With a population of over seven million, Laos is the most ethnically diverse country in mainland Southeast Asia. The ethnic Lao, comprising around a third of the population, dominate the country economically and culturally. Another third consists of members of other Tai language-speaking groups. The remaining third have first languages in the Mon-Khmer, Sino-Tibetan and Hmong-Iu Mien families. These groups are sometimes considered to be the “indigenous peoples” of Laos, although officially all ethnic groups have equal status, and the concept of “indigenous peoples” is not recognized. The Lao government currently recognizes over 100 ethnic sub-groups within 49 ethnic groups.
Indigenous people are unequivocally the most vulnerable groups in Laos, representing 93% of the country’s poor.1 They face territorial, economic, cultural and political pressures and are experiencing various livelihood-related challenges. Their land and resources are increasingly under pressure from government development policies and commercial natural resource exploitation. There is no specific legislation in Laos with regard to indigenous peoples.
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, The Indigenous World 2011