THERE are fourteen to seventeen million indigenous peoples of the Philippines from one hundred ten distinct ethnolinguistic groups.

They roughly make up fifteen percent of the country’s total population. Most of these, about (61 percent), are found in the Southern island of Mindanao, while a significant number are located in the Cordillera Administrative Region (33 percent) of the North.

In January 2010, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues revealed that the indigenous peoples of the world make up a third of the world’s poorest people and that they suffer disproportionately in areas of health, education, and human rights, and regularly face systemic discrimination and exclusion.

These features and qualities are reflected in the condition of the country’s indigenous peoples who are relegated to the margins of political, social, and economic life. This is most especially true among Mindanao’s indigenous peoples who fall under the collective term “lumad.”

Various studies have indicated the dire situation of the southern island’s Lumad because Mindanao is also home to the country’s poorest regions.

Where poverty is deepest and most severe in Mindanao, are also the areas where the lumad are.

There is a consensus that indigenous peoples in general, and the lumad in particular, represent the poorest and most marginalized sectors of Philippine society.

Social service provision in indigenous territories is far limited compared to other areas of the country. Government allocations show that regions with the highest concentrations of indigenous peoples in Mindanao receive the smallest amount.

The lumad, therefore, represent the most marginalized and oppressed sector in Philippine society. It is easy to imagine the structural mechanisms that have placed the lumad at such a disadvantaged situation. They are usually found in areas that are geographically inaccessible, in voting numbers that are far too inconsequential to make them politically important to politicians at the center. They only come to the fore of public consciousness when they come down from the mountains to evacuate or when their ancestral domains are being appropriated.

But who are Mindanao’s indigenous peoples who have to occupy the unenviable position of experiencing a plethora of oppressions that our minority groups experience? Who are the lumad and what is their story? And how is their shared narrative both indicative of, at the same time, present extreme cases of the phenomenon of structural discrimination that indigenous peoples undergo at present?

For starters, the lumad is not a tribe that is comprised of a distinct singular ethnolinguistic group. The Cebuano word meaning “native of the land” refer to the non-Muslim indigenous ethnolinguistic groups that can be found throughout the island of Mindanao.

Its provenance as a term to refer to their common collective identity as indigenous peoples of Mindanao was first used during the 1970s. As the various tribes faced the onslaught of logging and agricultural plantation expansion pushed by private business interests and with the backing of the state and its military under the dictatorship, “lumad” entered the lexicon of progressive church groups and activist organizations to refer to the indigenous peoples victimized by state-led development aggression.

During the Lumad Mindanao People’s Federation assembly in Kidapawan, North Cotabato last June 26, 1986, the term “Katawhang Lumad” or lumad peoples was adopted by the delegates coming from these different ethnolinguistic groups to refer to their collective identity henceforth. Since then, the term has evolved to convey a collective identity and a point of unity among Mindanao’s indigenous groups as they face the common struggle of defending and reclaiming their ancestral rights.

Therefore, the roots of the term lumad and its evolving meaning always had political origins and implications. It represents an emerging and developing political consciousness among Mindanao’s indigenous groups as they collectively confront the same systemic mechanisms of structural discrimination oftentimes with the full backing and complicity of the Philippine State and its military.