• Indigenous peoples in French Polynesia

    Indigenous peoples in French Polynesia

    French Polynesia is a former colony of France. Although France has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, French Polynesia’s indigenous population are struggling with issues such as recognition of the Polynesian languages, compensation for social and health consequences from French nuclear tests, and natural resource exploitation.
  • Peoples

    1988: The last census that mentioned “ethnic” categories. “Polynesians and similar” accounted for 80.58 per cent
  • Rights

    2007: France adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Access to justice

    7 victims have been compensated for nuclear tests, in contrast to the 1,043 cases submitted in 2016
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  • French Polynesia

French Polynesia

Indigenous peoples in French Polynesia

French Polynesia is an old colony of France. Although France adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the indigenous population of French Polynesia is struggling with problems such as the recognition of Polynesian languages, compensation for the social and health consequences of the French nuclear tests and the exploitation of natural resources.

French Polynesia has been an Overseas Collective of 270,000 inhabitants since 2004, of which around 80% are Polynesian. As a collective, French Polynesia has relative political autonomy within the French Republic through its own local institutions, the Government and the Assembly of French Polynesia. The last census that mentioned ethnic categories was in 1988. "Polynesians and the like" accounted for 80.58% of the total population.


Requests made to the United Nations Decolonization Committee in 2016 included the recognition of the Polynesian languages as official languages together with the French and French ratification of the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages. The French state considers that "the question of French Polynesia" is a matter of domestic policy, and so far has not cooperated with the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly, which is responsible for the questions of decolonization.

Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of French Polynesia

One of the main struggles for indigenous peoples in French Polynesia is related to the impact of nuclear tests. With 20 years elapsed since the end of nuclear testing, Polynesian associations and churches continue to raise important concerns regarding the recognition of the social and health consequences, both moral and material, of such tests, as well as the way in which they are managed. resulting in nuclear waste.

The Protestant Church of Mā'ohi denounced the nuclear tests in 1982. The church, which defends the Mā'ohi land, you fenua, the language reo maôhi and the people, has declared that it plans to bring the French state before the courts for crimes of It hurts humanity because of the lack of attention of the French state to the misfortunes of the people.

The victims of the nuclear tests have difficulties in obtaining compensation, despite the fact that this was established in the Morin Law of January 2010. Seven Polynesian victims were compensated, unlike the 1,043 cases presented until the end of 2016.

Another struggle of the indigenous peoples of French Polynesia is related to the exploitation of natural resources and particularly to underwater mineral resources. In November 2015, the Overseas Minister recalled that the exploitation of mineral resources was the responsibility of the community and not of the French State. However, fears have arisen that such responsibilities can be redefined for the benefit of the French state.

Finally, several plans to create or expand large hotel facilities have provoked a strong reaction from local organizations of environmental and cultural protection, such as the Protestant Church of Mā'ohi and associations such as Haururu.


A former French colony, French Polynesia became an Overseas Collectivity (Collectivité d’Outre-mer) in 2004, with approximately 275,000 inhabitants (around 80% of whom are Indigenous Polynesian).1

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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