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 Tropics28,598,3003,280,15937.0
Dry Tropics25,598,0002,978,51034.0
Temperate Zone39,024,0001,953,10022.4
Arid Zone102489,8185.6

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. MayoLas Bocas (32)
II. TarahumaraAlta Tarahumara (43); Cañón
de Chinipas (44); Barrancas del Cobre (45); Montes Azules (46); Guadalupe,
Calvo y Mohinora (48)
III. HuicotGuacamayita (85); Sierra de Jesús
María (88); Sierra de Bolaños (90)
IV. Meseta PurépechaTancítaro (111)
V. HuastecaCañones de Afluentes del
Pánuco (103); Tlanchinol (104); Huayacocotla (105)
VI. Sierra Norte de PueblaCuetzalan (118)
VII. Totonaca de VeracruzEncinares de Nautla (107)
VIII. OtomíCañones de Afluentes del
Pánuco (103)
IX. Mazahua-OtomíSierra 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 TabascoPantanos de Centla-Laguna de Términos
(135)
XVIII. ChiapasSelva 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 YucatánSilvituc-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. OaxacaTehuacán-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 GroupState MunicipalitiesPriority Conservation Areas
and Rank
CucapáBaja CaliforniaMexicaliDelta del Río Colorado,
Alto Golfo de California (14)
SonoraSan Luis Río ColoradoDelta del Río Colorado,
Alto Golfo de California (14)
CochimíBaja CaliforniaEnsenadaValle de los Cirios (8); Sierra
de Juárez (12)
Pai-paiBaja CaliforniaEnsenadaValle de los Cirios (8)

Sierra de San Pedro Mártir (11)

KiliwaBaja CaliforniaEnsenadaValle de los Cirios (8)
KumiaiBaja CaliforniaEnsenada y TijuanaValle de los Cirios (8); Sierra
de Juárez (12)
CahitaSinaloaEntre Ahome y Fuerte
SonoraEtchojoa
NavojoaSierra de Álamos (33)
SeriSonoraPitiquitoIsla Tiburón-Sierra Seri
(19)
YaquiSonoraBacum y Cajeme
GuaymasSierra Bacatete (31)
PápagoSonoraCaborca
MayoSinaloaAhome y Fuerte
PimaChihuahuaTemosachi
MaderaCuarenta Casas (36)
SonoraYecoraYécora-El Reparo (28)
KikapúCoahuilaMúzquizRío San Rodrigo-El Burro
(51)
Chichimeca-JonazSan Luis PotosíTamasopo y Sta. Catarina
MatlatzincasEstado de MéxicoTemascaltepec y ZinacantepecSierra de Taxco (116)
OcuiltecosEstado de MéxicoOcuilán y TianguistengoSur del Valle de México
(117)
AguacatecoEstado de MéxicoAtizapan de Zaragoza, Naucalpan
y Tlalnepantla
IxcatecoOaxacaNuevo Soyaltepec y Santa María
Ixcatlán
Sierra Norte de Oaxaca (127)
TecoVeracruzMinatitlán
CakchiquelQuintana RooOthón P. BlancoZonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
ChiapasMazapa de MaderoSelva Espinosa Chicomuselo-Motozintla
(144)
KekchiQuintana RooOthón P. BlancoZonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
CampecheChampotónSilvituc-Calakmul (147)
QuichéQuintana RooOthón P. BlancoRío Hondo (148)
CampecheChampotónSilvituc-Calakmul (147)
ChiapasHuitiupán, Tapachula, Suchiate
y Frontera Hidalgo
KanjobalCampecheChampotónSilvituc-Calakmul (147)
JacaltecoCampecheChampotónSilvituc-Calakmul (147)
Quintana RooOthón P. BlancoZonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
IxilCampecheChampotónSilvituc-Calakmul (147)
Campeche
ChiapasVilla Corzo
Quintana RooOthón P. BlancoZonas Forestales de Quintana Roo
(149)
LacandónChiapasOcosingoLacandona (Montes Azules-Marqués
de Comillas-Cañada) (146)
TzotzilChiapasLa Trinitaria
TojolabalChiapasLas MargaritasLacandona (Montes Azules-Marqués
de Comillas-Cañada) (146)
La Concordia, Villa Corzo
KanjobalChiapasLa IndependenciaEl Momón-Margaritas-Montebello
(145)
Las Margaritas, Chicomuselo
JacaltecoChiapasAmatenango de la FronteraSelva Espinosa Chicomuselo-Motozintla
(144)
La Trinitaria, Frontera Comalapa
y La Grandeza
MotozintlecoChiapasVilla Comaltitlán y HuixtlaTriunfo-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 CommissarPresident

Secretary

Treasurer

Substitute personnel for each of these three positions.

Oversight CouncilPresident

Secretary

Treasurer

Substitute personnel for each of these three positions

Auxiliary JudgeSubstitute
Municipal DelegateLink 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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