The United Nations often uses a definition from the Martínez-Cobo report for the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination of Minorities (1986):

Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.

World population 6,301,463,000 *
Indigenous peoples in the world 300,000,000 **
Tribal peoples in the world 150,000,000 ***
Distinct indigenous groups 5,000 **
Estimated number of tribal groups
who have no contact with the wider world
70 ***

* UN figure for 2003.
** International Fund for Agricultural Development.
*** Survival International


Number of languages spoken in the world 6,000-8,000

% of total world languages spoken in:

% of languages it is estimated will die out
over the next century 90%

% of languages thought
to be indigenous 85%



Many Indigenous peoples are struggling to retain some control over the ways their homes and lives are changing.

Charter of the United Nations and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Common Article 1, paragraph 1.

  'All peoples have the right
of self-determination. By virtue
of that right they freely determine
their political status and freely
pursue their economic, social
and cultural development.'
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  Related Links:
UNESCO International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights PDF Version

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