Indigenous peoples in Thailand

The indigenous peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country:

  • Indigenous fisher communities (the Chao Ley) and small populations of hunter-gatherers (the Mani) in the south of Thailand
  • Small groups on the Korat plateau of the north-east, and in eastern Thailand, especially along the border with Laos and Cambodia
  • Many different highland peoples in the north and north-west of the country (the Chao-Khao).

With the drawing of national boundaries in South-east Asia during the colonial era and in the wake of decolonization, many peoples living in remote highlands and forests were divided. There is thus not a single indigenous people that resides only in Thailand.

Hill tribes

Nine so-called "hill tribes" are officially recognized. These are the:

  • Hmong
  • Karen
  • Lisu
  • Mien
  • Akha
  • Lahu
  • Lua
  • Thin
  • Khamu

There is no comprehensive official census data on the population of indigenous peoples. The most often quoted figure is that of the Department of Welfare & Social Development.

According to this source, there are 3,429 hill tribe villages with a total population of 923,257 people. Obviously, the indigenous peoples of the south and north-east are not included.

Discrimination and Lack of Citizenship

A widespread misconception of indigenous peoples being drug producers and posing a threat to national security and the environment has historically shaped government policies towards indigenous peoples in the northern highlands.

Despite positive developments in recent years, it continues to underlie the attitudes and actions of government officials.

These include the non-recognition of indigenous peoples, and policies and programmes that are violating indigenous peoples' rights, such as natural resource management and environmental conservation policies.

Status of International Conventions and Declarations

Thailand has ratified or is a signatory to the:

However, Thailand does not officially recognise the existence of indigenous peoples in the country.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Thailand to learn about major developments and events during 2015.