• Indigenous peoples in Guatemala

    Indigenous peoples in Guatemala

    Guatemala is home to 24 principal ethnic groups. Although the Government of Guatemala has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country’s indigenous peoples continue to face a number of challenges.


Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala

Guatemala is home to 24 ethnic groups. Although the Government of Guatemala has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country’s Indigenous Peoples continue to face a number of challenges, especially in terms of political participation, health, employment, income, housing, and education.

Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala

Guatemala has a population of 14.9 million people, of which 6.5 million (43.75%) belong to the 22 Mayan (Achi’, Akatec, Awakatec, Chalchitec, Ch’ortí, Chuj, Itzá, Ixil, Jacaltec, Kaq- chikel, K’iche, Mam, Mopan, Poqomam, Poqomchí, Q’anjob’al, Q’eqchí, Sakapultec, Sipakapense, Tektitek, Tz’utujil and Us- pantek), one Garífuna, one Xinca and one Creole or Afro-descendant peoples.

The country still lacks a differentiated statistical base on Indigenous Peoples, especially on Indigenous women, but it is well-known that there are disparities between the Indigenous and the non-indigenous population in employment, income, health, and education.

Statistics clearly demonstrate persistent racism and discrimination against Indigenous Peoples. Despite representing more than half of the population and participating actively in the country’s economy, their political participation is not equitably reflected.

Main challenges for Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples

One of the main struggles for Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala relates to political participation. The electoral system is defined by exclusion of Indigenous Peoples, and they primarily participate as voters, rather than as candidates with true possibilities of being elected.

With respect to health, employment, income, housing, and education, there is a great disparity between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of the population. Official data indicates that poverty affects 75% of Indigenous people and 36% of non-indigenous people; chronic malnutrition affects 58% of Indigenous people and 38% of non-indigenous people; and, in terms of political participation, Indigenous individuals represent no more than 15% of parliamentarians and high-ranking public officials.

Another challenge for Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples relates to the absence of a water act. The use, management, and conservation of water are not officially regulated, and several private companies take advantage of this by not paying for their water usage, nor contributing to water conservation, and without assuming any responsibility for pollution caused by discharges of waste. The majority of groundwater recharge areas are located within Indigenous territories, and the affected Indigenous Peoples do not receive any support from the state or from water users to protect the aquifers. Several communities have demanded that the state commence a broad discussion to draft a water act, but they have yet to be met.

After provisionally protected the communities of the Q’eqchi people by opposing the construction of two internationally funded hydroelectric projects in their territory, the Constitutional Court eventually issued a final judgment that approves the continuation of the projects and forces the Government to formulate and approve a regulation to standardise the holding of community consultations. Indigenous and social organizations expressed their opposition. This ruling violates the rights of Indigenous Peoples, ILO Convention 169 and the laws of the country itself because community consultations do not require any regulation and must be carried out according to the mechanisms of the Indigenous Peoples.

Potential progress for Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples

In 2016, 34 years after committing the crimes, a group of army officers were sentenced to 120 and 240 years of imprisonment for raping15 Maya Q’eqchi women and force them into sexual slavery. The case sets a precedent worldwide since it is the first time a crime of sexual abuse during an armed conflict has gone under trial in the same country where it was committed. However, other cases of crimes committed by the military against the indigenous population during the armed internal conflict remain in impunity.

Epistemic violence against Indigenous Peoples

The world of the Q'eqchí. Photo: AEPDI - Q'eqchi Ombudsman Office

Injustice regarding the validity of ancestral knowledge has been one of the many racist practices established by the colony. For five centuries, a systematic attack has persisted, in a bid to bring an end to the creation, conservation and transmission of the knowledge of native peoples. In recent decades, religious fundamentalism has rebooted this symbolic violence to divide Indigenous communities and benefit from the installation of extractive projects and large-scale agricultural monocultures.

Continue Reading

Indigenous World 2019: Guatemala

Guatemala continues to suffer from a lack of reliable data on its indigenous peoples. The 2018 Population and Housing census’s ability to survey and report on the country’s ethnic dimension is limited, given that it has been conducted in the midst of an unprecedented political and institutional crisis. The data which will be generated as a result will likely mirror the figures from the last census in 2002, which estimated indigenous peoples at 45% of the population.

Continue Reading

Indigenous film wins prestigious prize at Berlinale 2015

Indigenous voices have been a focal point of the Berlin International Film Festival, known as Berlinale, since 2013. The festival’s NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series is devoted to telling the stories of indigenous peoples worldwide, and highlights a different major region every second year.

This year’s festival focused on Latin America, and an indigenous story from the Pacaya volcano region in Guatemala was awarded the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that “opens new perspectives.”

Continue Reading

Indigenous World 2020: Guatemala

According to figures from the 2018 census, Guatemala has a population of 14.9 million inhabitants, 6.5 million (43.75%) of which self-identify as Indigenous, from the Maya, Garífuna and Xinca Indigenous Peoples, or Creole (Afrodescendants). The Maya can be further divided into 24 groups: the Achi’, Akateco, Awakateco, Chalchiteco, Ch’orti’, Chuj, Itza’, Ixil, Jacalteco, Kaqchikel, K’iche’, Mam, Mopan, Poqomam, Poqomchi’, Q’anjob’al, Q’eqchi’, Sakapulteco, Sipakapense, Tektiteko, Tz’utujil and Uspanteko.

Continue Reading

Guatemala. UN experts call for an investigation into the violence in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán

A group of United Nations independent experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued a press release today urging the Government of Guatemala to clarify the violent events that occurred on 4 October 2012 in the locality of Cumbre de Alaska, in the municipality of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, Sololá that resulted in the death of 6 indigenous persons, as well as 33 indigenous community members and 13 members of the military being injured.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

For media inquiries click here

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
CVR: 81294410

Report possible misconduct, fraud, or corruption

 instagram social icon facebook_social_icon.png   youtuble_logo_icon.png  linkedin_social_icon.png twitter-x-icon.png 

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you do not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand