In order to define a term, such as “indigenous peoples”, one must examine the words that make up the phrase. “Peoples” are collections of societies, and “indigenous” implies nativity or autochthony. I have always considered “indigenous peoples” to be those societies that have an intrinsic relationship to the land inhabited. Ergo, when a society is provided for by the land, the act of habitation changes the land, and that land changes the society in a fundamental way. Whenever this is true and can be applied to a society, then it is a society of indigenous people.
The largest difficulty in defining or categorizing human beings is the resultant scale upon which they are measured as a group. I do not hold such inclinations as to group and sort people based on ethnicity, societal values, economics, or any other humanly devised subjective measures. The United Nations (2008) requires a society to be impoverished or suffer some other gross inequality in order to claim indigeny. I feel that this approach only serves to feed ideologic notions by marginalization and deprives the society from a rightful claim. By attempting to create a system to help indigenous peoples from inequality, the United Nations has sought to identify these peoples and have instead cast a definition upon them. Certainly, this is a problem.
Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2008). Resource kit on indigenous peoples’ issues. New York, NY: United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/resource_kit_indigenous_2008.pdf