• Indigenous peoples in Nicaragua

    Indigenous peoples in Nicaragua

    There are seven indigenous peoples of Nicaragua. Nicaragua has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169 in 2010.


Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua

There are seven Indigenous Peoples of Nicaragua. Nicaragua has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169 in 2010. Yet, its indigenous communities are facing a great number of challenges, especially in terms of construction through communal lands affecting their livelihoods, and in terms of the state failing to comply with its legal obligation to honour the title of the lands in favour of the Indigenous communities.

The Indigenous Peoples of Nicaragua

Three of Nicaragua’s seven Indigenous Peoples live in the Pacific, central and northern regions: the Chorotega (221,000), the Cacaopera or Matagalpa (97,500), the Ocanxiu or Sutiaba (49,000) and the Nahoa or Nahuatl (20,000).

In addition, the Caribbean (or Atlantic) coast is inhabited by the Miskitu (150,000), the Sumu or Mayangna (27,000) and the Rama (2,000).

Other peoples who also enjoy collective rights, according to the Political Constitution of Nicaragua (1987), are the Afro-descendants, also known as “ethnic communities” in national legislation. These include the Creole or Kriol (43,000) and the Garífuna (2,500).

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) came to power in Nicaragua in 1979, subsequently having to confront the U.S.-funded “Contra” rebel groups. Peasant farmers from the Pacific and the Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean Coast participated in the Contra. In 1987, following a friendly settlement of the conflict through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and in order to put an end to this Indigenous resistance, the FSLN created the Autonomous Regions of the Northern Caribbean Coast (RACCN) and Southern Caribbean Coast (RACCS), based on a Statute of Autonomy (Law No. 28).

Following the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) in the case of the Mayangna (Sumo) community of Awas Tingni v Nicaragua in 2001, Law No. 445 on the Communal Property Regime of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and of the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers was issued, recognising these communities’ right to self-government and creating a procedure for the titling of their territories. The state began the titling process in 2005 for the 23 Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories in the RACCN and RACCS, culminating in the issuing of property titles.

In 2007, Nicaragua voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in 2010 ratified ILO Convention 169. The Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples of Nicaragua (APIAN) was formed in 2015.

Main challenges for Nicaragua’s Indigenous Peoples

A major concern for the Indigenous Peoples of Nicaragua is that the government is pushing ahead the construction and promotion of the Grand Interoceanic Canal through communal lands, which is affecting the livelihoods of the Indigenous Peoples to a high degree.

During 2017, the IACHR has reiterated its concern for defenders of rights to land and to natural resources, and for Indigenous Persons and afro-descendants engaged in such defence work, who continue to face great risks of violence in Nicaragua.

Potential progress for Nicaragua’s Indigenous Peoples

In 2016, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favour of 12 communities. However, the State of Nicaragua did not respect the precautionary measures, and community members are still unable to move freely and use their lands to engage in hunting, fishing, and fruit gathering activities because they are faced with armed settlers who are invading encroaching upon their lands.

Creoles in Nicaragua: territorial demarcation, self-determination and resistance


Since colonial times and slavery, the population of African origin has faced difficulties to be recognized as subjects of law. In Central America, they have gone through centuries of resistance to be accepted first as people and then as citizens of the republics. Currently, the Afro-descendant Creole community in Nicaragua is fighting for the demarcation, titling and regulation of their ancestral lands, while at the same time seeking equal conditions for their development as other Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Meanwhile, mining, logging and fishing concessions, and the use of the territory for megaprojects and monocultures are expanding on their lands.

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The Colonisation of Mayangna territories in Nicaragua


The expropriation of ancestral territories to settlers is a risk to the life, sustainment, and culture of the Mayangna people. They don’t live peacefully anymore: the men go together in groups to work, for fear of being ambushed, and the women leave their houses at sunset for fear of being raped. Even though the government is calling for peaceful co-habitation between the indigenous and the settlers, their ways of life are incompatible.

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BioClima: the project that threatens Indigenous Peoples of Nicaragua


A project financed through the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund worth more than 115 million dollars, risks exposing Nicaragua's Indigenous population to increased violence and displacement from their ancestral lands. The project could also lead to increased climate destruction and seriously damage the climate fund's credibility. Countries that are major contributors and represented at the GCF Board should play an important role in stopping this project that threatens the tropical forest of the Bosawás Reserve.


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Nicaragua: justice takes time but it comes


The struggle of indigenous peoples for their land rights has brought about an increase in acts of violence by invading settlers. The Alal Massacre and the attack on Kiwakumbaih mine workers are the two most emblematic acts. Instead of dismantling the criminal gangs operating in the region, the National Police and the Judiciary system have criminalized Mayangna indigenous people and named them responsible for the murders, massacres and destruction of property. However, a complaint brought to the international level at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was successful in demanding the release of the Mayangnas unjustly detained because of violations to their right to due process.

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The Indigenous World 2023: Nicaragua

Nicaragua has seven Indigenous Peoples: the Chorotega (221,000), Cacaopera or Matagalpa (97,500), the Ocanxiu or Sutiaba (49,000) and the Nahoa or Nahuatl (20,000) live in the Pacific, centre and north of the country while the Caribbean (or Atlantic) coast is inhabited by the Miskitu (150,000), the Sumu or Mayangna (27,000) and the Rama (2,000). Other peoples who also enjoy collective rights according to the Political Constitution of Nicaragua (1987) are the people of African descent, known as the Creole or Kriol (43,000) and Garífuna (2,500).

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Immediate end to reprisals against defenders of Indigenous Peoples' Rights: The case of Anexa Alfred Cunningham

Joint statement from IPRI and IWGIA

Throughout 2022, an increasing number of Indigenous Human Rights Defenders who engaged with the United Nations have experienced intimidation, harassment, threats, derogatory media campaigns, travel bans, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, disbarment, or dismissal from their posts, amongst other human rights violations.

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

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Indigenous World

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