Indigenous peoples can be regarded as one of the largest vulnerable segments of society. While differing significantly in terms of culture, identity, economic systems, and social institutions, indigenous peoples as a whole most often reflect specific disadvantage in terms of social indicators, economic status, and quality of life. Indigenous peoples often are not able to participate equally in development processes and share in the benefits of development, and often are not adequately represented in national, social, economic, and political processes that direct development. While constituting a relatively small part of the population of ADB’s region, indigenous peoples and their potential vulnerability must be regarded as significant in ADB’s development efforts and interventions.
It is neither desirable nor possible to insulate or exclude indigenous peoples from development. Like dominant or mainstream populations—the group or groups in a country that are politically, economically, and culturally most powerful—indigenous peoples have developmental aspirations. However, indigenous peoples may not benefit from development programs designed to meet the needs and aspirations of dominant or mainstream populations, and may not be given the opportunity to participate in the planning of such development. There is increasing concern in the international development community that indigenous peoples be afforded opportunities to participate in and benefit from development equally with other segments of society, and have a role and be able to participate in the design of development interventions that affect them.
The legislation and policies of most member countries of ADB recognize indigenous peoples as citizens. In practice, however, indigenous peoples often experience disadvantage in interaction with dominant and mainstream populations, especially as relates to development. Beyond not benefiting from development participating in the planning of development, indigenous peoples can be disadvantaged by loss of access to ancestral lands and the natural resources and other sources of income contained in these lands; loss of culture, social structures, and institutions; loss of indigenous knowledge; loss of recognition as indigenous peoples; and a lack of opportunities for effective participation in national, political, and economic processes. Lack of participation in development combined with the loss of access to land and resources have in many cases marginalized indigenous peoples. In some extreme cases, indigenous peoples have suffered physical oppression. In a few cases, indigenous cultures have disintegrated or disappeared.
In its operations, ADB recognizes and respects the sovereignty of its member countries, including national legislation and policy relating to indigenous peoples. However, at the same time, ADB recognizes a responsibility for ensuring equality of opportunity for indigenous peoples and that its operations and assistance in its developing member countries (DMCs) do not negatively affect the welfare and interests of indigenous peoples. If an ADB intervention does affect indigenous peoples negatively, adequate measures must be taken to mitigate the negative impact, or make certain that a compensation plan ensuring that project-affected people are as well off with the project as without it, is prepared and implemented.
ADB’s policy on indigenous peoples defines approaches that recognize the circumstances of indigenous peoples and that identify measures toward satisfying the needs and developmental aspirations of indigenous peoples. The policy focuses on the participation of indigenous peoples in development and the mitigation of undesired effects of development. The policy provides a working definition of indigenous peoples to apply to ADB operations. The policy also addresses laws and international conventions that apply and practices of comparator institutions. Finally, the policy presents a set of objectives and operational approaches and procedures and considers the organizational implications of a formal ADB policy addressing indigenous peoples.