Expropriation of land from indigenous populations

Other Names:
Unsettled indigenous land claims
Invasion of indigenous lands
Denial of indigenous rights to resources
Violation of land rights of a people
Unresolved land claims

The lands of native tribes may be seized by 'civilized' outsiders for the development and exploitation of natural resources. Either the tribes are simply dispossessed and become dependent on the invaders or else they are relocated on land (reservations) which is usually of poor quality. If mineral or other resources are found on reservation territory, it may be expropriated without compensation to the tribes.


In 1992 it was estimated that in the USA there were about 130 dispossessed tribes living in the 48 mainland states. They had given up their land during the last century in return for benefits. Often these were never supplied or were arbitrarily removed. Some had signed treaties with the USA Government which were never ratified by Congress thus depriving them of any legal recognition as authentic tribes.

The Australian Supreme Court stated 'the Aborigines belong to the land not the land to the Aborigines' with respect to seizure of reserved territory in 1972 by a Swiss-led mining project. In New Zealand, the Waitangi Tribunal is considering claims by Maori tribes covering 60% of the land area and much of the offshore fisheries out to the 200 mile limit. Other examples include: North American Indians in Canada; Indians of Brazil, Guyana, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and other Latin American countries; Igorot tribespeople of the Philippines; tribal people of India and Bangladesh; Melanesians of West Papua in Indonesia; Nighur people of China; Orang Ulu of Sarawak, Malaysia; and Lapps of Scandinavia.

Nation-states may enact land laws that confiscate indigenous peoples lands for oil and mining corporations. The Nigerian Land Use Act of 1978 against the oil rich land of the Ogoni people is a prominent case.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST