Indigenous peoples and their inclusion in extractive projects

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Who are indigenous peoples?

Indigenous peoples are social groups with identities that are unlike the dominant groups in national societies. In many cases they are among the most marginalized and/or vulnerable sectors of the population.

In many cases, their social organization and situation limits their ability to defend their interests and rights, particularly those related to land and natural/cultural resources.  In many cases this limits their access to project benefits. When indigenous people are affected by a project, the project design needs to include additional measures to provide them with appropriate benefits, taking into consideration their cultural context.

Oil & gas and mining companies should clearly identify and understand the interests and perspectives of indigenous peoples with respect to the project and its potential impacts. It is considered a good practice to identify the problems and sensitive issues of indigenous peoples, with the purpose of (i) respecting and preserving their culture, knowledge and practices (ii) avoiding adverse effects on the communities of indigenous peoples due to project development, and (iii) identifying opportunities for development in a culturally appropriate manner.

The identification of these key issues helps to promote informed participation of indigenous peoples and support negotiations based in a good faith.

Why are they usually considered vulnerable ?

Vulnerable peoples are those groups who by virtue of economic status, ethnicity, gender, age, physical or mental disability status, or social disadvantage may be more affected by the project than others. They can also be limited in their ability to make claims or take advantage of project benefits. Groups that can be differentially or disproportionately affected by the project because of their disabilities or vulnerable status within the community should be identified as part of a Social Impact Assessment.

According to the United Nations : “Every time the rulers of neighbouring peoples have expanded their territories or settlers [have] come from distant lands, cultures and livelihoods of indigenous peoples have been endangered. These threats have evolved over the years and threats have not disappeared yet, so indigenous people are considered as one of the most disadvantaged groups in the world.”

Good practice requires that the design of a resettlement project should be carefully chosen.  Project proponents should be attentive and take into account and help vulnerable groups in order to improve or at least restore their lives and livelihoods, taking into account feedback from project affected peoples.

Regulations and inclusion in extractive projects

There are specific international standards regarding the need to establish culturally appropriate and adequate mechanisms for local participation when development projects may in some way directly or indirectly affect indigenous peoples or communities.

Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organization is the most important legal instrument in this field, and free, prior, and informed consent is part of the core operational policies of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank in relation to indigenous peoples.

The social relations that are established as a result of project development in areas inhabited by indigenous communities must be characterized by ongoing dialogue in order to understand and incorporate their ideas, approaches, concerns, and development proposals.

Access to space for ongoing dialogue enables indigenous peoples, who are considered vulnerable populations, to understand and voice their opinions about changes that may arise as a result of mining and oil & gas projects.

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