• 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.


Indigenous Peoples in Mexico

Mexico is home to 68 Indigenous Peoples, each speaking their own native language and together accounting for 364 variants. 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.  The 2020 Census, produced by 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.

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 former 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 her 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.

Effects of Covid-19 

It is 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. Due to marginalisation, discrimination, violence, land dispossession and a lack of access to decent housing and public health services, among other factors, Mexico’s Indigenous population has become one of the most vulnerable sectors to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Indigenous communities decided to respond by designing and implementing their own methods and protocols to combat the pandemic, such as disseminating information through their community communication systems and in their native languages, restricting movements in and out of their territories, and ensuring a strengthened sense of solidarity and communality. The virus has, nonetheless, reached most of their regions.

The tourism industry and drug trafficking in Mexico: from the perspective of the Mayan Peoples


Before the advance of the presence of the State, the Maya Máasewáal nation lived in times of abundance. However, schools began teaching that the milpa was “poor man´s” work, whiles mass tourism turned the Mayas into a source of cheap labor. The arrival of tourists to cities such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum resulted in a market for drug trafficking and drug dealing in the region. In the same light, the mega-project of the (misnamed) Mayan Train is bound to have destructive consequences for nature. At the same time, the tourism industry will expand to rural regions that until now have lived from the production of the land and have not suffered from organized crime. Hope lies in community organization, resistance and struggles for the defense of the land.

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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 2022: Mexico

Mexico is home to 68 Indigenous Peoples, each speaking their own native language and together comprising 364 different variants. According to the 2020 Census, 6.1% of the population aged over three was recorded as speaking an Indigenous language, or some 7.36 million people. The equivalent figure in the 2010 Census was 6.6%. The 2020 Census furthermore indicated that 11.8 million people were living in Indigenous households, 5.7 million of them men and 6.1 million of them women.

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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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Indigenous World

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