Indigenous Nations

What is an Indigenous Nation?

Indigenous Peoples are distinct groups that have a strong link to the land they inhabit, manage and occupy. They have maintained cultures, traditions and ways of life that are distinct from the dominant societies around them.

Although a few have been completely eradicated, many continue to struggle against oppressive colonizing forces. They face a variety of challenges including loss of lands and languages, discriminatory political and legal policies and physical attacks.

What is an indigenous nation?

The term indigenous is used to refer to a group of peoples who inhabit a country or geographical area prior to colonization and have retained distinct cultural characteristics, including autonomous political and legal systems. They also share a common experience of domination and colonization by other groups and often find their land rights and traditional practices challenged by the objectives and policies of dominant societies.

In Canada, the Indigenous peoples include Indians (more commonly referred to as First Nations), Inuit and Metis. They are distinct groups with a rich and varied history, cultures and spiritual beliefs. The Canadian Constitution recognizes them as a distinct nation with plenary authority over their traditional lands.

There is no one authoritative definition of indigenous peoples and the Indigenous Declaration does not set out a specific definition. However, the term indigenous usually reflects the fact that these groups identify themselves as such, particularly when referring to themselves in their own languages.

What are the characteristics of an indigenous nation?

Indigenous peoples have rich spiritual and cultural traditions that provide meaning in their lives, connect them to past, present and future generations, and help them understand their place in the natural world. These traditions are passed on from generation to generation through storytellers, traditional healers, group leaders and elders. They are also preserved in oral traditions and may be conveyed through music, dance and elaborate ceremonies.

They have a strong connection to the land and have extensive knowledge of how to manage the world’s natural resources sustainably. As a result, they are guardians and custodians of the earth, ensuring that its biodiversity is protected for future generations.

Many Indigenous peoples experience discrimination, which can lead to violence and poor health outcomes. They often have lower life expectancies and face higher rates of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and unemployment. They face discrimination even in their own countries and territories, which can make it difficult to maintain their culture and way of life.

What are the goals of an indigenous nation?

Indigenous Peoples have a close relationship with the land they inhabit, sometimes for tens of thousands of years. They know how to manage natural resources sustainably, and act as guardians or custodians of the land for future generations. When they are cut off from their traditional lands, however, they can face marginalization, poverty and a lack of cultural identity.

They also tend to experience higher levels of violence, displacement and poverty than other groups globally, and their life expectancy is often up to 20 years lower. The lack of recognition and protection of their identities can lead to discrimination in the areas of education, employment and housing.

In spite of these challenges, Indigenous Peoples have demonstrated their strength and resilience. They will continue to advocate for UNDRIP, and to work for the Sustainable Development Goals to be inclusive of their rights and needs. This includes participation in the implementation, monitoring and review of the SDGs, including through the voluntary national reviews (VNRs) to be undertaken by countries.

What are the characteristics of an indigenous nation that is achieving its goals?

While there is a global movement to recognize Indigenous Peoples, they still face discrimination and pressure to assimilate into surrounding or colonizing societies. In addition, they often lack formal recognition of their lands and territories, and have poor access to education, employment and justice. They are disproportionately impacted by climate change and natural disasters, and are less likely to receive vaccinations against diseases such as COVID-19.

Despite this, they preserve 80% of the world’s biodiversity. They also safeguard the planet’s cultural and spiritual traditions. Their communities are highly interconnected, and they have developed a rich understanding of their surrounding environment, which is sometimes called Indigenous Knowledge. They communicate this knowledge through stories, music and ceremonies. Many Indigenous Peoples did not develop a written language, but instead passed their wisdom from generation to generation orally. Indigenous Peoples may refer to themselves as American Indian, Native, or, in the case of Canada, First Nations, Aboriginal, or a mix of these terms.

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