August 9 is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This day recognizes indigenous populations as some of the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
Although there is no official definition for indigenous peoples, they can include native peoples, ethnic tribes, and clans. They tend to have a marked culture, language, and way of life that sets them apart.
Where do indigenous people live?
The UN estimates that there are are 370 million indigenous people worldwide, living across 90 countries.
In the United States, the Native American population comprises close to 2 percent of the national headcount. But in many countries where FH works, the presence of multiple ethnic groups is a much bigger percentage. In fact, the countries with the largest percentage of indigenous populations include:
- Bolivia: 62 percent of Bolivia’s population belong to 36 recognized ethnic groups, including the Aymara and Quechua
- Peru: About 46 percent of Peru’s total population is indigenous, made up mostly by the Quechua and Aymara people
- Ethiopia: Over 80 different ethnic groups exist in Ethiopia, such as the Oromo, Amhara, and Tigray
- Guatemala: 24 different ethnic groups comprise 40 percent of the population, including the Mayan tribes K’iche, Kaqchikel, and Mam
- Indonesia: The Javanese make up approximately 40 percent of Indonesia’s population, as one of 300 groups in the country
What rights do indigenous people have?
Although they make up roughly 4.5 percent of the global population, indigenous people account for approximately 10 percent of the poor, according to the World Bank. For centuries, they have “sought recognition of their identities, a way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources,” according to the UN. Most recently, the UN adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007. Today, it is the most comprehensive document arguing for their specific human rights standards and freedoms.
On paper, this is an important framework for recognizing this group’s unique disadvantages. Even in the 21st century, clashes between neighboring rival tribes cause violence and political instability. In countries like Ethiopia, 80 different ethnic groups are represented. That means 80 different languages. As a result of this context with disparate cultures, a simple lack of communication can lead to serious rifts. While this Tower of Babel reality carries a beautiful diversity of languages, it also presents a significant barrier to intercultural dialogue. In fact, knowledge of these cultures’ 7000 unique languages is decreasing at an alarming rate. As a result, the UN has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, as a vessel to promote peacebuilding, education, and sustainable development.
Women belonging to Guatemala’s Ixil indigenous community identify themselves by wearing long, dark red skirts.
How does Food for the Hungry help?
Reconciling relationships is at the heart of the Gospel, and that includes between different ethnic groups. Through your support, here are just three countries where FH is working to help indigenous groups:
- Guatemala: FH has been training church leaders to help reconcile racial prejudices between various ethnic groups in Guatemala, where groups make up over 40 percent of the population. In addition, FH is active in indigenous communities such as the Ixil. Ixil women in savings groups are receiving training on conflict management and problem-solving.
- Kenya: In the Marsabit County of Kenya, FH is working with USAID partners to improve safe access to clean water for over 5,000 people, where there used to be heightened ethnic violence fighting over water rights. In addition, FH hosts conflict resolution forums with community leaders to avoid future clashes between clans and ethnic groups.
- Uganda: In Northern Uganda, where over 1 million South Sudanese refugees have crossed the border escaping violence and persecution, FH is forming mixed farming groups of both refugees and host community members to avoid ethnic clashes and promote unity.
Today, let’s celebrate the diversity of indigenous peoples around the world, support indigenous artisans through platforms like Global Good Partners, and continue to go the great lengths to fighting poverty in their hard contexts.