Clarifying Limbo: Disentangling Indigenous Autonomy from the Mexican Constitutional Order

In contrast to U.S. Federal Indian law, which has classified indigenous tribes as “domestic dependent nations” since the early 19th century, Mexican law has only recently begun to define the political and territorial autonomy of indigenous groups. This paper contrasts the Mexican approach to this problem to that of the United States, first describing Mexico’s 2001’s constitutional reforms and their failure to clarify the nature of tribal sovereignty. It then analyzes recent court cases that protect tribal political and territorial autonomy by applying rights to consultation contained in the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention 169 (“ILO 169”) and the Mexican Constitution. It concludes by arguing that in spite of this effort by the courts, Mexican law still requires a comprehensive legislative or diplomatic resolution of the lack of clarity surrounding the political and territorial autonomy of its indigenous groups.
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