The importance of artisan work for indigenous people and economies


One of the current problems to solve is the eradication of poverty and the inclusion of indigenous peoples in economic development. Indigenous cultures, and the ancestral knowledge can represent a potential for the economic growth of indigenous communities, as well as decent employment opportunity that should be promoted by governments.

Culture and identity are dynamic phenomena, which over time can be flourishing, lost and altered; it is a duty of nations to safeguard these historical treasures. Anthropologically speaking, histories, and the preservation of cultures and customs has been a necessity of human expression in transmitting vital knowledge from generation to generation. In the same way, identity is not a will not evolve in isolation. It is a process in which knowledge passing from generations to generations plays a primordial role, and where state can also play crucial role in transmitting the histories and traditions. For this, it is an obligation of the state to ensure cultures correct preservation and dissemination. Religion, artisan traditions, cultural manifestations, and traditional food among others, are clearly a way of transmitting the history and different cultures.

Prehistorically cultures were born with the need to manufacture objects for daily activities. Artisan traditions is strongly linked with the artisan: artisans are producing the crafted piece, using them in their every-day life, and most importantly they are maintaining and transmitting the ancestral traditions and knowledge of culture.

In many cases, indigenous communities belong to economically depressed sectors of a society. Although the indigenous peoples differ from region to region, we find the common denominator of indigenous people being populations rich in cultural expressions, artisan and craft techniques that represent an incredible opportunity for employment and sustainable growth, that should be recognizing as part of economic systems – respecting the ILO 169 convention on indigenous peoples rights to exercise control over their own institutions, ways of life and economic development and to maintain and develop their identities, languages and religions, within the framework of the States in which they live.

The lack of support of indigenous people’s rights to access decent work and social protection means not only migration from rural to urban areas in search of better employment opportunities, but also distancing from their cultural expressions, and eventually leading the loss of cultural variety of the world.

According to the International Labour Organization, the majority of indigenous people migrating to work, ending up working informally as sales street vendors and in the textile industry in the Latin America and Southern Asia, because of the lack of social protection of indigenous people. Informal work means that there is no guarantee of rights or protection of the worker nor that the payment regulations adhere.

Additionally, activities of the informal economy are biasing official economic statistics of a state. However, there are also some positive examples of actions taken by the government, as in New Zealand where training programs have decreased indigenous unemployment rate; for example, among Māori unemployment fell from 62% in 2008 to 5.8% in 2013.

The actions and programs are taken by the private sector; businesses and NGOs, combining modern trends with the inclusion of artisanal work, it is not alone enough to eradicate the poverty of these communities. Essentially, lack of recognition of indigenous traditional skills, proper education and training in how their knowledge represents a way of economic growth must be crucial issues in governments' work plans. Measures such as easy access to microfinance and training in entrepreneurship, together with the creation of spaces that bring consumers and artisans together are necessary so that indigenous communities can have a decent, formal work while still practicing their cultures.


Indigenous women workers, with case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal and the Americas. Working Paper. ILO 2012

Indigenous peoples access to decent work and social protection. Thematic Paper. Inter-Agency Support Group On Indigenous Peoples’ Issues. ILO 2014.