Indigenous Peoples

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  • Highlighting the Indigenous Economy Initiative

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  • A Spoon of Honey: The Flavor of Indigenous Traditions in Paraguay

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“Indigenous Peoples total more than 370 million globally and represent a diversity of geographic locations, cultural identities and traditions, and other socio-economic and political dynamics.”

Our Work

July 4th Celebration at U.S. Embassy in Ecuador Women from the Association of Waorani Women, beneficiaries of USAID programs, demonstrate how they produce handicrafts to benefit and self-sustain women of the association at the U.S. Embassy Quito in Ecaudor’s U.S. Independence Day celebration on July 2, 2010. State Department photo/ Public DomainIndigenous Peoples’ identities are shaped and informed through community introspection; historical interactions with other peoples and populations; linkages to the natural environment and specific territories or sacred lands; distinct social, economic and political systems, including traditional systems of governance; distinct languages and cultural differences; and a resolve to honor and uphold traditional ways of living and culturally-appropriate methods of social inclusion.

Working with Indigenous Peoples require sensitivity around historical and political dynamics in the region and at national and sub-national levels. This is particularly true in countries or areas where Indigenous Peoples are not recognized by the national government or its legal systems. An understanding of Indigenous Peoples' social, cultural, environmental, and legal issues is essential to deepening the impact of USAID programming and limiting adverse impacts on Indigenous Peoples and the communities’ self-identified development goals and priorities.

There are historical obstacles to Indigenous Peoples’ development and inclusion, including displacement, repression of traditional institutions and customs, and forced assimilation. Even conservation projects have resulted in expulsion of Indigenous Peoples from their territories or the transfer of risk onto these communities, and large capital investment and other infrastructure development and extraction efforts have devastated Indigenous Peoples’ communities around the world. Indigenous Peoples' leaders and activists are often high-profile defenders of their land and natural resources, and some have tragically paid the ultimate price in the quest to safeguard these culturally significant areas. In every country where USAID works, Indigenous Peoples lag behind the general population on a wide range of development indicators.

Indigenous Peoples are increasingly recognized for their role in reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change and have played an important role in conservation of forest cover and habitat for biodiversity in their territories. Despite historical setbacks and struggles to maintain cultural identities and traditional ways of life, Indigenous Peoples are development practitioners in their own right, and have significant contributions to make in the conservation of their cultural and natural resources, as well as to global development more broadly.

Engaging with Indigenous Peoples provides an important opportunity to develop partnerships and innovative solutions to meet the development challenges faced by these historically underserved communities. In support of this effort, USAID has developed the Policy on Promoting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a Social Impact Assessment toolkit, and sector guidance to feature best practices for consultation, program design, implementation, and monitoring through an Indigenous Peoples lens.

The Policy on Promoting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (PRO-IP) is intended to advance four key objectives:

  1. Strengthen engagement with Indigenous Peoples to safeguard against harm and support their development priorities and self-reliance;
  2. Increase the integration of Indigenous Peoples’ concerns across all sectors of USAID's portfolio of investments and promote cross-sectoral development approaches;
  3. Empower Indigenous Peoples and their representative organizations to advocate for, and exercise, their rights and practice self-determined development; and
  4. Foster an enabling environment for Indigenous Peoples to advocate for, and exercise, their rights.

A series of operating principles in the PRO-IP will help practitioners to identify, analyze, engage, safeguard, and partner with Indigenous Peoples in development activities. USAID has also curated profiles and case studies on Indigenous Peoples programming that illustrate best practices and lessons learned in addressing challenges to inclusion and empowerment of Indigenous Peoples.

Road Map to Indigenous Peoples Engagement. Click to View






USAID Resources on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Other Resources on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights


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Last updated: April 10, 2020

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