The term ‘indigenous’ refers to peoples whose cultures and association with the land pre-date those of currently dominant (often settler-colonial) societies. While there is no single definition of the term, it is widely accepted that individuals are indigenous if they self-identify as such and are accepted as such by their communities.
Historically, most Indigenous peoples have become ethnic minorities as a result of an invasion by a stronger group or power. As a result, they have often been dispossessed of most of their land, food sources and means of livelihood. Indeed many Indigenous peoples have been exterminated, forcefully assimilated or marginalised on resource-poor reservations. Those who survive have struggled to maintain their cultural identity while seeking to achieve an equal status with those who have usurped their land and inheritance.
This movement towards self-determination by Indigenous peoples is a struggle not only between socio-political groups but between different world views. Modern states tend to regard the natural world as a resource to be exploited, whereas many Indigenous communities retain a strong spiritual connection with the land: understanding this connection may be essential not only for the wellbeing of Indigenous people, but to ensure a sustainable future for all humanity.
The dispossession of Indigenous peoples and the removal of their control over land, livelihood and social mores creates a spiritual and physical dislocation and destruction. Experience has shown that remedy is very difficult through governmental, economic or social policies.
Reconciliation (some prefer the term ‘recognition’) between those parties who have been estranged and rendered unequal is vital to the wellbeing of society as a whole. Mutual respect and shared responsibility are essential to the process of peaceful and productive reconciliation. Individuals, communities, and nations need to be actively engaged in this process.