The greatest numbers are concentrated in Asia, about 88 million in China and about 75 million in India, constituting over 7 per cent of their total population (1999).
National borders have divided the indigenous peoples all over the world. The Inuit’s (Eskimos), for example, are subject of the governments in Canada, Greenland, USA (Alaska), and Russia; the Fulani’s of West Africa extend across eight countries; the Papuans are the subject of Indonesian rule and own Papua New Guinea government; the Mizos or Lushais are governed by the governments of India and that of Myanmar (Burma) as about 50 per cent of the Mizos live in Myanmar (Burma).
The indigenous peoples are being termed as the ‘Fourth World’. These peoples are the descendants from a country’s aboriginal population and who today are completely or partly deprived of the right to their own territory. These people have limited influence in the national state to which they belong.
The World Council of Indigenous Peoples distinguished the way of life of indigenous peoples from those of the first (highly industrialized), second (Socialist Block), and third (developing) worlds.
The first, second and the third worlds believe that “the land belongs to the people” whereas the fourth world believe that “the people belong to the land”.
Indigenous peoples are strikingly different and diverse in their culture, religion, and social and economic organizations. They are still being exploited by the outside world.
By some, they are idealized as the embodiment of spiritual values; by others they are designated as an obstacle impeding economic progress. But they are neither.
They are the people who cherish their own distinct cultures, are the victims of past and present colonialism, and are determined to survive. Some live according to their traditions, some receive welfare, and others work in factories, some in other professions.
They have maintained a close living relationships to the land, there exists a cooperative attitude of give and take, a respect for the earth and the life it supports.
In the last few decades, indigenous peoples have greatly suffered from the consequences of some of the developmental projects. They have been and are being separated from their traditional lands and ways of life, deprived of their means of livelihood, and forced to fit into societies in which they feel like aliens.
They have protested and resisted to save their own territories and the earth and environment, but without much success
Numerous tribes like Red Indians of North America, native Brazilians, and Andamanese tribes have perished in war, in slavery, by starvation and from disease brought by invaders.
In the Amazon basin alone about 170 tribes survive. Fifty-four, including the Juma (which has only eight members, two old men and a boy), live in unexplored pockets of the Amazon beyond the reach of modern society thus, many of the tribal’s are confronted with the danger of extinction.