• Indigenous peoples in Mexico

    Indigenous peoples in Mexico

    There are 16,933,283 indigenous persons in Mexico, representing 15.1 per cent of the total Mexicans. Mexico has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and is a declared pluricultural nation since 1992. Yet, the country’s indigenous population are still facing a number of challenges.
  • Peoples

    16,933,283 indigenous persons live in Mexico
    15.1 per cent of all Mexicans are indigenous peoples
  • Diversity

    68 indigenous languages and 364 counted dialect variations are spoken in Mexico


Indigenous peoples in Mexico

There are 16,933,283 indigenous persons in Mexico, representing 15.1% of the total population. Mexico adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, signed ILO Convention 169 in 1990 and became a pluricultural nation by amending Article VI of the Constitution in 1992. Yet, the country’s indigenous population are still facing a number of challenges.

Mexico’s indigenous peoples 

The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), the National Population Council (CONAPO), and the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) registered 16,933,283 indigenous people in the country, representing 15.1% of all Mexicans (112,236,538). There is a sustained population growth due to higher rates of indigenous fertility, offset only in part by the higher general mortality rate.

Mexico is the country in the Americas with largest indigenous population and the greatest number of native languages spoken in its territory, that is 68 languages and 364 counted dialect variations.

Main challenges for Mexico’s indigenous peoples

One of the main challenges faced by indigenous peoples in Mexico relates to a lack of recognition. In 2001, as a result of an indigenous peoples’ mobilization demanding legislation based on the "Acuerdos de San Andrés" — result of the negotiations between the Government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in 1996 —, Articles 1, 2, 4, 18, and 115 of the Mexican Constitution were amended.

As of 2003, the EZLN and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) commenced implementation of the Accords throughout its territories, creating autonomous indigenous governments in Chiapas, Michoacán, and Oaxaca. Although the states of Chihuahua, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, and San Luís Potosí have provisions regarding indigenous peoples in their state constitutions, indigenous legal systems are not yet fully recognized.

Another challenge relates to Mexico’s indigenous people’s health. Indigenous peoples are considered to be the most vulnerable sector of the population in regard to this matter, with the highest maternal and infantile mortality rates, acute and chronic malnutrition rates higher than the national average, lower life expectancy, and severe limitations for access to health services.

In relation to human rights, the Front Line Defenders report reveals that Mexico ranks fourth among the world’s most dangerous countries for defenders of rights. During 2017 there were 31 murders, the majority of which were of activists involved in indigenous and environmental causes. 

Case: Visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  

In November 2017, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, made an official visit to Mexico. She met with federal and state authorities, as well as with representatives of indigenous peoples and organizations of civil society.

Some of the issues highlighted by the Rapporteur in her end-of-mission statement were the following. First, the fact that the indigenous peoples are not being adequately consulted in accordance with international standards on projects and other decisions that affect their rights, including the right to the life. An alarming 99% impunity rate in cases of human rights violations particularly affects indigenous persons. Moreover, the violence faced by indigenous groups who struggle for their rights, in particular in cases of implementation of extractive megaprojects.The Special Rapporteur emphasised the fact that the report’s objective is to make known the principal violations of the rights of indigenous persons and communities in Mexico.

Indigenous youth in detention in México


Unable to understand Spanish language, not provided with an opportunity to defend themselves in the court and regularly mistreated by the personnel, Indigenous youth in detention live under the burden of sadness, depression and injustice. As a result of their detention, they end up losing contact with their families, their culture, their community life and the environment.

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Community Gender Emergency: Indigenous women's response to multiple forms of violence and territorial dispossession in Mexico

For decades, organized Indigenous women have wondered why some deaths in Mexico are more visible than others. Who decides which bodies matter? It’s time to start talking about the violence perpetrated against us, Indigenous women. From within our community organizations, we are working to construct a collective memory and promote public policies based on our practices and knowledge.

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The Indigenous World 2021: Mexico

Mexico is home to 68 Indigenous Peoples, each speaking their own native language and together accounting for 364 variants. The 2020 Census, produced by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), indicated that 6.1% of the national population aged three years and over was registered as speaking an Indigenous language, being some 7.36 million people. This proportion was 6.6% in the 2010 Census. In addition, the 2020 Census noted that 11.8 million people live in Indigenous households in Mexico, 5.7 million of them men and 6.1 million women. In terms of native languages, Nahuatl continues to be the most widely spoken, with 22.5% of Indigenous language speakers, or 1.65 million people, followed by Mayan with 774,000 speakers (10.6%).[1] Two percent (2.0%) of the national population also reported being of African descent, of whom 7.4% confirmed speaking an Indigenous language.[2] It is, however, important to note that problems of under-reporting of the Indigenous population were exacerbated by the early suspension of census data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of census data, the National Institute of Indigenous Languages indicates that 25 million people identify as belonging to an Indigenous people.[3]

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Building alliances in pandemic times: the Zapatista journey through Europe

After a month and a half of navigation through the Atlantic Ocean, the seven members of the Zapatista Army of Liberation (EZLN) arrived to Spain on June 21 and crossed the border to France the second week of July. In their journey they´ll visit different groups and communities that resist territorial dispossession and the destruction of nature in over 30 European countries. In the context of a civilizatory crisis that has generated the pandemic of Covid-19, the Zapatistas intend to strengthen ties of international solidarity that allow us to imagine other possible worlds.
Painting: Paola Stefani La Madrid

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Premature deaths and prison violences in Mexico: imprisoned Indigenous women and structural racism

By delving into the lives and premature deaths of four members of the Hermanas en la Sombra Editorial Collective, the author shares her insights on her 12 years long-work with Indigenous women in prison: the racism that exists in prisons, the concealment of ethnic profiles during jail censuses, and the prisons’ violence and function as an instrument of dispossession. What began for the author as academic research on the access to justice of Indigenous women, has become a life project accompanying the struggle of secluded women through writing. 

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The right to prior consultation in Mexico: its shortfalls and limitations

Indigenous peoples walk towards the rally in front of the Chinameca farm, 100 years after the murder of Emiliano Zapata. Photo: Daliri Oropeza

While we now have a government that has promised to be democratic and to govern for the masses of people, under its rule the same old colonial and hegemonic relations towards the Indigenous Peoples are being replicated. Far from implementing the international recommendations concerning Indigenous Peoples’ right to prior consultation, the current government is carrying out fraudulent consultative processes to approve infrastructure projects that hamper Indigenous communities.

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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. Read The Indigenous World.

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