The seven indigenous peoples of Nicaragua are distributed, historically and culturally, between the Pacific coast, central and northern Nicaragua – inhabited by the Chorotega (221,000), Cacaopera or Matagalpa (97,500), Ocanxiu or Sutiaba (49,000) and Nahoa or Náhuatl (20,000) peoples – and the Caribbean (or Atlantic) coast, inhabited by the Mískitu (150,000), Sumu-Mayangna (27,000) and Rama (2,000) peoples.
Indigenous peoples in Nicaragua
There are seven indigenous peoples of Nicaragua. Nicaragua has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169 in 2010. Yet, its indigenous communities are facing a great number of challenges, especially in terms of construction through communal lands affecting their livelihoods, and in terms of the state failing to comply with its legal obligation to honour the title of the lands in favour of the indigenous communities.
The indigenous peoples of Nicaragua
There are seven indigenous peoples of Nicaragua. They are distributed, historically and culturally, between the Pacific coast, Central and Northern region inhabited by the Chorotega (221,000), Cacaopera or Matagalpa (97,500), Ocanxiu or Sutiaba (49,000) and Nahoa or N.huatl (20,000) peoples. The Caribbean (or Atlantic) coast is home of the M.skitu (150,000), Sumu-Mayangna (27,000) and Rama (2,000) peoples.
Other peoples who have collective rights under the Constitution of Nicaragua (1987) are the Afro-descendants, referred to as "ethnic communities" in the national legislation. These include the Creoles or Kriols (43,000) and the Garífunas (2,500).
Main challenges for Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples
A major concern for the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua is that the government is pushing ahead the construction and promotion of the Grand Interoceanic Canal through communal lands, which is affecting the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples to a high degree.
Another challenge for Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples are the examples of the State of Nicaragua failing to comply with its legal obligation to honour the title issued by the State of Nicaragua itself in favour of the indigenous communities. This is the case for the communities of the Laguna de Perlas Basin, the community of Tilba Lupia, the Tasba Pri Territory, the Black Creole Indigenous Community of Bluefields, and the communities of the Rama and Kriol Territory.
During 2017, the IACHR has reiterated its concern for defenders of rights to land and to natural resources, and for indigenous persons and afro-descendants engaged in such defence work, who continue to face great risks of violence in Nicaragua.
Potential progress for Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples
Some measures have been taken by the Inter-American Court and Inter-American Commission (IACHR) to support the indigenous communities in cases of illegal invasion of non-indigenous persons or "settlers" in legally titled indigenous territories.
In 2016, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favour of 12 communities. However, the State of Nicaragua did not respect the precautionary measures, and community members are still unable to move freely and use their lands to engage in hunting, fishing, and fruit gathering activities because they are faced with armed settlers who are invading encroaching upon their lands.