Who are the Indigenous peoples?

Indigenous peoples around the globe

  • There are between 370 and 500 million Indigenous peoples in the world (5-6% of total population)


  • Indigenous populations are spread across 90 countries


  • They represent more than 4000 languages, on a worldwide total of around 7000


  • 80% of our planet biodiversity is found on indigenous lands


  • Indigenous populations form 5,000 different cultures


  • 70% of the total indigenous population lives in Asia


  • The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was proclaimed in 2007


A large cultural diversity

4000 languages.

Through language, Indigenous peoples pass on their cultures, worldviews and visions. In cultures that are mostly oral, language is central to their identity. Over the 7000 human languages, 4000 are indigenous language. They are critical markers of cultural health.
But this diversity is fragile, it is estimated that one indigenous language dies every two weeks. And when indigenous languages are under threat, so too are the people who speak them.

Group photo of representatives of the World's Indigenous Peoples for the UN in 1993
A group of indigenous men dressed in traditional costumes in Indonesia

5000 distinct cultures.

Indigenous peoples form more than 5000 distinct cultures, spread on all continents, over 90 countries. Indigenous groups can go from just a handful of people to several million.

Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. Indigenous peoples hold their own diverse concepts of development, based on their traditional values, visions, needs and priorities.

Traditional knowledge.

Indigenous peoples are the keepers of unique knowledge, learnt and passed on over centuries. From savvy cohabitation with their environment to efficient social organizations adapted to their unique way of life and needs, there is a lot to learn from Indigenous peoples over the globe.

Today, we finally start to realize the importance of such knowledge. They start to be used to tackle modern issues. For example, to fight and prevent large fires, firemen use Aboriginal fire management techniques developed thousands of years ago in Australia.

This unique and valuable knowledge lives in indigenous cultures and needs to be passed on between generation to survive. Today, with many indigenous groups facing complex situation, their traditional knowledge is in danger.

Kazakh eagle hunters on horses in Mongolian steps

A unique Indigenous environmental wisdom

80% of world’s biodiversity.

Indigenous peoples have a special relation to and use of their traditional land. Although they own, occupy, or use only a quarter of the world’s surface area, they are the guardian of 80% of world’s biodiversity. This substantial figure is due to different factors, among which, the Indigenous peoples’ attitude toward their environment and their knowledge of it plays a big part.

Indigenous peoples’ way of life maintains ecological integrity, biodiversity, and environmental health.

Ashaninka children watching the Ene River in Peru
Kayapo man during kari ceremony, holding a bowl containing fire

Values & worldviews.

Indigenous cultures differ in the way they live, organize, see themselves or the world. Most groups do not place themselves as dominant beings. They share values of coexistence with their environment. In such conceptions, respect as for elders’ experience is key.

Each indigenous culture has developed its own worldviews, beliefs, and myths to explain and teach the world they live in. These ideas are shared, honored, and passed on among members.

Environmental knowledge & resource efficiency.

Indigenous possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They maintain a close connection with nature and their traditional lands on which their livelihoods and cultural identity depend.

Different studies show that where Indigenous peoples have control of the land, forests and biodiversity flourish or at least, decline less rapidly. Indigenous peoples’ sustainable land use, community-based education and social organization help fight climate change and builds resilience to natural disasters.

Black Hmong people from Vietnam are planting rice in a traditional rice paddy

Indigenous aesthetic vision

Enlarged canons of beauty.

Indigenous cultures positively challenge our conception of beauty and our creativity. Where western cultures have largely adopted a conceptual view, where the meaning of things is linked to its definition; Indigenous peoples consider thing in a more holistic way, where elements are perceived as linked and inseparable. Often, in indigenous conceptions, beauty is related to nature, to the spiritual world or to the community.

Various practices are used for the sake of beauty. Among which, body painting, tainting, piercings, teeth chiseling, lip or earlobe dilation, scarification, tattoos, henna, or the use of neck extenders.

A kikuyu woman face in celebration costume covered with red and white paint
Australian aboriginal hand painting on rock Redcliffe

Symbolic, ritual and sacred.

Indigenous graphic expressions not only express the creativity and skills. They often convey much more. In oral cultures, graphic expressions serve as physical language. They are used to tell story, to represent ideas, to express feeling or to pay tributes to the spiritual world. Whether it is painting, sculpting, beading, weaving or the making of ornaments, visual expressions are used to communicate. They’re an important mean to transmit their culture and stories.
Graphic expressions are still of high value today for indigenous cultures. They’re the visual and physical essence of their culture and carry the story of their people.

Unique know-how.

Heirs of millennial interactions, Indigenous peoples carry unique know-hows. They developed specific making and crafting skills, learned to coexist with their environment and to build strong cultural resilience. Such knowledge is passed on over time from the elders to the younger generations. Today, many masters ancestral skills despite the complexity and the time-consuming processes. They know how to build, to feed and to produce from the available local resources but they also master the finest weaving techniques. These levels of expertise are precious skills now rare in western societies.

A Quechua woman spinning wool in traditional costume near alpacas

Further explore the indigenous world

Indigenous world

Discover the different indigenous cultures. How they live today and what makes them unique

Kayapo group hunting in the forest wearing traditional feather headsets

Find out about indigenous cultures. How they live today and what makes them unique

Woman from Ndebele tribe in South Africa posing in front of a traditional painted wall

Get inspired by the stunning aesthetic of Indigenous peoples

Indigenous lives are endangered

Political threats


They are significant gaps between the formal recognition of indigenous rights and the reality. Indigenous communities are often denied the opportunity to express their culture, they face physical attacks and are treated as second-class citizens. They are often last to receive public investments in basic services and infrastructure and face multiple barriers to participate fully in the formal economy, enjoy access to justice, and participate in political processes and decision making.


Land appropriation

Much of the ancestral lands occupied by Indigenous peoples are under customary ownership. But these lands are routinely appropriated, sold, leased, or simply plundered and polluted by governments and private companies for profit or to expel indigenous populations. Such actions are destructive for indigenous cultures, considering their deep relations with their environment.


Women and children difficulties

Indigenous children lack access to decent education or employment. Indigenous women have higher rates of maternal mortality, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Indigenous women and girls are also more likely to suffer violence, human traffic, and rape than other populations.

Environmental threats

Global warming and pollution

Climate change, deforestation, pollution, and loss of diversity are serious threats to Indigenous peoples due to their dependence on the environment and the resources of the lands and territories. Inequality and exclusion have made indigenous communities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural hazards. Indigenous mobilized to protect their land but their impact is limited.


Impact of the COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely hit indigenous communities in certain area, especially in South America. Their vulnerabilities to the pandemic are exacerbated with the lack of access to national health, water and sanitation systems, the shutting down of markets, and mobility restrictions that have greatly impacted their livelihoods, food insecurity, and well-being. The pandemic has made the situation more fragile for various indigenous populations, and its full impact is not measured yet.


Lack of protection and dialogue

Despite international recognition of indigenous rights, the local situation is often different for indigenous populations. Their territories are coveted lands, rich of natural resources. Many states and big companies care little of indigenous population objections to their destructive actions on the environment and on the local populations. Helped by NGOs and few politicians, indigenous populations fight to preserve their land. But a more comprehensive dialogue is needed.

Cultural threats

Economic difficulties

Various indigenous communities face difficult economic situation. Whether from the appropriation, destruction, or pollution of their ancestral lands, or, from a difficult access to education and employment. The lack of resources or infrastructures to perpetuate their way of life endanger their culture.


Gap with younger generations

There is a widening gap between younger generations and the elder ones that challenge the continuity of indigenous cultures. In a difficult economic and political situation, young Indigenous peoples often leave their ancestral lands to access education and employment. Doing so, disconnects them from their elders, heart of the cultural transmission. Away from their home, and driven into the main culture, younger generation are pulled between two worlds. They have less opportunity, time, or interest in learning the time consuming and engaging traditional way of life.


Loss of cultures and languages

The external conditions and the contact with a dominant culture makes the cultural survival of indigenous cultures more complex. During the 19th and 20th centuries, especially through colonization, many cultures were destroyed or absorbed. Today, many indigenous cultures and languages are still under threat. It is estimated that one language dies every two weeks one language dies every two weeks.

Our 6% INDIGENOUS program

When you buy a model, 6% of the price directly support an NGO involved locally with the indigenous population your model is inspired from.

Go further

NGOs and active stakeholders

Cultural survival

Indigenous peoples rights | Media

Amnesty International

Human rights | Exposure


Indigenous peoples rights | Media


Development projects

Minority rights group

Minority rights

Amazon watch

Environment | Rainforest protection

Land rights now

Indigenous peoples land rights


Environement | Sustainability

Media and research groups

UNESCO portal

Culture | Agenda | Resources

UN portal

Agenda | News | Resources

IWGIA – News

News | Interviews | Resources

Indigenous peoples Movement

Instagram | Awareness


Alexander Khimushin

Jimmy Nelson

UN photo gallery




As often, Wikipedia is a great source of information. Information to verify however.

Povos Indígenas no Brasil

A Brazilian website/database providing information on Brazilian indigenous populations.

Etnias del mundo

A great website regrouping information about a wide diversity of Indigenous peoples (in Spanish).


Another great website regrouping information about a wide diversity of indigenous populations (in french).

Other resources

  • Defining indigenous identity
  • Indigenous peoples and the UN
  • Worldbank projects
  • UN short report on the current situation
  • Canadian program to renew relationship with Indigenous peoples
  • Online learning and research center
  • Indigenous world 2021 report by IWGIA
  • The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • OECD report on in indigenous communties policy
  • About the creation of the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous People
  • 10 facts about Indigenous peoples
  • Intellectual property and indigenous knowledge