World Facts

Countries In The Americas With The Highest Indigenous Populations

Bolivia has the highest percentage of indigenous population in the Americas.

Indigenous persons are people who descend from populations that inhabited a geographical location to which a country belongs at the time of colonization, conquest, or establishment of state borders and who retain some or all their cultural, political, social, and economic institutions irrespective of their legal status. Today an increasing number of people self identify as indigenous. The groups are vastly diverse, and any given country can have a large number of indigenous communities speaking different languages, and with differing beliefs and world views. Indigenous groups around the world have often had to struggle to have their rights recognized. In the Americas, indigenous communities face challenges such as government efforts to homogenize national identities around a common language and culture, among others. According to the “Indigenous World 2019” report compiled by the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs, Latin American nations have the highest proportion of Indigenous communities. Some of the countries in the top ten include Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Chile. 

Countries In The Americas By Indigenous Population

Bolivia

According to the 2017 projections from the National Statistics Institute, the indigenous population is 5.5 million making up 48% of Bolivia’s population. In 2012 the proportion of the population aged 15 and above identifying as of indigenous origin was just 41%, meaning that a growing number of people are self-identifying as indigenous. There are 36 indigenous groups recognized in the country. The Quechua and Aymara speakers represent 49.5% and 40.6% of the indigenous population, respectively. Both groups live mainly in the Andean area, where people self-identify into 16 distinct groupings. In the lowlands, the Chiquitano, Gurani, and Moxeno are divided into the remaining 20 recognized indigenous groups. The groups currently occupy 21% of the nation’s total area.

Guatemala

Indigenous communities in Guatemala are inadequately documented. In 2018 the Population and Housing census was significantly inhibited by an unprecedented political and institutional crisis. Experts currently believe that indigenous communities are about 5.5 million, making up 45% of the country’s population. The figure mirrors figures obtained from a census conducted in 2002. The main ethnic groups are the Akateco, Achi’, Awakateco, Ch’orti, Chalchiteco, Chuj, Itza, Ixil, Jacalteco, K’iche, Kaqchikel, Mam, Mopan, Poqomchi, Poonam, Q’anjob’al, Q’echi, Sipakapense, Sakapulteco, Tektiteko, Uspanteko, Tz’utujil, Garifuna, and Minka. The political and social-economic welfare of most of the groups has not improved in recent years. The groups receive unequal public investment compared to the rest of the country’s population. The groups also suffer discrimination, exclusion, and racism. 

Mexico

Mexico is identified as a pluricultural nation. The country is home to the largest population of indigenous people in the Americas and the largest number of native languages spoken; 68 languages and about 364 dialects. About 21.5% (27.5 million) of Mexico’s population self identify as indigenous people. About 6.5% of the population uses an indigenous language, while 10.6% of the national population lives in an indigenous household. Poverty remains a significant challenge facing indigenous communities. About 71.9% of the indigenous people live in poverty, while 28% of them live in 28% extreme poverty. The indigenous groups have higher fertility rates (3.1) compared to the national average, which of (2.3). The communities, however, suffer from maternal and infant mortality rates that are three times higher than the national average in several states. 

Peru

Peru has an indigenous population of about 4 million persons representing 12.5% of the national population. The largest groups are the Quechua (83.11%), Aymara (10.92%), and the Asaninka (1.67%). Other Amazonian groups make up 4.31% of the indigenous population. The national database currently recognizes 55 indigenous groups that speak 47 indigenous languages. Some of the challenges faced by the communities include the superposition of mining and mineral rights over communal land. About 21% of the nation’s territory is under mining concessions, which are superimposed on 47.8% of lands that are occupied by peasant communities. About 75% of the Peruvian Amazon is also taken up by oil and gas concessions. The superimposition of rights on territory occupied indigenous people, and a lack of prior consultation has exacerbated the socio-environmental and territorial conflicts in the country. 

Chile

Nine indigenous groups are recognized by statute in Chile. The groups are comprised of 1,585,680 people who represent 9% of the nation’s population. A Census conducted 2017, however, put the figure of indigenous people at 2,158,792, representing 12.8% of the population. The main groups in the country are the Mapuche (1,754,147), Aymara (156,754), Diaguita (88,474), Atacameno (31,800), Quechua (27,260), Colla (16,088), Kawesar (5,298), Rapanui (5,065), and Yamana (131). A majority of the indigenous groups live in urban areas, including the Metropolitan region (30.1%), Los Lagos (13.1%), and Araucania (19.6%), with only 24.7% of them living in rural zones. Indigenous people and their rights are not adequately recognized under the 1980 constitution. A push to create a new constitution in 2016 included efforts for a consultation, but the process was suspended due to a lack of political will by the National Congress and the executive branch. Groups such as Chonos and Changos remain unrecognized.

Ecuador

Indigenous people in Ecuador are estimated to be 1.1 million, which represents 6.4% of the nation’s population. Fourteen indigenous groupings in the country are under a series of national, regional, and local organizations. The Ecuadorian Amazon is home to 24.1% of the indigenous population. The Andean Kichwa, one of the indigenous groups, mainly lives in six provinces of the Central Northern Sierra. The Shuar community, which has 100,000 individuals, is found in three provinces in Central Southern Amazon. Smaller groups that live in the Amazon include Ai Cofan, Shiwiar, Siekopai, Siona, and the Sapara. The Epera and the Manta occupy the coastal region.

Canada

As of 2016, the indigenous people in Canada were 1,673,785, accounting for 4.9% of the country’s population. They are collectively known as Aboriginal people. The country has three indigenous groups; Inuit, Indians, and Metis, who are recognized in the Constitutional Act of 1982. The First Nations, who are referred to as Indians in the constitution, consists of about 977,230 people who represent over 600 distinct First Nations that speak more than 60 languages. The Metis number about 587,545 people found mainly in urban centers. The Canadian constitution recognizes these aboriginal groups and their rights.

Colombia

According to official data, 1,500,000 people are identified as indigenous in the country, which represents 3.43% of the nation’s total population. About 78.6% of indigenous groups live in rural areas, while 21.4% live in urban zones. The indigenous population has grown considerably over the years. In 1993, indigenous groups were only about 1.6% of the national population. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia brings together 80% of the nation’s indigenous communities.

Argentina

According to the 2010 national census, Argentina had a total of 955,032 people who are identified as descendants or belonging to indigenous groups, representing 2.2% of the national population. The country has 35 different officially-recognized indigenous groups. 

United States

There are about 4.3 million indigenous people in the United States, representing 1.3% of the national population. About 23% of the indigenous people live in Alaskan Native villages or American Indian areas. Approximately 573 Native American entities are recognized as Alaskan Native or American Indian tribes. Most of the tribes also have recognized national home-lands. The state of California has the largest population of Native Americans. The poverty rate among the indigenous population is estimated to be around 27%.

Inclusion Of Indigenous People In The Americas

Despite progress made in promoting the involvement of indigenous people in the political sphere and policymaking, they have been left out of the region’s social-economic strides that have been made in recent years. Such people remain the least educated and suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change and natural catastrophes. According to a UNDP report on six countries with the highest proportion of Indigenous people, political participation, especially among women belonging to indigenous groups, remains low. Indigenous women seeking political participation face three forms of discrimination and challenges, and they include being female, poor, and indigenous, making it difficult for them to break the political glass ceiling.

Countries In The Americas With The Highest Indigenous Populations

RankCountry% of total population that is indigenousIndigenous Population (in millions)
1Bolivia48.05.5
2Guatemala45.08.0
3Mexico21.527.5
4Peru12.54.0
5Chile9.01.6
6Ecuador6.41.1
7Canada4.91.7
8Colombia3.41.5
9Argentina2.21.0
10United States1.34.3

About the Author

  • Benjamin Elisha Sawe
  • Writer

Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor. 

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