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Indigenous Peoples


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As Indigenous Peoples of the world come together in a global movement, issues of collective rights are frequently linked with an awareness of collective knowledge and ways of knowing.


Yothu Yindi, an aboriginal rock band from Australia, performing at the United Nations.
UN Photo 182295/J. Isaac



Maori Schools

Role Play Debate

overview Overview

Ways of Knowing
With long histories of living in close partnership with the natural world, many Indigenous Peoples have developed extensive knowledge of the ecosystems in which they live. This knowledge of ecology and natural resource management is not only intrinsically valuable, it also has commercial value.

Many secrets and untold treasures await discovery with the medicinal plants used by shamans, healers and the indigenous people of the Rainforest Tribes. So alluring are the mysteries of indigenous medical knowledge that over 100 pharmaceutical companies and even the U.S. government are currently funding projects studying the indigenous plant knowledge and the specific plants used by native shamans and healers.

Long regarded as hocus-pocus by science, indigenous people's empirical plant knowledge is now thought by many to be the Amazon's new gold outside link.

The Rights to Know
If the "indigenous knowledge" they possess is as valuable as gold, what kind of treatment will Indigenous Peoples face? How will pharmaceutical companies "harvest" the knowledge held in the minds of Indigenous Peoples? Will Indigenous Peoples be rewarded or compensated for sharing their knowledge? As governments and private industries reach further into the historic and sacred territories of Indigenous Peoples, these concerns become very important.

Indigenous Peoples are now struggling for intellectual property rights to guarantee that their knowledge and expertise is not exploited in the future. To learn more about this issue, explore the resources and activities here.

To honor and cultivate their own indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, some peoples have formed alternative educational programs and schools. Throughout colonial periods and into the present, schooling for indigenous children has often denied their unique languages and cultures. Instead of helping children grow and learn, non-indigenous educational systems were often based on policies of assimilation.

To prevent this damaging process in the future and to support the indigenous knowledge of young people, educators are forming alternative schools. Find out more in the case study on Maori education.

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Maori Schools

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