Indigenous Peoples, Democracy and Political Participation / Pueblos Indígenas, Democracia y Participación Política Demographic distribution Tendencias Demográphicas

Ultima actualización / Last updated: October 13, 2006

Demographic distribution

The five Latin American countries with the largest indigenous populations are: Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The actual size and percentages of these populations however varies according to the sources being used and how indigenous peoples are defined or identified by these sources.

Country Total Population Total
Indigenous Population
% of Indigenous Population Year of Census
Bolivia 8,090,732 5,358,107 66.2 2001
Ecuador 12,156,608 830,418 6.8 2001
Mexico 97,014,867 7,618,990 7.9 2000
Guatemala 11,237,196 4,433,218 39.5 2002
Peru 25,939,329 3,968,717 15.3 ENIV 2000

Source: Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), sobre la base de procesamientos especiales de los microdatos censales.

Bolivia: According to the national census of 2001 of people aged 15 and over, 62% of individuals identified themselves as belonging to one of the 50 native populations (IWGIA - The Indigenous World - 2006, 182). The largest indigenous peoples in Bolivia are the Quechuas and Aymaras that are concentrated in the highlands and valleys, rather than the plains. Between 1992 and 2001, the total population in urban areas grew at an annual rate of 4% due to a process of migration of indigenous peoples from the countryside to cities (Pozo, Casazola and Yañez Aguilar 2005, 41). Nevertheless, according to 2002 household survey, rural areas are still predominantly indigenous (Ibid, 42). The geographic distribution of indigenous populations is as follows: 67% reside in the highlands, 60% reside in the populations, but on the plains, indigenous peoples only account for 17% of the population (Ibid).

Ecuador: There are 13 indigenous nationalities including Kichwa, Siona, Secoya, Cofán, Huaorani, Shiwiar, Shuar, Achuar, Chachi, Espera, Tsa'chila, Huancavilca, and Awa (IWGIA - The Indigenous World - 2006, 161). The indigenous nationalities are distributed in the highlands, the Amazon and the coast, with the largest concentration of indigenous peoples being in the highlands. Two things are important to note about the indigenous population. First, there is a real questioning of the size and percentage of the indigenous population in Ecuador. For example data contained in a UNESCO report of the Unidad para la Cultura Democrática y la Gobernabilidad, notes that the percentage of indigenous population was 24.85% by 1998 (Nieto and Montesinos 1999, 66). In another report elaborated by Roque Roldán for the Inter-American Development Bank, the indigenous population is identified as accounting for 43% of the national population (2002). Second, although there has been some recent indigenous migration from rural areas to cities, it is fairly clear that the rural indigenous population continues to be significantly higher than the urban.According to the 2001 census, 82% of the indigenous population is rural and only 18% is urban (INEC, Censo 2001).

Mexico: Of the five countries that form part of this analysis, Mexico is the country with the largest number of indigenous peoples but the lowest percentage in relation to the total national population. Indigenous peoples located in the Southern part of the country in such states as Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Yucatan have the highest percentage of indigenous peoples.One of the reasons that may account for this is the continuity of native languages, cultural identities and stronger community relations. In terms of georgraphical distribution, 80% of indigenous peoples live in southern Mexico (Campeche, Chiapas, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, Veracruz and Yucatán), 15% live in central Mexico (Aguascalientes, Colima, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan, Morelos, Nayarit, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas), and 7% live in the northern region (Baja California, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Durango, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nueva León, Tamaulipas) and metropolitan areas of Mexico City (Hall and Patrinos 2005, 151 and 197).

Guatemala: According to the most recent census dating from late 2002, the Guatemalan population is approximately 11.2 million people, of whom 39.5% self-identify as indigenous. However, some other references state that the figure on the percentage of indigenous peoples should be considered to be 60% (IWGIA - The Indigenous World - 2004, 94) or more (Roque Roldán 2002, 4). The indigenous population are divided into three groups: Maya, Xinca and Garúfuna. The Maya are the majority group, the Garúfuna are estimated to number no more than 150,000 persons and the Xinca no more than 100,000. Up until May 2003, there were 23 indigenous languages fully recognized and defined amongst themselves and by the Guatemalan State (IWGIA - The Indigenous World - 2004, 94). Of these 23, 21 are Mayan Indian languages, and the other two belong to the Xinca (related to the Nahua language) and Garúfuna (an Afro-Caribbean indigenous language). Between 1989 and 2000, the portion of the indigenous population that lived in urban areas rose by 6%. At the same time, there was also a significant migration of Mayans to the US. According to a study conducted in 2004 by the Guatemala Office of the International Orgnaization of Migration (IOM), there were 139,702 Mayan-speaking inmigratns in the US (Dardon, 2005).

Peru: Based upon the national censuses, Néstor Valdivia calculated that the indigenous population had decreased from 51% in 1940, to 36% in 1961, to 28% in 1972, to 20% in 1993, and to 15% in 2000. The criteria used by theses censuses to define an indigenous person was if the head of the household or the head's spouse had a non-spanish, non-foreign mother tongue. However, if the criteria extends to include households were the head's parents or grandparents have an indigenous language as their mother tongue, then the percentage of indigenous poplution would increase to 48% (IWGIA - The Indigenous World - 2006, 171). The indigenous population can be divided into three distinct geographic regions: the sierra, the coast, and the Amazon. Most indigenous peoples live in the sierra, including Quechuas and Aymaras. However, there has been a large indigenous migration from the sierra to urban areas, specially to Lima. In addition, there are at least 14 recorded indigenous peoples who live in isolation in the Amazon region (IWGIA - The Indigenous World - 2002-3).

Bibliographical References

Hall, Gillette and Harry A. Patrinos (editors). 2006. Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Macmillan International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. 2006. The Indigenous World 2006. Copenhaguen, Denmark.

Dardon, Jacobo. 2005 Pueblos Indígenas y la Migración Internacional en Guatemala: de las Comunidades en Resistencia hacia las Comunidades Trasnacionales. Report presented at the Conference "Migración, Pueblos Indígenas y Afro-americanos" organized by the Universidad Nacional de México, Universidad Iberoamericana de Puebla and the Instituto de Ciencias Jurídicas A.C. in México City, November 2005.

Del Popolo, Fabiana y Ana María Oyarce. América Latina, Población Indígena: Perfil Sociodemográfico en el Marco de la Conferencia Internacional sobre la Población y el Desarrollo y de las Metas del Milenio. Notas de Población No. 79. CELADE/División de Población. LC/G.2284-P/E Julio 2005: pp. 1-40.

Macmillan International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. 2005. The Indigenous World 2005. Copenhaguen, Denmark.

Macmillan International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. 2004. The Indigenous World 2004. Copenhaguen, Denmark.

Macmillan International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. 2002-2003. The Indigenous World 2002-2003 Copenhaguen, Denmark.

Roldán, Roque. Los Pueblos Indígenas de Colombia en el Umbral del Nuevo Milenio.

Poverty Rates

Along with analysis of demographic trends, there has also been an increasing amount of analysis of the differences in poverty rates betweeen indigenous peoples and non-indigenous populations in Latin American countries. This data is particularly important in understanding the situation of ethnic inequality. It is also useful in the preparation of targeted social, economic and human development policies that effectively address the reduction of poverty among indigenous peoples taking into account their cultural values and identities. In addition, such policies are crucial for ensuring the political rights of indigenous peoples, and for providing them with an effective voice in the evloution of multicultural democracies.

The current data which exist on the differences in poverty rates between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous populations is as follows:

Country Year    
Bolivia 2002 % of population living in poverty % of population living in extreme poverty
National   63.1 39.5
Indigenous   73.9 52.5
Non-Indigenous   52.5 26.9
Ecuador 1998 % of population living in poverty % of population living in extreme poverty
National   62.5 26.9
Indigenous   86.9 55.6
Non-Indigenous   61.1 25.2
Guatemala 2000 % of population living in poverty % of population living in extreme poverty
National   51.6 13.4
Indigenous   73.7 24.3
Non-Indigenous   37.6 6.5
Mexico 2002 % of population living in poverty % of population living in extreme poverty
National   51.7 20.3
Indigenous   89.7 68.5
Non-Indigenous   46.7 14.9
Peru 2000 % of population living in poverty % of population living in extreme poverty
National   46.5 11.7
Indigenous   62.8 22.2
Non-Indigenous   43.0 9.5

Bibliographical References

Hall, Gillette and Harry Anthony Patrinos. 2006. Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). 2005. The Millenium Development Goals. A Latin American and Caribbean Perspective. Santiago, Chile: United Nations Publications.