There are 68 different Indigenous Peoples that inhabit Mexican territory, each of which speaks a native language of their own. These languages form 11 linguistic families, comprised by 364 dialectal variants. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 25.7 million persons, that is 21.5% of the population, self-identify as Indigenous. 12 million inhabitants (10.1% of the population) indicate that they live in Indigenous households. In addition, 6.5% of Mexico’s population is registered as speakers of an Indigenous language, representing 7.4 million persons.1
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.
Mexico has the largest indigenous population in the Americas and the largest number of native languages spoken in its territory: 68 languages and 364 registered dialects. According to official statistics, principally from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 6.5% of the national population speaks an indigenous language while 10.6% of the population indicated that they live in an indigenous household. 21.5% (27.5 million) of Mexico’s population describes themselves as indigenous people.
"Under the shadow of the Guamúchil" is a documentary made during the workshop "Life Stories", by Aida Hernandez Castillo, within the Atlacholoaya Morelos prison in Mexico, between 2008 and 2009. Besides the video, which can now be watched in English, a book about the women has been published in Spanish.