Perhaps the most fundamental challenge facing indigenous peoples in Central America is securing legal protection for their homelands, to preserve their way of life and the ecosystems that are essential to it. Two years ago Indian leaders and cultural activists in the north-east corner of Honduras decided to remedy the political invisibility of the Indians of the Mosquita region by carefully mapping where and how the different tribes lived. This article describes a project which helped the Indians create detailed records of their homelands to establish who inhabited the land and how it was being used. The project was also successfully replicated in the Darien region of Panama. Mapping indigenous homelands demonstrated that these lands are not uninhabited and degraded, and raised the regional awareness of the Indians, showing them the common ground they shared with other indigenous peoples and empowering them to pursue legal protection for their homelands.
Target audience: Those working with local communities on land entitlement issues.
International Institute for Environment and Development