communities, each existing
within unique social, political and geographical situations.
The United Nations has developed a modern understanding of the term “indigenous peoples” based on
the following:
 Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community
as their member.
 Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
 Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
 Distinct social, economic or political systems
 Distinct language, culture and beliefs
 Form non-dominant groups of society
 Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive
peoples and communities.
However, Jose Martinez Cobo provides a working definition of Indigenous Peoples, which reads:
“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 the societies now prevailing on 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 system.”
Difference between indigenous peoples and ethnic groups?
Minority groups are formed according to shared ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural characteristics,
and the members of the group acknowledge a common identity on this basis. Some minorities have
distinct territorial concentrations while others are widely dispersed within and across borders.
Indigenous peoples also share common ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural characteristics. However,
in many cases they can claim to have been settled in their territory continuously and prior to any other
groups. They have maintained a culture that is strongly linked to their ways of using land and natural
Ethnic group is a socially-defined category of people who identify with each other based on common
ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by
a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, myth of origins, history, homeland, language (dialect), or even
ideology, and manifests itself through symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine,
dressing style, physical appearance, etc.