The United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is held annually on August 9. This is day is of considerable significance to Mexico, who has one of the most diverse indigenous populations in Latin America.
According to the National Statistics Institute (INEGI), 14.8 million people in Mexico (around 12.25% of the population) are indigenous, speaking over 60 languages. The majority live in the South or Central-West region of the country in the states of Oaxaca, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Campeche, Puebla and San Luis Potosí. Around 72% are considered impoverished.
The United Nations established the World’s Indigenous Peoples Day in 1994 to celebrate and highlight the world’s indigenous populations. According to the UN, this day aims to “Bridge the gap, implementing the rights of indigenous peoples.”
In 2003, the Mexican government passed an anti-discrimination law which made any form of racial discrimination against indigenous people illegal, however Mexico’s indigenous communities still experience marginalization and continue to be disadvantaged and vulnerable. 20 years after the United Nations founded the indigenous peoples day, the state of Quintana Roo has seen little advance in the struggles of its indigenous peoples.
Hermelindo Be Cituk, state coordinator of the National Indigenous Association for the Autonomy of Quintana Roo (ANIPA), explained that there are 177,000 Mayan speakers in Quintana Roo, 19,000 of them live in Playa del Carmen, where there are 16 indigenous groups. He added that indigenous people from Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula would not be celebrating any official or cultural events for this year’s Day of Indigenous Peoples.
“Problems are everywhere. Laws and international agreements are blocked and there is no legislative harmony. ANIPA decided not to organize any public event, ceremony or activity, because we simply have nothing to celebrate. We believe that this date was made to attract the attention of the authorities, but still we do not have the right of political representation and we have seen no advance regarding the laws we proposed,” said Be Cituk.
Instead, members of ANIPA will meet with Mayan priest Luis Nah. They will be talking about the issues that the indigenous peoples from Quintana Roo are experiencing such as the federation´s lack of commitment on indemnifying shared landowners whose lands were expropriated, the detection of oil in the Quintana Roo Mayan Zone and the coordination of state laws.
Later in the month, indigenous leaders from the Yucatan Peninsula and states such as Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco will gather in Valladolid in order to discuss international agreements and how attract government attention on the indigenous issue.
September 22-23 will see the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in New York, where round-table discussions will take place to share perspectives on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
By Carlos Underwood
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