Indigenous People Definition

Having dealt with the distinct existence of Zomi as a nation, special status given to them, and their fragmented land, it will be necessary to look at the definition of ‘Indigenous Peoples’ as per UN Convention, and the Rights of the Zomi as an Indigenous People-

The Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission, Jose Martinez Cobo, formulated a “working definition” in his Study of the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations, which states that:

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, considered 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 the 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 pattern, social institutions and legal systems”.

ILO Convention No. 169 Article 1.1 (b) describes indigenous peoples as follows:

“peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.”

Prof. B. K. Roy Burman (1995:9-15) an internationally renowned Anthropologist and Social Scientist frankly analyses the global issue on the definition of indigenous and tribal peoples. He pointed out that ILO convention 169 uniformly described the tribes as people and indigenous were just population before colonization or conquest or invasion and they became people only after the conquest and colonization. Under this circumstance the population can only negotiate their needed rights but not power rights with their respective governments as people. The ILO Convention 187 did not include establishments of present boundaries as a contingent fact for locating the indigenous people. The state boundary is an important criterion determining the people residing within the boundary as indigenous people. A working definition of indigenous developed earlier in 1972 by a special reporter, Martinez Cob appointed by the Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities was being used by the Sub Commission on Human Rights when Working Group on indigenous population was set up in 1982. According to this definition,

‘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 different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world, overcame them to a non-dominant or colonial situation, who today live more in conformity with their particular social, economic and cultural customs and traditions than with the institutions of a country of which they form a party under the state structure which incorporates mainly the national, social and cultural characteristics of their segments of the population which is predominant (UN 1973).

This definition was made in the context of International Publicity about the threats to isolated tribes. It was only applicable to the indigenous populations or peoples of America, Australia, and New Zealand. But there are some population which did not suffer the actions of conquest and colonization by sovereign peoples from other parts of the world. For such population this definition of indigenous was applicable. An additional clause was added to the working definition the next year as follows: ‘Although they have not suffered conquest or colonization, isolated or marginal groups existing in the country should also be regarded as covered by the notion of indigenous population for the reasons:

(A) They are the descendants of groups which were in the territory of the country at the times when other groups of different cultures or ethnic origin arrived there,

(B) Precisely because of their isolation from other segments of the country’s populations they have almost preserved intact the customs and traditions of their ancestors which are similar to those characterized as indigenous.

(C) They are even, if only formally, placed under a state structure.'



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