Still Invisible: Enumeration of Indigenous Peoples in Census Questionnaires Internationally


  • Evelyn Peters University of Winnipeg



The international attention increasingly being paid to Indigenous peoples culminated in the 2007 adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly. Nevertheless, the lack of accurate and consistent data on Indigenous peoples hinders the creation of concrete benchmarks and monitoring mechanisms for their development. Based on the most recent census questionnaires available for 231 countries and regions for which the United Nations Statistics Division collects statistics, this study identifies the proportion and geographic distribution of questionnaires that enumerated Indigenous peoples and variations in the questions used to enumerate them. The fact is that relatively few census questionnaires enumerate Indigenous peoples. Where they were enumerated, Indigenous cultures and identities were homogenized by many censuses, and classified as minorities rather than as distinct peoples. As a result, Indigenous peoples remain invisible in large areas of the globe and the United Nations, various governmental and non-governmental organizations, and Indigenous people themselves all face overwhelming challenges in their attempts to document the existence and circumstances of Indigenous peoples.