Indigenous peoples: development with cultural identity

19 Apr 2010

19 April – Over 2,000 indigenous peoples from around the world are meeting for the next two weeks at the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss how they can “freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”, as described by the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Children from the indigenous community of the Rikbaktsa, Brazil, show the Brazil nuts produced by their parents.

Participants gathered at the UN’s Ninth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will discuss with government officials, indigenous representatives and several UN agencies – including UNDP – how to partner in a special type of development: one that promotes their communities’ cultural, social, ecological and economic integrity. Following the two-week meeting, the Permanent Forum will provide recommendations on specific actions on indigenous issues to the UN’s Economic and Social Council and to UN agencies, funds and programmes.

“Cultural exclusion goes beyond poverty or lack of opportunities; it also makes invisible the contributions of the excluded groups to society at large – preventing the transference of ideas, knowledge and values,” said UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan at the Forum’s session on Development with Culture and Identity. “States need to recognize cultural differences in their laws and institutions as well as formulating policies to ensure that the interests of particular groups are not ignored or overridden. And they need to do so in ways that do not contradict other goals and strategies of human development, such as human rights, building a capable state, and ensuring equal opportunities to all citizens.”

There are more than 370 million indigenous peoples in some 90 countries – in all regions of the world. They comprise nearly six percent of the world’s population, but make up 15 percent of the world’s poor and one third of the 900 million extremely poor living in rural areas. They tend to experience disproportionally high rates of poverty, low education levels, health problems, crime and human rights abuses. In addition, because they rely heavily on natural resources for their subsistence, they are also among the first to feel the impacts of climate change, even though their lifestyles are practically carbon neutral.

Inclusive policies - In Asia and the Pacific, through the Regional Initiative on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Development, UNDP is promoting cooperation between indigenous peoples’ organizations and several governments in the region. The partnership is enhancing the government’s capacity to implement inclusive policies – through participatory processes, integrating indigenous peoples’ rights into national programmes and strategies.

Indigenous income - In Brazil, in partnership with the government, a UNDP project financed by the Global Environment Facility is helping indigenous peoples in the Amazon region improve their incomes without leaving their villages to work in neighbouring farms. By providing training and specialized skills in harvesting and selling Brazil nuts – a well-known cash crop to these communities – the project has enabled groups such as the Rikbaksta and the Zoros to improve the quality of their Brazil nuts to better meet the consumers’ needs. As a result, indigenous peoples have increased their production – and their incomes – in an eco-friendly practice that also respects their cultures and traditions.

Women's empowerment - UNDP is also training indigenous women in decision-making to address their daily power relations – in their personal lives and in their communities. For example, UNDP in Bangladesh leads a project to promote development and confidence-building in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The project helped to set up 450 women’s groups, empowering and allowing them to develop their own community-based income generation projects, setting up a network of women leaders.

Political participation - Indigenous peoples still lack representation in parliaments around the world. To better map the problem and to address this challenge, UNDP and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) have launched a joint project to understand the factors that enable the effective representation of minorities and indigenous peoples in their national parliaments.

Other resources:
Schedule and UNDP side events - UN Forum on Indigenous Issues
UNDP and Indigenous People

Publications on Indigenous Issues

Fast Facts:
UNDP and Indigenous People