Mexico’s indigenous communities experience poverty at nearly double the rate of the population at large, with a whopping 80.6% of indigenous people living on less than $2 a day. Extreme poverty goes in hand with issues like food insecurity and a lack of access to education, health care and clean water. Only half of Mexico’s indigenous people have a primary school education, and poor indigenous communities have a lower life expectancy than the rest of Mexico’s population because they have not received the same opportunity to develop their communities as non-indigenous populations have. However, there are efforts that are occurring to address poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities by developing these communities sustainably and integrating them into Mexico’s economy, without erasing their cultures and traditions.
Cultural Diversity Among Mexico’s Indigenous Communities
Mayans and other indigenous people in Mexico experience isolation from other communities and public policies that fail to fully integrate the diverse populations living in a state or region continually hurt them. Mexico is one of the most diverse countries in Latin America, with around 68 different indigenous communities making up around one-fifth of the country’s population. Combating poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities, without leaving one group at a disadvantage, is difficult when there are so many different cultures present. These communities are all still living with the legacy of Spanish colonialism, which robbed native peoples of their resources and stifled their cultural practices and traditions. Assimilating indigenous communities might seem like a way to foster unity, but this practice has resulted in native communities with very limited autonomy and renders development programs that don’t account for cultural diversity ineffective and inaccessible to indigenous communities.
In response to this issue, Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy has advocated for a “full inclusion approach,” in which all Mexicans have equal access to development through education, health care and job stimulation that account for cultural diversity among indigenous communities. With public policy that intentionally prioritizes full inclusion, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy hopes that indigenous communities will be able to compete in the labor market, gain access to social security and rise out of poverty without sacrificing their languages and traditions. This may be the best way to address poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities.
Anti-Poverty and Development Efforts
The Mayan community of Quintana Roo has experienced efforts to combat poverty that have both ignored and accounted for cultural differences. The Mayan community is heavily reliant on ejido lands, or communal land that the community has farmed and forested for centuries. Largely with the intention to combat poverty among Quintana Roo’s Mayan population, but also in response to a surge in the tourism industry, wealthy developers began privatizing ejidos. Mayans were part of these private development projects, but their traditional farming, forestry and beekeeping practices were not. Therefore, when external funding ran out, the locals were unable to continue the work or reap any rewards for their communities.
However, when development projects have worked within existing ejidos, such as the World Bank’s Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM), all decisions are up to the indigenous communities. The DGM in Quintana Roo provided ejidos with the funding to design and implement sustainable farm and forestry businesses. Juan Ortegon of Ejido Miguel Colorado wrote that Mayans had “never been consulted in the past,” and that these bottom-up development projects finally allowed Mayans to address the needs of their communities.
The Future of Addressing Poverty in Mexico’s Indigenous Communities
Positive steps are occurring to combat poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities, but development programs stand the greatest chance of success when they not only account for cultural diversity but embrace it, allowing indigenous people to make decisions for themselves.
– Macklyn Hutchison