ECONOMY OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF MEXICO

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Ecological Zones

The indigenous peoples inhabit four broadly defined ecological regions.

Table 7.3 Ecological Regions and Indigenous Peoples

Regions
Surface (hectares)
Estimated indigenous population
Estimated Indigenous population as % of Total Population
Humid Tropics 28,598,300 3,280,159 37.0
Dry Tropics 25,598,000 2,978,510 34.0
Temperate Zone 39,024,000 1,953,100 22.4
Arid Zone 102 489,818 5.6

Secretaría de Desarrollo Social SEDESOL, 1994

17. These regions include 45 percent of the forested areas of the country and municipalities with over 30 percent of estimated indigenous population. For example, it is estimated that in Oaxaca 90 percent of the state�s forest resources are located in indigenous lands, and many of the environmental changes affecting Mexico today such as increasing deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and desertification, also are occurring in regions inhabited by these populations. These changes are the result of the imposition of economic models that require a high use of fertilizer as well as of the devastating impact of unsustainable extraction of timber from the forests.

18. The indigenous peoples have accessed the resources of these diverse ecological regions through systems of customary tenure for hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years. The indigenous cultures we see today, is the result of adaptations to these different natural areas and they are repositories of enormous banks of knowledge, technologies, and strategies for the appropriation of nature. The ecological knowledge possessed by these people forms a part of the national patrimony of the country and must be taken into account in development project planning and in the decision-making process designating the location of natural protected areas or national parks.

19. The native knowledge of specific ecological regions and their productive systems are not as damaging, from a long-term sustainability perspective, than other systems, since they operate as allies of nature, specifically looking out for the conservation of biological diversity and culturally significant landscapes.

In Mexico it is not possible to recognize and safeguard the natural resource patrimony without respecting, at the same time, the indigenous cultures and peoples who have given sense and are intimately involved in the politics of conservation of nature in their regions.

Table 7.4 Natural Protected Areas in Indigenous Territories

Natural Protected Areas
National Total
Protected Areas in Indigenous Municipalities with Indigenous
Peoples >30%
Biosphere Reserve
22
8
Special Biosphere Reserve
13
6
National Parks
56
13
Forestry Reserves
16
4
Protected Forested Areas
202
11
Special Fauna and Flora Protected Areas
8
3
National Monuments
3
2
Marine National Parks
3
1
Protected Zones of Marine Flora and Fauna
2
2
Parks
1
1
Total
326
51

Source: Lucio Lara Plata, 1994: Indigenous Peoples and Natural Protected Areas. Instituto Nacional Indigenista.

Factors Affecting the Degradation of Natural Resources

  • The national conservation policies have not consulted with the indigenous peoples to ensure the population’s acceptance of these policies.
  • There is no ranking of the areas in the country by their ecological potential, and according to the best use of the soils to maximize their rational economic use.
  • Projects with colonization components and resettlement have not been planned according to ecological criteria. This has resulted in negative environmental impacts.
  • Traditional slash and burn systems of production conflict with the aim of preservation and protection of the ecosystems. The expansion of the agricultural land area has occurred at the expense of territories of indigenous communities over other areas.

20. The analysis of impacts of the traditional technologies compared to logging or building roads has not been systematically undertaken. Environmental degradation drastically modifies the conditions of life of the indigenous peoples. The most extreme levels of environmental degradation are found especially in the areas of the Tarahumara Sierra, the Nayarit Sierra, the Purepecha Mesa, the Chimalapas in Oaxaca, the Lacandon Jungle, the southern portion of the Huasteca, the northern Sierra in Puebla, the Nahuatl region of the Oaxaca-Puebla Canyon, the two Nahuatl regions of Veracruz, the Tlapaneco-Amuzgo region of Guerrero, and almost the entire state of Oaxaca, in addition, the petroleum extracting areas of Tabasco and Veracruz. Most of these areas also have high levels of contamination of the rivers, lagoons, lakes, dams, and water tables.

  • The official institutions charged with the implementation of conservation and natural resource management programs are Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP),
  • National Ecology Institute,
  • National Procurer for the Protection of the Environment (PROFEPA)

Table 7.5 Indigenous Regions Identified within the Priority Conservation Areas

Indigenous Region
I. Mayo Las Bocas (32)
II. Tarahumara Alta Tarahumara (43); Cañón
de Chinipas (44); Barrancas del Cobre (45); Montes Azules (46); Guadalupe,
Calvo y Mohinora (48)
III. Huicot Guacamayita (85); Sierra de Jesús
María (88); Sierra de Bolaños (90)
IV. Meseta Purépecha Tancítaro (111)
V. Huasteca Cañones de Afluentes del
Pánuco (103); Tlanchinol (104); Huayacocotla (105)
VI. Sierra Norte de Puebla Cuetzalan (118)
VII. Totonaca de Veracruz Encinares de Nautla (107)
VIII. Otomí Cañones de Afluentes del
Pánuco (103)
IX. Mazahua-Otomí Sierra de Chincua (114)
X. Náhuatl de las Costas
de Michoacán
Sierra de Coalcomán (112)
XI. Meseta Chocho-Mixteca-Popoloca
de Puebla
XII. Náhuatl de la Cañada
Oaxaqueña-Poblana
Tehuacán-Cuicatlán
(123); Sierra Granizo (124)
XIII. Náhuatl Jalapa Martínez
de la Torre de Veracruz
XIV. Náhuatl Orizaba-Córdoba
de Veracruz
Perote-Orizaba (119)
XV. Popoluca-Náhuatl. Los
Tuxtlas de Veracruz
Sierra de los Tuxtlas-Laguna del
Ostión (110)
XVI. Náhuatl Tlapaneco-Mixteco-Amuzgo
de Guerrero
Cañón del Zopilote
(121)
XVII. Chontal de Tabasco Pantanos de Centla-Laguna de Términos
(135)
XVIII. Chiapas Selva Zoque (Chimalapas-Ocote-Uxpanapa)
(133); Huitepec-Tzontehuitz ( 138); La Chacona-Cañón del
Sumidero (139); El Suspiro-Buenavista-Berriozabal (140); Bosques Mesófilos
de los Altos de Chiapas (141); El Momón-Margaritas-Montebello (145);
Lacandona (Montes Azules-Marqués de Comillas-Cañada)(146)
XIX. Península de Yucatán Silvituc-Calakmul (147); Zonas
Forestales de Quintana Roo (149); Sian Kaan-Uaymil (150); Zona de Punto
Put (151); Centro-Sur de Cozumel (152); Isla Contoy (153); Dzilam-Ría
Lagartos-Yum-Balam (154); Petenes-Ría Celestum (155)
XX. Oaxaca Tehuacán-Cuicatlán
(123); Sierra Granizo (124); Sierra Trique (125); Sierra de Tidaa (126);
Sierra Norte de Oaxaca (127); Zimatlán (128); Río Verde Bajo
(129); Manglares de Chacahua-Manialtepec (130); Sierra Sur y Costa de Oaxaca
(131); Sierra Mixe-La Ventosa (132); Selva Zoque (Chimalapas-Ocote-Uxpanapa)
(133)

Note: The indigenous regions are located primarily or entirely in some of the high priority conservation areas. Source: Socio-Economic indicators of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico. INI, 1993; Priority Conservation Areas. CONABIO/PRONATURA/WWF/USAID/TNC, 1997.

Table 7.6 Minority Indigenous Groups Identified within Priority Resource

Conservation Areas (see map of Indigenous Regions)

Indigenous Group State  Municipalities Priority Conservation Areas
and Rank
Cucapá Baja California Mexicali Delta del Río Colorado,
Alto Golfo de California (14)
Sonora San Luis Río Colorado Delta del Río Colorado,
Alto Golfo de California (14)
Cochimí Baja California Ensenada Valle de los Cirios (8); Sierra
de Juárez (12)
Pai-pai Baja California Ensenada Valle de los Cirios (8)

Sierra de San Pedro Mártir (11)

Kiliwa Baja California Ensenada Valle de los Cirios (8)
Kumiai Baja California Ensenada y Tijuana Valle de los Cirios (8); Sierra
de Juárez (12)
Cahita Sinaloa Entre Ahome y Fuerte
Sonora Etchojoa
Navojoa Sierra de Álamos (33)
Seri Sonora Pitiquito Isla Tiburón-Sierra Seri
(19)
Yaqui Sonora Bacum y Cajeme
Guaymas Sierra Bacatete (31)
Pápago Sonora Caborca
Mayo Sinaloa Ahome y Fuerte
Pima Chihuahua Temosachi
Madera Cuarenta Casas (36)
Sonora Yecora Yécora-El Reparo (28)
Kikapú Coahuila Múzquiz Río San Rodrigo-El Burro
(51)
Chichimeca-Jonaz San Luis Potosí Tamasopo y Sta. Catarina
Matlatzincas Estado de México Temascaltepec y Zinacantepec Sierra de Taxco (116)
Ocuiltecos Estado de México Ocuilán y Tianguistengo Sur del Valle de México
(117)
Aguacateco Estado de México Atizapan de Zaragoza, Naucalpan
y Tlalnepantla
Ixcateco Oaxaca Nuevo Soyaltepec y Santa María
Ixcatlán
Sierra Norte de Oaxaca (127)
Teco Veracruz Minatitlán
Cakchiquel Quintana Roo Othón P. Blanco Zonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
Chiapas Mazapa de Madero Selva Espinosa Chicomuselo-Motozintla
(144)
Kekchi Quintana Roo Othón P. Blanco Zonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
Campeche Champotón Silvituc-Calakmul (147)
Quiché Quintana Roo Othón P. Blanco Río Hondo (148)
Campeche Champotón Silvituc-Calakmul (147)
Chiapas Huitiupán, Tapachula, Suchiate
y Frontera Hidalgo
Kanjobal Campeche Champotón Silvituc-Calakmul (147)
Jacalteco Campeche Champotón Silvituc-Calakmul (147)
Quintana Roo Othón P. Blanco Zonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
Ixil Campeche Champotón Silvituc-Calakmul (147)
Campeche
Chiapas Villa Corzo
Quintana Roo Othón P. Blanco Zonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
Lacandón Chiapas Ocosingo Lacandona (Montes Azules-Marqués
de Comillas-Cañada) (146)
Tzotzil Chiapas La Trinitaria
Tojolabal Chiapas Las Margaritas Lacandona (Montes Azules-Marqués
de Comillas-Cañada) (146)
La Concordia, Villa Corzo
Kanjobal Chiapas La Independencia El Momón-Margaritas-Montebello
(145)
Las Margaritas, Chicomuselo
Jacalteco Chiapas Amatenango de la Frontera Selva Espinosa Chicomuselo-Motozintla
(144)
La Trinitaria, Frontera Comalapa
y La Grandeza
Motozintleco Chiapas Villa Comaltitlán y Huixtla Triunfo-Encrucijada-Palo Blanco
(142)

Note: The indigenous regions are located primarily or entirely in some of the high priority conservation areas.

Source: Socio-Economic indicators of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico. INI, 1993; Priority Conservation Areas. CONABIO/PRONATURA/WWF/USAID/TNC, 1997.

 

Land Tenure

 

21. The use of land by the indigenous peoples was perturbed with the establishment of the hacienda system, which permanently affected land tenure. To this day, there are communities and small towns established in the same place as they were over 2,500 years ago. Theirs has been an occupation of land which has been permanent and is an illustration of the historic sustainability of these systems and their people and cultures.

There are different forms of land tenure in the indigenous areas of the country.

a) Communal Property. Includes a territory which may (a) belong to a community; (b) belong to several communities and sometimes be the capital of the municipality. The communal assembly charged with electing the traditional authorities, governors, principals, municipal presidents, and municipal agents regulates use of land. The Agrarian Reform stipulates that the agrarian authorities are autonomous and not subject to the official system composed of:

Community Resources Commissar President

Secretary

Treasurer

Substitute personnel for each of these three positions.

Oversight Council President

Secretary

Treasurer

Substitute personnel for each of these three positions

Auxiliary Judge Substitute
Municipal Delegate Link between the community and
municipal authorities.

Communal goods are distributed in agricultural plots that are utilized temporarily in a slash and burn system. This system requires leaving the land fallow for a period of several years. Possession of all the land is in the hands of the members of the communities. There are other plots within the same system, which are given to the members of the community and their families. The latter can inherit these lands, or they can be exchanged among the members of the community, but the land does not have the category of private property. The community also controls the lands with forests, those lands not apt for agricultural production but that may have other uses, or common property resources including forests and mining. The most important feature of this system is that the land cannot be sold to persons not belonging to the community.

b)Indigenous Ejidos. Those lands given to communities that lacked any previous documentation of occupancy after the Revolution. These areas are currently operating and organized under the same norms as the communal lands.

c)Indigenous ejidos operating under the norm of the Agrarian reform Law. These are a minority and individually divided. According to the modification of Article 27 of the Constitution, the owners can opt for private titling or for the maintenance of communal ejido property. (The change in Article 27 of the Constitution in 1992 permits the privatization of the ejidos after sixty years where sale and land alienation was prohibited).

22. Examples of the two extremes of land tenure types are the States of Oaxaca and Yucatan. In the first type, there is a predominance of communal lands (67 percent) in Oaxaca and in the second, 90 percent are in ejidos. These three categories of property are controlled by a total of 6,298 registered indigenous communities in the country according to the 1991 Census of the Ejidos. They possess nearly 22 million hectares and about 1.1 million hectares are rainfed. The areas with grazing lands total 9 million hectares; and those with tropical forests or temperate forests total 7 million hectares. Other land use types cover a total of 340,000 hectares. The per capita incomes vary greatly among different regions and communities. There are communities with high incomes because of their rich resource base, as is the case of Nuevo San Juan Paranguaricuticuaro in Michoacan. In other cases, there are communities in dire poverty because of land degradation and scarce natural resources, as is the case of the high areas of the Mezquital Valley in the State of Hidalgo.

Instituto de Ecologia, UNAM

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