Indigenous peoples contribute extensibly to humanity’s cultural diversity, enriching it withmore than two thirds of its languages and an extraordinary amount of its traditional knowledge.
There are over 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries, living in all regions of the world. The situation of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world is critical today. Poverty rates are significantly higher among indigenous peoples compared to other groups. While they constitute 5 per cent of the world’s population, they are 15 per cent of the world’s poor. Most indicators of well-being show that indigenous peoples suffer disproportinately compared to non-indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples face systemic discrimination and exclusion from political and economic power; they continue to be over-represented among the poorest, the illiterate, the destitute; they are displaced by wars and environmental disasters; indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and deprived of their resources for survival, both physical and cultural; they are even robbed of their very right to life.
In more modern versions of market exploitation, indigenous peoples see their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions marketed and patented without their consent or participation.
Of the some 7,000 languages today, it is estimated that more than 4,000 are spoken by indigenous peoples. Language specialists predict that up to 90 per cent of the world’s languages are likely to become extinct or threatened with extinction by the end of the century.
Although the state of the world’s indigenous peoples is alarming, there is some cause for optimism. The international community increasingly recognizes indigenous peoples’ human rights, most prominently evidenced by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples themselves continue to organize for the promotion of their rights. They are the stewards of some of the world’s most biologically diverse areas and their traditional knowledge about the biodibversity of these areas is invaluable. As the effects of climate change are becoming clearer, it is increaslingly evident that indigenous peoples must play a central role in developing adaptation and mitigation efforts to this global challenge.
The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is the result of a collaborative effort, organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Chapters were written by independent experts.
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