Asia, according to the InternationalWork Group for Indigenous Affairs (IGWIA), is home to the vast majority (70%) of the world’s indigenous peoples. In India alone, there are 68million Advasis, or indigenous peoples. The Orang Asli, the Mon-Khmer-speaking peoples of the Malaysian peninsula, by contrast, have a population of 150 000 and claim continuous presence in the world’s most ancient rainforests. In East Asia, Taiwanese aboriginal groups are held to be the source of the Austronesian language family, which is now found throughout Oceania. And indigenous peoples in West Asia include the Bakhtiari, Laks, Lurs, and Qashqai of Iran, and Assyrian peoples of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.
Despite this large population that self-identifies as indigenous, the term ‘indigenous’ has been contested, as almost all Asians and Africans consider themselves indigenous. In Africa, the term ‘indigenous’ has come to refer to nomadic peoples, such as the Tuareg of the Sahara and Sahel, hunter gatherers such as the San people of the Kalahari, and pastoralists, including the Masai of East Africa. Their claim to indigenous status has been endorsed by the African Union’s African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, which has noted their status of underrepresentation in government and the need for affirmative action to ensure their survival.
In North and South America, where every nation has indigenous peoples, violence, marginalization, and isolation on native reservations and in remote locations reduced access to traditional food supplies and increased susceptibility to disease. From the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century there were a reported 93 waves of epidemics that devastated native populations with diseases such as typhoid, malaria, smallpox, measles, cholera, a range of sexually transmitted infections, pneumonia, and yellow fever, resulting in population declines
of up to 90–95% (Encarta, n.d.).
In the United States, census data indicate that there are approximately 2 million Native Americans. And in Canada, where Aboriginal people, including the Inuit of the Arctic region, have been designated as members of First Nations, the population is approximately 1 million. In South America, indigenous populations now range from Bolivia with up to 70% of the nation to approximately half of the nation in Peru and Guatemala to a reported 8% in Uruguay (The World Factbook, 1997). In Greenland, also home to the Inuit, indigenous people
comprise 85% of the population. Other indigenous European groups include the Kumandin Peoples of Russia and the Sami of northern Scandinavia. Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and approximately 25 000 Pacific Islands, including the Marshall Islands, is home to indigenous groups from Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian origins, as well as to Torres Straits Islanders. It is also home to indigenous Australians, who have at least 40 000–50 000, and potentially up to 70 000 years presence on the continent, with genetic linkages to the peoples of Papua New Guinea. Indigenous Australians now represent approximately 2.5% of Australia’s population of 20.3 million. Appropriation of land and water and the introduction of disease were two early features of colonial presence in Australia. Introduction of alcohol, opium, and tobacco began a problem of substance abuse that has continued in epidemic proportions. In New Zealand, there were similar patterns of conflict between British settler s and the Maori, as well as the introduction of new diseases. There were however, formal treaties covering land acquisition and ownership (The World Factbook, 2007). The lives of the majority of the world’s 300 million indigenous peoples are characterized by extreme conditions of social and environmental risk, and historical injustice. Through remoteness, poverty, landlessness, and political marginalization, they have minimal access to health care.