Indigenous Peoples

An estimated 300 million indigenous people are living throughout the world including the Maori people of New Zealand, the Maya of Mexico and Central America, the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, and descendants of the Incas and Aymaras in South America. Indigenous or aboriginal peoples were living on their lands before colonizers and settlers from other cultural groups arrived. Due to colonialism [note: link to Understanding Colonialism and Imperialism], unfair government policies, corporate interests (in land and natural resources), and cultural imperialism, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to the dominant culture’s way of life.

Surviving the loss of land, resources, livelihoods and culture, many Indigenous peoples struggle today to access their human rights to food, health, housing, and cultural expression. Indigenous peoples experience institutional violence, poverty, disease, and marginalization. Indigenous women must also contend with increased incidences of personal violence in their community and in the dominant society, while Indigenous youth face many challenges such as the cycle of poverty and unemployment, the allure of drugs, alcohol and gangs, and the balance of traditional and urban cultures.

Before contact with Europeans, indigenous peoples had unique ways of organizing their societies and relating to the environment. Assimilation or integration into the dominant society has not worked for most aboriginal peoples, and treaties/agreements were interpreted differently by government and aboriginals which remain a cause of conflict. Self-determination and self-governance are key issues for indigenous peoples’ human rights. Self-government means aboriginal people regaining control and management over their own land and resources, education, health, employment and justice systems.

Although there has been more international awareness of Indigenous issues in recent years, for example the UN International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004), more change in government policy is needed to enforce recognition of Indigenous rights.

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