Center for World Indigenous Studies
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How many Indigenous People?

Published: May 24, 2015, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

(Map developed by Decolonial Atlas: Indigenous Peoples as a percentage of the total population by state

Since the year 2000 the number 370 million has been bandied about as the United Nations estimate of the total number of indigenous peoples around the world and this number is grossly incorrect. This is a number established by states to “define” Fourth World peoples according to state standards and not by Fourth World standards. Despite the often repeated assertion that Fourth World nations–indigenous peoples–must not be defined by the United Nations nor by the various states, the definition game has indeed been played and many Fourth World nations are accepting the definitions as gospel.

The Center for World Indigenous Studies Fourth World Atlas Project in 2002 set about estimating the number of nations and aggregate indigenous peoples’ population and we came to a 1.3 billion figure with a little more than 6000 nations. We did not decided to assess the number of nations and total number of individuals as defined or recognized by each state.  We decided to look at many other sources (on the ground observations by social scientists), self-reported numbers and identities by Fourth World nations, and historical records. We looked at every continent and generally ignored state boundaries since many of those boundaries were artificially superimposed over Fourth World territories just in the last 150 years.

(Map adapted from Decolonial Atlas map [above] by CWIS based on Fourth World Atlas Project estimates of indigenous peoples locations–1.3 billion people. 2002)

When the African continent and Indonesia, Russia, Europe and East Asia are filled in the total estimate population grows enormously accounting for Fourth World territories vastly more significant than proportions of state population would suggest.

States will seek to minimize the total Fourth World population within their boundaries and limit that population to those peoples “recognized by the state.” That convenient approach allows the United States to say there are 1.3 million American Indians in about 560 tribal communities or units whereas there are perhaps as many as 5 million American Indians. India does the same thing by setting out a list of “scheduled tribals,” and Brazil does this, South Africa does it too. Russia now claims there are no indigenous peoples inside its claimed territory–they are all officially “Russians now.”  It is no wonder that the political significance of the Fourth World nations is minimized by the United Nations.

Minimizing the population also minimizes the lands and resources that are legitimately the lands and resources of Fourth World nations. If the state is allowed to define indigenous peoples despite the affirmed principle that indigenous peoples define themselves, then the states stand to gain land, resources and other wealth by simply not “recognizing” indigenous peoples. The United Nations is a state organization and so it stands to reason that the UN will seek to minimize the number of FW nations–the number of Indigenous people.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.

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