The United Nations has defined Indigenous peoples as: "... those people having an historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations, their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions, and legal systems."
Africa is the continent with the greatest number of Indigenous groups, about 2,000. Next comes Asia with 1,300 groups. Following these are: Latin America/Caribbean (800); the Pacific (750); North America (250); and, Australia/New Zealand (100). There are 135 Indigenous groups in the former Soviet Union and 50 in the Middle East.
Until quite recently, most of these peoples were described as "primitive," "backward," and "pagan." The developed world appointed itself to the task of bringing these peoples into the modern era. The process began 500 years ago as European colonizers spread out across the globe. Thousands of Indigenous cultures were destroyed in the process, some through assimilation, others through conquest.