Indigenous means “born in a country.” The term expresses the special relationship of all indigenous peoples to their natural environment. To this day, they preserve their culture and language, religion and social structures. In distinguishing themselves from the majority population, they also refer to themselves as indigenous.
Indigenous organisations fought long and hard to establish the term “indigenous peoples” in place of discriminating terms like “primitive peoples” or “Indios” and hence to emphasise their claim to the recognition as “peoples” with their own territory, history, culture, the right to self-determination and self-definition. There is no official or universal definition of the term “indigenous peoples.” Their common cause is the preservation of their cultural, linguistic and social traditions that differ from the majority population in their respective countries.
Indigenous rainforest stewards
Indigenous peoples in all parts of the world belong to communities most affected by climate change. Ironically it is these communities that have contributed least to its progression. In international climate negotiations, indigenous peoples are credited with a special role as the stewards of the “valuable” forests that act as carbon sinks. Their existence directly depends on a healthy environment. Equipped with traditional knowledge, they have thus managed to preserve and cultivate these fragile ecosystems.
People in other parts of the world also benefit from their stewardship of the rainforest. The legal recognition of indigenous territories, on the one hand representing their livelihoods, is also the most effective way to preserve complex forest ecosystems that are crucial for the weather regulation and the soil, water and nutrient cycles. In this way indigenous peoples make a large contribution to preserving the global climate.
Uncontacted peoples and indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation
Today there are more than 60 different peoples still living mostly in isolation throughout the Amazon region. These groups, which often only consist of some 100 individuals, reject contact with the society that surrounds them – often due to bad experience like acts of violence, murders or fatal diseases. An estimated 50 to 70 percent do not survive the contact which can lead to the extinction of an entire people.
Isolated peoples are extremely vulnerable in many different ways – not only to “Western diseases” like measles, chickenpox or influenza but also due to the raising pressure on the Amazon region. The geographic and economic integration of the rainforests is constantly increasing. Even the designation of protected areas and reservations cannot guarantee the protection of these peoples anymore.
Any way to reduce the pressure on the Amazon region helps guarantee the indigenous peoples’ continued existence.