Indigenous peoples

first inhabitants of an area and their descendants

Indigenous peoples, also known as First peoples, Aboriginal peoples or Native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original settlers of a given region.

Indigenous groups that are recognized by ruling governments are generally not proportionally represented within the government. Some indigenous peoples around the world, however, have remained free of colonization. Most of these groups are considered uncontacted due to their isolated locations. ~ World Atlas
The rationale for choosing cultural rather than physical genocide was often economic. Carl Schurz concluded that it would cost a million dollars to kill an Indian in warfare, whereas it cost only $1,200 to school an Indian child for eight years. Likewise, the Secretary of the Interior, Henry Teller, argued that it would cost $22 million to wage war against Indians over a ten-year period, but would cost less than a quarter of that amount to educate 30,000 children for a year. Consequently, these schools were administered as inexpensively as possible. ~ Andrea Smith


  • "...Make no mistake. We are here on Indigenous land, not because we were invited in, but because we forced them to the corners of society and stripped them of dignity, stripped them of their basic human rights, controlled them, abused them, and murdered them. This, at the hands of White colonists of the past and at the hands of today's White law makers....The right to choice must also include human rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples, with whom we live amongst on stolen land...."
  • When the Europeans arrived, carrying germs which thrived in dense, semi-urban populations, the indigenous people of the Americas were effectively doomed. They had never experienced smallpox, measles or flu before, and the viruses tore through the continent, killing an estimated 90% of Native Americans.
    Smallpox is believed to have arrived in the Americas in 1520 on a Spanish ship sailing from Cuba, carried by an infected African slave. As soon as the party landed in Mexico, the infection began its deadly voyage through the continent. Even before the arrival of Pizarro, smallpox had already devastated the Inca Empire, killing the Emperor Huayna Capac and unleashing a bitter civil war that distracted and weakened his successor, Atahuallpa.
    In the era of global conquest which followed, European colonizers were assisted around the world by the germs which they carried. A 1713 smallpox epidemic in the Cape of Good Hope decimated the South African Khoi San people, rendering them incapable of resisting the process of colonization. European germs also wreaked devastation on the aboriginal communities of Australia and New Zealand.
  • Words are cheap—although they can lead to expensive demands—and politicians like to appear caring and sensitive. Moreover, apologies about the past can be used as an excuse for not doing very much in the present. Australia had National Sorry Day to deal with its miserable treatment of its Aboriginal population. The condition of the Aborigines remains appalling and not much is being done about it. If we look back too much and tinker with history through apologies, the danger is that we do not pay enough attention to the difficult problems of the present. There is also a danger, as a number of minority leaders have pointed out, that focusing on past grievances can be a trap, as governments and groups avoid dealing with issues facing them now. American blacks can demand apologies for slavery and American governments can offer them, but how does that help the black children who are going to poor schools or the black men who cannot find jobs and dignity?
  • Aboriginal Canadians have been preoccupied for decades by the residential schools issue, arguing that Aboriginal children not only suffered harsh treatment, from verbal to sexual abuse, but were stripped of their culture. Their leaders have talked of “cultural genocide” and a former United Church clergyman has claimed to have uncovered evidence of murders, illegal medical experiments, and pedophile rings. The Canadian government has offered compensation to each former student and has set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will spend five years gathering information and writing its report. Already the chair of the commission is talking of possible criminal charges. Of course, Canadian society must deal with the charges, but it sadly shows little willingness to expend the same resources on dealing with the ghastly conditions on many reserves today. Leon Wieseltier, the distinguished Jewish- American man of letters, warns that the message minority groups too often get from such a focus on the past is “Don’t be fooled ... there is only repression.” Dwelling on past horrors such as the Holocaust or slavery can leave people without the resources to deal with problems in the here and now.
  • In past centuries, the rulers of Spain, Portugal and other countries used the papal bulls, or official decrees, to justify their seizure of Indigenous lands in Africa and the Americas, saying that they were spreading Christianity.
    Robert J. Miller, a professor at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, called the doctrine “one of the earliest forms of international law,” that went on to influence the first U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1823 regarding the “Indian nation and the rights of Indigenous peoples in the United States.” That ruling — which cited the doctrine — be-came a “legal claim” for the expropriation of Indigenous lands.
    “So it’s time for that hypocrisy to be exposed and done away with as much as we can,” he said.
    The Vatican statement said colonial powers had “manipulated” the content of the papal documents “to justify immoral acts against Indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesial authorities.”
  • Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, the secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement Thursday that admitted past shortcomings of those church authorities who had not fully opposed the “immoral actions” of colonial powers. But he added that “the centuries of history at issue are complex,” and that there existed “various legal and political interpretations” of the term “Doctrine of Discovery” that merited further study.
    In its response to the Vatican statement, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that over the centuries the church and pope had issued numerous statements upholding “the rights and freedoms of Indigenous Peoples,” specifically a 1537 decree issued by Paul III, Sublimis Deus, which it said “upheld the rights and freedoms of Indigenous Peoples.”
    But scholars have pointed out that barely a year later, the pope issued another decree that effectively nullified Sublimis Deus.
  • 4. In our own day, a renewed dialogue with indigenous peoples, especially with those who profess the Catholic Faith, has helped the Church to understand better their values and cultures. With their help, the Church has acquired a greater awareness of their sufferings, past and present, due to the expropriation of their lands, which they consider a sacred gift from God and their ancestors, as well as the policies of forced assimilation, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, intended to eliminate their indigenous cultures. As Pope Francis has emphasized, their sufferings constitute a powerful summons to abandon the colonizing mentality and to walk with them side by side, in mutual respect and dialogue, recognizing the rights and cultural values of all individuals and peoples. In this regard, the Church is committed to accompany indigenous peoples and to foster efforts aimed at promoting reconciliation and healing.
  • 6. The “doctrine of discovery” is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith. At the same time, the Church acknowledges that these papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples. The Church is also aware that the contents of these documents were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities. It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon. Furthermore, Pope Francis has urged: “Never again can the Christian community allow itself to be infected by the idea that one culture is superior to others, or that it is legitimate to employ ways of coercing others.”
  • The term “indigenous peoples” refers to the first humans who established a permanent life in a particular region or area of the world. Indigenous peoples may also be referred to as aboriginal peoples, first peoples, or native peoples. Every inhabitable area in the world has a specific group of indigenous peoples. These individuals may live in permanent settlements or prefer a nomadic lifestyle, in which they move from place to place within a particular territory.
    The vast majority of indigenous peoples and their lands have been colonized throughout history, primarily by European nations. Today, in the post-colonial era, these regions have become independent countries, and the governments of these countries typically decide which indigenous groups to recognize and define which individuals may consider themselves indigenous. This practice has resulted in the marginalization of many indigenous peoples, losing their identities, traditions, and autonomy. Indigenous groups that are recognized by ruling governments are generally not proportionally represented within the government. Some indigenous peoples around the world, however, have remained free of colonization. Most of these groups are considered uncontacted due to their isolated locations.
  • Indigenous Peoples are culturally distinct societies and communities. The land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being.
    There are approximately 370 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, in over 90 countries. Although they make up 5 percent of the global population, they account for about 15 percent of the extreme poor. Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is up to 20 years lower than the life expectancy of non-indigenous people worldwide.
    While Indigenous Peoples own, occupy, or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce climate and disaster risks.

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