Indigenous Peoples, Democracy and Political Participation


As a Mayan woman and as a citizen who has been engaged in the process of building a multicultural society, I know what democracy means, that is created by the people and that it is for the people. The main problem with our 'democracies,' at least in Latin America, is that they are not complete. They appear to be what they are not, since they were conceived within mono-cultural States, excluding some and granting privileges to a few, to the detriment of the majority. We, indigenous men and women, are peaceful and respectful and seek harmony not only between human beings but also with other forms of life and elements of nature. For indigenous peoples, consultation, participation and consensus are of the greatest importance in relation to decision-making - in order that the decision of the majority will prevail as a democratic principle. This process is based on a recognition that all human beings are equal and have the same rights and obligations. We want our political system to change for the benefit of all, so that there is equality of opportunity without exclusion of any kind. Indigenous peoples pin their hopes on the future. They would like democracy to be inclusive, representative and inter-cultural, in other words, respectful of differences. The unity of Guatemala and that of other similar countries must be based on such a rich source of diversity, which, in turn, must be reflected in an 'ethnic democracy'.

Otilia Lux de Cojti, Former Minister of Culture, Guatemala Democracy in Latin America: Toward a Citizens' Democracy United Nations Development Programme

The past three decades have seen major changes in the role that indigenous peoples play in the politics of several Latin American countries. After nearly two centuries in which indigenous peoples were either excluded or marginalized from national politics, new types of indigenous social movements emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. These movements called for a greater recognition of the human and cultural rights of indigenous peoples and their more active participation in development and other forms of public decision-making. By the late 1980s, with the return to democratic regimes in most Latin American countries, these indigenous movements began to call for fundamental changes in national constitutions in order to create a more propitious legislative and institutional framework for the recognition of truly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and pluri-cultural societies. At the same time, these indigenous movements began to participate more actively in hemispheric and international politics, bringing to world attention the obstacles that they faced in obtaining greater protection of their lands, cultures and communities.

Despite the emergence of these new indigenous movements and their success in focusing national and international attention on their political, socio-economic and cultural situations, indigenous peoples still face fundamental challenges today. These challenges include reducing persistently high rates of poverty and inequality, implementing national legislation and international accords that recognize indigenous claims to land and natural resources, and achieving autonomy and a greater voice in both local and national decision-making. In order to address these fundamental challenges, it is necessary to understand the role that indigenous movements play as political actors in national, regional and local politics. It is also necessary to understand whether the political cultures and institutional arrangements in Latin American countries can be transformed to include a multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural vision of democracy.

Given the recent political events in countries including Bolivia and Ecuador, the increasing visibility and importance of indigenous peoples as political actors, and the long academic tradition and interest of CLAS faculty and students in issues of democratic governance in Latin America, the PDBA decided to incorporate this new section on Indigenous Peoples, Democracy and Political Participation.


  1. Analyze and understand the role of indigenous peoples as evolving political actors and their impact upon democracy and governance.
  2. Gather, systematize, and disseminate information on indigenous peoples and democracy that would otherwise remain unrelated and difficult to find.
  3. Promote public awareness of the emergence of indigenous movements as key political actors, including greater understanding of their history, current situation and political, socio-economic, and cultural demands.
  4. Analyze the current state of the incorporation of indigenous peoples into democratic political regimes including obstacles and challenges to the creation of multicultural democracies.
  5. Promote the exchange of information, experiences and best practices of indigenous political participation and democratic governance at national, regional and local levels.


The section is divided into five subsections:

  • Demographic Trends - Demographic and socio-economic data related to the size of indigenous populations, their locations within countries, the number of people who speak native languages, the names of the tribes and communities, poverty levels and human development indicators, and other relevant information.
  • Constitutional Rights, Legislation, and Agreements - Constitutional articles which recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and their specific forms of participation and government within their respective national contexts. Articles are presented and searchable by country. In addition, full texts of international and national legislation and agreements related to indigenous peoples' rights.
  • Constitutional Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    International and Regional Agreements

  • Political Representation of Indigenous Peoples (Under construction / bajo construcción) - Identifies indigenous political parties and provides institutional information on these parties. Data on indigenous participation in government positions and representation in national Congresses, as well as on existing and potential "indigenous parliaments."
  • State Agencies for Indigenous Affairs - Listing of state agencies by country within the Executive or Legislative Branch, dealing with indigenous affairs. The list includes the name of the agency, direct link, and basic contact information.
  • Non-Govermental Organizations dealing with Indigenous Peoples

  • Reference Materials - Listing with bibliographic references, on-line resources including on-line publications and related links, and OAS resources on indigenous peoples.