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Who are Indigenous peoples?

Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups throughout the world who are working to maintain traditional lifestyles and cultural identities within the state system. Though these groups are diverse, they typically have a strong connection to the land, which is characterized by a deep knowledge of the ecosystems which they inhabit, sustainable methods of living off the land and systems that protect the environment. In indigenous worldviews, the inhabitants of the land are both custodians of the environment, and are themselves part of the environment, rather than being separate from it. Because of their long-term sustainable management of desert and forest regions, indigenous peoples have a unique knowledge of environmental management and conservation. However, this knowledge is often dismissed and indigenous peoples must fight to keep their right to land.
Indigenous groups are distinct from the majority culture, having their own language, traditional arts, dress and systems of governance. Part of what unites indigenous peoples throughout the world is the common struggle to maintain their culture when threatened by dominant forces. The severing of indigenous peoples from their lands means that they are no longer able to access traditional medicines and food sources, and are unable to transmit traditional knowledge from one generation to the next. The fight for indigenous rights to land, culture and representation is based on the principal that all people are equal. Due to a history of marginalization, these groups must assert their rights to correct an unequal distribution of power and to ensure their very survival.
In Kenya, indigenous peoples are primarily nomadic pastoralists and hunter-gatherers. The challenges they face include:

  • imposition of land tenure systems on lands traditionally used for nomadic pastoralism
  • eviction from lands to form state conservation areas and parks
  • lack of access to schools, or limited access to an education system that is appropriate to indigenous lifestyles
  • lack of access to health care
  • high rates of HIV/AIDS infection
  • loss of language and cultural knowledge
  • lack of political representation
  • economic disempowerment

It is only through the reaffirmation of indigenous identity, working in cooperation with one another and making their voices heard that indigenous peoples can overcome these obstacles. By drawing on cultural and community strengths and making good use of the knowledge passed down through generations, a better future is possible.

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