Two-thirds of the approximate 370 million self-identified Indigenous Peoples live in Asia. They provide enormous cultural and linguistic diversity in the region and have a strong cultural attachment to and dependence on the land, forests and sea, as well as the natural resources therein. Their unique collective historical connections and ownership of their territories have been continuously developed and maintained through complex and diverse customary land and resource use management systems. These lands, territories and resources are repositories of tangible and intangible wealth that are often expropriated and exploited in the name of national development.

Within the Asian region, the distribution and diversity of indigenous peoples varies by country, as does the terminology used to identify them and legal recognition accorded to them. These indigenous groups include:

  • Chakma, Marma, Tripura and other indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) collectively known as Jumma, and Santal, and Mandi, of Bangladesh, commonly referred to as Adivasi and officially referred to as tribes (upajati), minor races (khudro jatishaotta), ethnic sects and communities (nrigoshthi o shomprodai);
  • Broa, Bunong, Chhong, Jarai, Kachak, Kavet of Cambodia, officially referred to as ethnic minority groups, indigenous minority peoples and Khmer-Loeu (hill tribes);
  • Gond, Oraon, Khond, Bhil, Mina, Onge, Jarawa, Nagas of India, officially referred to as Scheduled Tribes or Adivasi (original inhabitants);
  • Masyarakat adat communities, including groups such as the Dayak Benuaq, the Orang Tengger and the Orang Badui of Indonesia, a subset of whom are officially referred to as komunitas adat terpencil;
  • Ainu of Japan, officially referred to as Indigenous Peoples, and the Ryukyuans or Okinawans, who have sought similar recognition as Indigenous Peoples;
  • The majority of the Mon-Khmer, Sino-Tibetan and Hmong-Mien grouping in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, officially referred to as ethnic minorities and non- ethnic Lao;
  • Orang Asli (original peoples) of peninsular Malaysia, the Bukitans, Bisayahs, Dusuns, Sea Dayaks, Land Dayaks groups of Sarawak, and the natives of Sabah, officially referred to as aborigines and natives;
  • Shan, Kayin (Karen), Rakhine, Kayah (Karenni), Chin, Kachin and Mon of Myanmar, commonly known as ethnic nationalities and officially referred to as national races;
  • Magar, Tharu, Tamang, Newar, Rai, Gurung and Limbu of Nepal, commonly known as Adivasi Janajati and officially referred to as indigenous nationalities;
  • Aeta, Ati, Ibaloi, Kankanaey, Mangyan, Subanen of the Philippines, officially referred to as Indigenous Peoples and indigenous cultural communities;
  • Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Mien of Thailand, commonly known as ethnic minorities and officially referred to as “chao khao” or “hill tribes”, and the nomadic sea gypsies or “Chao Lay”; and
  • Tay, Thai, Hmong, Muong and Khmer of Viet Nam, officially referred to as ethnic minorities (dan toc thieu so, dan toc it nguoi).

While almost all countries in Asia voted for the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 19, 2007, most do not recognize indigenous peoples as distinct peoples with inherent collective rights. Legal measures, policies and programs to achieve social justice, non-discrimination and promotion of sustainable development for indigenous peoples – in line with the States’ international human rights obligations – are mainly non-existent. The denial of modern states of pre-nation autonomous societies of indigenous peoples – with their own territories and self-governance systems – is one of the fundamental and underlying causes of the violations of the collective rights of indigenous peoples.

As stewards of their territories and nurturers of their homelands, Asia’s indigenous peoples have been contributing to sustainable development through their own traditional practices. Traditional occupations are still the chief sources of livelihood of most indigenous peoples in Asia, accounting for 50 to 95 percent of indigenous peoples’ livelihoods. Traditional knowledge – especially of Indigenous women – has been critical in the food security of indigenous peoples, enhancement of biodiversity, the practice of herbal medicine, and the innovation of indigenous technologies.

Regional Organizing

The Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) is a regional organization founded in 1988 by indigenous peopes’ movements. AIPP is committed to the cause of promoting and definding indigenous peoples’ rights and human human rights and articulating issues of relevance to indigenous peoples. At present, AIPP has 47 members from 14 countries in Asia with 14 National Formations, 15 Sub-national Formations and 18 Local Formations. Of this number, 6 are Indigenous Women’s Organizations and 4 are Indigenous Youth Organizations.

AIPP, in consultation with the Asia World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) Reference Group and country representatives, serves as the technical coordinating body for the regional organizing related to the high level plenary meeting to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Contact the Asian Region: asia@wcip2014.org.


Overview of the State of Indigenous Peoples in Asia. May 2014. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) [ENG]

Region Preparatory Meeting

Click here for more information on the Asian Region preparatory meeting held November 8 – 9, 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Share Button