Indigenous Peoples Rights and Sustainable Development

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples in the world in over 90 countries. The lands that indigenous communities live on and the resources that surround them are central to their faith, way of life, and cultural, spiritual, ancestral and intellectual traditions.

As developing countries work to augment their economic growth and corporations continue to search for resources, the lands, and subsequently the way of life, of indigenous peoples are at risk.

Traditional Dance in Tantiaka

One crucial aspect of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (, or UNDRIP, is the right of indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). This right requires that states gain the free prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples before public or private institutions take actions that may affect the lands, resources, intellectual property and cultural and spiritual practices of indigenous populations.

Governments have agreed to follow each individual aspect of FPIC:

Free – decisions must be allowed without coercion or force of indigenous peoples

Prior- ample time allotted to communities before final decision

Informed – the nature and duration of the project, the areas that will be affected and other necessary, unbiased information are all provided to indigenous peoples in a language and form that can be understood by the community

Consent – explicit agreement of indigenous people to allow the project

Despite UNDRIP and agreements from states, governments often ignore FPIC and other rights in UNDRIP. Due to a variety of economic concerns governments and corporations forcibly strip land and resources from indigenous peoples.  The international community, especially countries that are home to indigenous populations, and proponents of sustainable development have a duty to find the neglect of indigenous rights unacceptable and counterproductive to the true nature of progress.

From the beginning, the BARKA Foundation has committed to an approach to sustainable development that respects, preserves and involves indigenous peoples and cultures. What community-led development means for BARKA is working with a community to identify its needs and partnering with that community to find and implement sustainable solutions. All of BARKA’s development projects are planned and carried out with a deep respect for indigenous culture and the direct consultation, consent and participation of the villagers of Tantiaka in Burkina Faso.

Young girl retrieving water for her family

In October, BARKA will go to Burkina Faso to continue work to address what villagers determined to be their most pressing need: clean water.  BARKA’s partnership with Tantiaka started with water, and it will continue with all other development projects in the small village.

The UN, through its annual Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII; continues to work towards a world where there is stronger protection for the rights of indigenous peoples. This year’s forum, held in May, established the UN Indigenous Peoples Partnership, UNIPP, which aims to support indigenous communities, increase access for indigenous leaders in the governance process and continue to strengthen indigenous rights (

These UN actions and events help the fight for indigenous rights, but popular awareness of these issues and NGO support for indigenous communities are crucial as supplements to UN policy. It takes regular people and determined NGOs to pressure governments into a greater concern for indigenous rights. Even more importantly, anyone that works on global development, whether it is in government or in the nonprofit sector, must realize the essential nature of indigenous communities in efforts to pursue sustainable development.

– Arthur Tarley, BARKA UN Youth Representative

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