DEMOGRAPHY OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

1. Starting with the first national census in 1885, the indigenous population was classified by a linguistic criterion. This indicator was misleading since many of the indigenous people refused to acknowledge their use of indigenous languages for fear of discrimination. The 1921 census included more direct questions as to racial origin and the results showed that 59 percent of the population (or a total of 8,504,561) considered themselves to be mixed mestizo while 29 percent (4,179,449) of the total national population self-described themselves as being indigenous. A further 10 percent were self-classified as “white” and 2 percent as foreigners.

Table 5.1. Indigenous Population in the Census from 1930 to1990

Table 5.1. Indigenous Population in the Census from 1930 to1990

Year
Percentage of Indigenous Population
1930
14
1950
10
1970
7
1980
10
1990
8

Source: INEGI, 1992; INAH, 1987

2. The differences in the figures throughout the census periods show the permanent under-enumeration of the indigenous population throughout this sixty-year period. This fact has serious negative repercussions in the quality of services implemented in the indigenous regions. It is very common to find that the demographic information on indigenous populations does not coincide with that of various studies and diagnostics conducted for various ethnic groups.

3. Examples that clearly illustrate the diverse criteria, which have been used in the censuses to classify the indigenous population, are the states of Morelos and Tlaxcala. Both states were, in 1930, states where ten percent of the population was indigenous language speakers. In 1990 these states registered, four percent and 5.8 percent respectively of the population as indigenous language speakers. This discrepancy was due to the fact that the census takes language as the only parameter to classify indigenous peoples. The diminution in numbers is due to the implementation of new policies, both educational and cultural, over the span of sixty years which has contributed to the loss of indigenous language, but this is not the same as stating that this population suffered a parallel loss of cultural identity.

4. The 1995 Population and Housing Census registered nine percent of the total population (6.7 million people) as indigenous language speakers, but included an additional variable: “person living in a household where the head of household is an indigenous language speaker.” This resulted in an increase to 8.9 million. For its part, the National Indigenist Institute, whose mandate is to implement the Government�s policies towards indigenous people, estimated in 1995 about 10 million indigenous people. Other sources, using a natural growth rate of 2.7 percent calculated that by 1997 there would be 10.5 million indigenous people (see Table 5.2).

Table 5.2. Indigenous Population Estimates

199019951997
TOTAL POPULATION81,249,64591,158,290
Speakers of an indigenous language 5 years of age and older5,181,0386,755,585
Occupant of household where the head or households or spouse is a speaker
of an indigenous language
8,989,895 
Estimated indigenous population by INI8,701,68810,040,29010,597,488*

*Population projection estimated on the basis of a growth rate of 2.7 percent. Luz Maria Valdez: “Los Indios en los censos de población” UNAM, 1996.

Table 5.3 Concentration of Indigenous Population by State

Campeche  

 

  States where 86 percent of the total indigenous population is
concentrated. These states are in the central and southwestern part of
the country and coincide with the cultural region defined as Mesoamerica. 

Chiapas 
Guerrero 
Hidalgo 
Mexico 
Oaxaca 
Puebla 
Quintana Roo 
San Luis Potosi 
Veracruz 
Distrito Federal 

5. The lack of clarity in the censuses concerning the self-defined indigenous population makes the determination of their actual numbers difficult. For example, the indigenous population was calculated to have had a growth rate of 5.2 percent in the decade between 1970 to 1980, compared to a 3.3 percent national average growth rate. In 1990 this growth rate declined to levels below one percent. Demographers interested in the indigenous population, in an effort to reduce the discrepancies and distortions in the censuses, took a twenty-year period to measure the demographic growth rate of this population. Between 1970 and 1990 the studies showed a growth rate of 2.7 percent � slightly superior to the national growth rate of 2 percent (see Table 5.4).

Table 5.4 Census Period 1970-1990 Indigenous Population Growth Rate

States
1970 (Percent)
1990 (Percent)
Chiapas
5.5
4.7
Guerrero4
5.5
3.2
Hidalgo
4.2 
2.3
San Luis Potosí
5.8
3.0
Querétaro
6.8
2.8
Veracruz
5.8
2.4
Yucatán
3.2 
1.9
Campeche
3.1
2.1
Oaxaca
2.8
2.1
Distrito Federal
11.7 
2.5
Quintana Roo
7.9
6.4
State of México
6.0
2.2
Morelos
6.8 
1.0

Luz María Valdés, The Indigenous population in the Population Census (Los indios en los censos de población), UNAM, 1995.

6. The decline in the indigenous population growth rate is partly linked to behavioral changes induced in the indigenous population over the last 20 years by government programs. The changes, however, are not homogeneous: there are some groups with a high growth rate and others that appear to be stagnant or declining. Regardless of the true rate of growth (which is difficult to determine), the inconsistencies in the censuses obfuscate demographically significant trends with the result that the censuses have not contributed positively to formulating adequate and appropriate policies for education, health, or project implementation in indigenous regions. In the State of Campeche for instance, with an indigenous population of 89,000, the educational needs are theoretically covered from elementary through secondary and technical school levels, but the high rates of absenteeism, low productivity, and school drop-out rate amount to one fifth of the school attending population. The main reasons for this are diverse: (a) the teachers who provide bilingual education are not capable of developing and delivering a curriculum in an indigenous language except at a basic level; and (b) the children and adolescents must assist the parents in the agricultural and commercial cycles which results in an inability to continue in school.

The solution to improve the conditions and quality of life of the indigenous population lies not in isolated measures, such as special education programs for indigenous regions, without at the same time attending to the teacher training needs. The government programs ought to be integrated accepting the range of cultural differences that structure the response of the indigenous population to the state�s policies.

The censuses show that the indigenous population has declined in relation to past growth in the last few decades, yet art the same time there has been an increase in absolute numbers that reached 5 million in 1980 and 8.9 million in 1990.

7. The demographic increase of recent years is partly due to the growing social awareness about ethnicity and of self-identification as a member of an indigenous group. Slowly this has resulted in some targeted efforts to improve specific social conditions among some groups. These include the development of preventive medicine in the rural areas, and especially to vaccination campaigns and the eradication of endemic diseases, such as tuberculosis. Nonetheless, as the diagnostics for the states show, there is much to be done because of the low ratio of doctors to patients and the lack of medicine. In large part, the lack of health services is due to the lack of communication between doctors and patients and conflicting concepts of health and disease causality. The indigenous population has various forms of dealing with diseases and curative methods that are often antithetical to western medicine. Recently the INI has launched a new effort, jointly with the Health Department, to train midwives in indigenous communities in order to combine their experience with new modern treatment methods.

The growth of the indigenous population is definitive. Their present and future presence in the future of the country is incontrovertible.

8. Given that the statistical information on the indigenous population has been based on subjective indicators rather than on culturally determined processes of classification, the true demographic tendency of the indigenous population is had to determine. However, it is apparent that the increase registered recently after some two decades of apparent decline is an illustration not only of the demographic vitality but also of the influence of a new generation of indigenous intellectuals in the country. They have been responsible for the resurgence of movements that tend to the formation and consolidation of ethnic identities in the country. This is a process that is emergent and transforming, and is linked to other social and political movements whose final results are difficult to predict.

Table 5.5 Indigenous Population in Mexico: Inter-Census Period 1995

Type of Language
Head of Household or Spouse ILS 
Total Population ILS 
MEXICO
8,989,895
675,585
AMUZGO
42,490
39,677
CACHIKEL
930
388
CHATINO
49,085
42,016
CHICHIMECA
2,796
1,948
CHINANTECO
171,888
143,847
CHOCHO
1,940
1,004
CHOL
190,188
174,426
CHONTAL DE OAXACA
16,280
8,743
CHONTAL DE TABASCO
73,997
45,406
CHUJ
1,881
2,454
COCHIMI
308
154
CORA
17,915
17,318
CUCAPA
280
166
CUICATECO
21,119
15,259
GUARIJIO
2,112
1,879
HUASTECO
188,617
156,557
HUAVE
17,462
14,489
HUICHOL
35,995
34,919
IXATECO
655
392
IXIL
267
198
JACALTECO
1,503
840
KANJOBAL
18,035
17,404
KEKCHI
1,148
1,059
KIKAPU
445
368
KUMIAI
404
229
LACANDON
174
82
MAME
27,633
10,739
MAZATLINCA
2,161
1,091
MAYA
1,404,265
944,090
MAYO
100,912
49,441
MAZAHUA
294,785
160,913
MAZATECO
246,159
215,043
MIXE
136,099
119,363
MIXTECO
615,350
481,856
MOTOZINTLECO
891
318
NAHUATL
2,171,761
1,623,993
OCUILTECO
1,693
725
OTOMI
603,178
358,382
PAIPAI
463
262
PAME
10,609
9,089
PAPAGO
409
162
PIMA
1,581
1,040
POPOLOCA
23,148
17,886
PUREPECHA
174,068
129,275
QUICHE
612
417
SERI
664
579
TARAHUMARA
95,890
77,246
TEPEHUA
13,860
10,764
TEPEHUAN
32,262
28,110
TLAPANECO
103,067
92,754
TOJOLABAL
53,847
46,687
TOTONACA
354,081
214,192
TRIQUI
24,250
23,113
TZELTAL
374,388
369,940
TZOLTIL
354,574
325,916
YAQUI
23,679
15,712
ZAPAOTECO
699,325
497,746
ZOQUE
71,688
55,543
NO ESPECIFICADO
53,650
43,159

Instituto de Ecolog�a, UNAM