Skip to Main Navigation

Indigenous Latin America

Cover image

Indigenous community in El Jorullo, located in the southern sierra of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Jessica Belmont / World Bank

There are an estimated 42 million indigenous people in Latin America, according to the World Bank report "Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century". Among the countries with the largest indigenous populations are Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia, which together account for more than 80 percent of the regional total, comprising approximately 34 million indigenous individuals.

Poverty afflicts 43 percent of the indigenous population in the region, which is more than twice the proportion of non-indigenous people. Additionally, 24 percent of all indigenous people live in extreme poverty, which is 2.7 times higher than the proportion of non-indigenous people living in extreme poverty. Furthermore, being born to indigenous parents substantially increases the probability of being raised in a poor household, contributing to a poverty trap that hampers the full development of indigenous children.

Indigenous People often lack formal recognition over their lands, territories and natural resources. They are often the last to receive public investments in basic services and infrastructure and face multiple barriers to fully participate in the formal economy, access to justice, and participate in political processes and decision making.

This legacy of inequality and exclusion has made Indigenous Peoples more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural hazards, including disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.

When we wrote the report, in 2015, it struck us that despite the advances of the past decades, in terms of legal frameworks and representation, indigenous peoples continued to lag behind everyone else in nearly every aspect. Since then, things have only got worse, with the accumulative effects of the pandemic, climate change, and the growth of inequality. Indigenous peoples need to be at the steering wheel of their own development for it to be sustained and resilient.
Germán Freire
Senior Social Development Specialist and author of the "Indigenous Latin America in the twenty-first century" report

Top content

We can no longer tolerate the injustices of the past, one of which – perhaps the greatest – has been the historical exclusion of indigenous peoples. Rethinking the future of Latin America and the Caribbean means ending discrimination, supporting those who have been excluded and ensuring that the benefits of growth and public and private investment reach the most vulnerable sectors.
Carlos Felipe Jaramillo
Carlos Felipe Jaramillo
World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean

The way forward

Improving security of land tenure, strengthening governance, promoting public investments in quality and culturally appropriate service provision, and supporting Indigenous systems for resilience and livelihoods are critical to reducing the multidimensional aspects of poverty while contributing to sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The World Bank works with Indigenous Peoples and governments to ensure that broader development programs reflect the voices and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples.  

The World Bank is engaging with Indigenous Peoples’ organizations to better understand and build upon traditional knowledge for climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions. Through direct grants to indigenous organizations and inclusion in national programs, the Bank is also working to promote the recognition and strengthening of Indigenous Peoples’ significant contributions as stewards of the regions’s forests and biodiversity.

The voices of indigenous youth must play a central role in the climate agenda of Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank actively supports young leaders in their educational journey to lead climate change initiatives and monitor the fulfillment of environmental commitments, all while taking into account the well-being of their territories and honoring their ancestral practices. 

In countries like Bolivia, the World Bank works to promote reflection and conversation about racism through culture and art, thereby building bridges of dialogue. Both in 2021 and 2023 (links in Spanish), a short story contest was organized, where more than 600 people shared ideas about the causes and impact of racial discrimination in Bolivian society, as well as the actions and processes necessary to overcome this scourge.

The map presented below showcases other initiatives and content developed by the World Bank in Latin American and Caribbean countries. 

We cannot create programs or initiatives for climate change mitigation or adaptation without consulting indigenous peoples. And I believe that's where the new generations come in to play a fundamental role because they are the bearers of knowledge and traditional wisdom
Dali Angel
Dali Angel
Zapotec woman from Oaxaca, Mexico. Coordinator of the women and youth program, FILAC


Below is content generated by the World Bank featuring the voices, views and experiences of indigenous communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.


Indigenous Latin America in the 21st Century: Achievements and Gaps

Despite important advances over the first decade of this millenium, Indigenous Peoples in the Latin America region are disproportionately affected by poverty, and continue to face widespread economic and social exclusion. A World Bank report shines new light on their situation.