Land Rights and Indigenous Peoples

Land and related resource rights are of fundamental importance to indigenous peoples since they constitute the basis of their economic livelihood and are the source of their spiritual, cultural and social identity.


Dispossession of lands and territories is a major problem for indigenous peoples

Dispossession of traditional lands and territories is one of the major problems faced by indigenous peoples all over the world. In many African and Asian countries, for example, dominating development paradigms, perceive the modes of production of indigenous peoples - such as pastoralism, hunting/gathering and rotational slash and burn agriculture - as primitive, non-productive and not in line with the modernization aspirations of present day states. This paradigm also applies in other regions of the world.

Therefore many development policies are either directly or indirectly geared towards weakening/eradicating the modes of production of indigenous peoples.

Individual land ownership is a threat to indigenous peoples

The general trend to favour individual land ownership rather than collective land rights is another threat to indigenous peoples, since it opens up not only for the privatisation of land and resources but also for sale of land to non-indigenous individuals and business interests.

In the name of national economic development, various policies are being put in place, which dispossess indigenous peoples of their lands and natural resources and threaten to undermine their cultures and survival as distinct peoples.

Activities that have been undertaken in the name of national development and at the same time have undermined the land bases and livelihoods of indigenous peoples include establishment of national parks and game reserves, massive logging of forests, large infrastructure projects such as dam and pipeline constructions, mineral exploration, commercial hunting schemes, large scale agricultural projects, etc.

IWGIA's activities to support the land rights of indigenous peoples

IWGIA supports the work carried out by local indigenous organizations to prevent further land loss and to try to re-claim land, which has been taken illegally. Activities include community awareness-raising and mobilization on land rights issues, land registration and land mapping based on modern GPS technology, and litigation and court cases, in order to get, or defend, legal titles to land on a collective basis.

Lobby activities towards decision makers at national level aimed at legislative and constitutional reforms, public information etc. are backed up with the publication of a wide range of books, human rights reports and videos illustrating legal, technical and spiritual aspects of indigenous peoples' claims to their lands.

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