Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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Official Definitions of Indigeneity



The original definition was accepted in 1972 by the UN Working Group for Indigenous Peoples, but was considered too restrictive and was later amended to what follows in 1983.

Indigenous populations are composed of the existing descendants of the peoples who inhabited the present territory of a country wholly or partially at the time when persons of a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world, overcame them, by conquest, settlement or other means, reduced them to a non-dominant or colonial condition; who today live more in conformity with their particular social, economic and cultural customs and traditions than with the institutions of the country of which they now form part, under a state structure which incorporates mainly national, social and cultural characteristics of other segments of the population which are predominant.

  • (a) they are the descendants of groups, which were in the territory at the time when other groups of different cultures or ethnic origin arrived there;
  • (b) precisely because of their isolation from other segments of the country’s population they have almost preserved intact the customs and traditions of their ancestors which are similar to those characterised as indigenous;
  • (c) they are, even if only formally, placed under a state structure which incorporates national, social and cultural characteristics alien to their own.

In 1986, the following rather important line was added;

any individual who identified himself or herself as indigenous and was accepted by the group or the community as one of its members was to be regarded as an indigenous person (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1986/7/Add.4.para.381).

ILO 169

The ILO 169 Convention applies to the following peoples;

both tribal peoples whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations, and to peoples who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabit the country at the time of conquest or colonisation.


In 1991, the World Bank adopted the following definition of indigeneity.

Indigenous Peoples can be identified in particular geographical areas by the presence in varying degrees of the following characteristics:

a) close attachment to ancestral territories and to the natural resources in these areas;

b) self-identification and identification by others as members of a distinct cultural group;

c) an indigenous language, often different from the national language;

d) presence of customary social and political institutions; and

e) primarily subsistence-oriented production.



  1. […] of Asian Americans and Indigenous peoples in America was an erasure of the distinct nature of indigeneity and anti-colonial struggles. Unfortunately, the #CancelColbert campaign continued the erasure, as […]

  2. […] global nightclub culture, I wonder if there is a link that could be drawn between definitions of indigeneity and placemaking. I came across this article and appreciate how it shows the ways queer people of […]

  3. […] As a bonus, for more history on what the U.N. defines as “indigeneity” check out this link. […]

  4. amorinoblog says:

    Thank you!! I needed this for a paper

  5. […] Definition of Indigenous from the UN Working Group for Indigenous Peoples in 1972 as presented by McGuinne in Official Definitions of Indigeneity: […]

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