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  • 1 : one born or reared in a particular place
  • 2 a : an original or indigenous inhabitant
b : something indigenous to a particular locality
  • 3 : a local resident; especially : a person who has always lived in a place as distinguished from a visitor or a temporary resident


Indigenous peoples are any ethnic group who inhabit a geographic region with which they have the earliest known historical connection. Other related terms for indigenous peoples include aborigines, aboriginal people, native people, first people, and autochthonous. "Indigenous peoples" may often be used in preference to these or other terms as a neutral replacement, where such terms may have taken on negative or pejorative connotations by their prior association and use. It is the preferred term in use by the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations.

The adjective indigenous has the common meaning of "from" or "of the original origin". Therefore, in a purely adjectival sense any given people, ethnic group or community may be described as being indigenous in reference to some particular region or location.

Key to a contemporary understanding of "indigenousness" is the political role an ethnic group plays, for all other criteria usually taken to denote indigenous groups (territory, race, history, subsistence lifestyle, etc.) can, to a greater or lesser extent, also be applied to majority cultures. Therefore, the distinction applied to indigenous ethnic groups can be formulated as "a politically underprivileged group, who share a similar ethnic identity different to the nation in power, and who have been an ethnic entity in the locality before the present ruling nation took over power". However, the specific term indigenous peoples has a more restrictive interpretation when it used in the more formalized, legalistic, and academic sense, associated with the collective rights of human populations. In these contexts, the term is used to denote particular peoples and groups around the world who, as well as being native to or associated with some given territory, meet certain other criteria (such as having reached a social and technological plateau thousands of years ago).


Drawing on these, a contemporary working definition of "indigenous people" for certain purposes has criteria which would seek to include cultural groups (and their continuity or association with a given region, or parts of a region, and who formerly or currently inhabit the region) either:

  • before its subsequent colonization or annexation; or
  • alongside other cultural groups during the formation of a nation-state; or
  • independently or largely isolated from the influence of the claimed governance by a nation-state,

and who furthermore:

  • have maintained at least in part their distinct linguistic, cultural and social/organizational characteristics, and in doing so remain differentiated in some degree from the surrounding populations and dominant culture of the nation-state.

To the above, a criterion is usually added to also include:

  • peoples who are self-identified as indigenous, and/or those recognized as such by other groups.

Note that even if all the above criteria are fulfilled, some people may either not consider themselves as indigenous or may not be considered as indigenous by governments, organizations or scholars. The discourse of indigenous / non-indigenous may also be viewed within the context of Postcolonialism and the evolution of post-colonial societies. European ethnic groups such as the Greenlandic Norse, the Basque, the Serbs of Kosovo or the Maronite Christians in the Lebanon or the Jewish presence in Israel would all meet the criteria of indigenous people; but post-colonial discourse is predicated on European / technological advanced societies being the coloniser.

See also