Intended for healthcare professionals


Indigenous by definition, experience, or world view

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 21 August 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:403
  1. Chris Cunningham, director of health research (,
  2. Fiona Stanley, director
  1. School of Maori Studies at Massey University, Private Bag 756, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, PO Box 855, West Perth, WA 6872, Australia

    Links between people, their land, and culture need to be acknowledged

    “Indigenous” has a number of usages that differ from “to be born in a specific place,” which is how the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it.1 These usages tend to define indigenous by the experiences shared by a group of people who have inhabited a country for thousands of years, which often contrast with those of other groups of people who reside in the same country for a few hundred years. A number of alternative terms are preferred to indigenous. For example, in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander is appropriate and acceptable. In Canada and the United States, the term First Nations is used to describe the Indian, Métis, and Inuit populations, whereas in Hawaii, native Hawaiian finds favour. Many groups prefer their own language. The Maori of New Zealand use “Tangata Whenua” or “people of the land” in preference to Maori used by the colonising Victorian English who, unaware of its meaning (ordinary or common), ironically deemed the indigenous population to be the ordinary inhabitants, rendering themselves extraordinary in the process.2

    Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal, a recent Maori recipient of the Churchill fellowship for overseas study, offers an attractive definition of indigenous based on what he calls …

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