Indigenous Midwives and Healers Denounce Appropriation of Traditional Medicine via Mexico’s Health Law Reform

FROM THE EDITORS: Last April, the House of Representatives approved reforms to Mexico’s Health Law to regulate traditional and complementary medicine. Several indigenous and civil society groups have rejected the reforms, calling the law unconstitutional for violating the right of indigenous people to free, prior, and informed consent. Traditional indigenous medicine and practices, including midwifery, have strong spiritual and ancestral roots, which could disappear at the hands of Mexico’s government bureaucracy, to benefit of privatized health institutions. The law is now pending approval in the Senate. Below we provide a translation of a collective declaration against the law reform.

SOURCE: This declaration and sources were gathered from Educa Oaxaca and Desinformémonos websites.

Photo: A traditional healer preparing a session in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, EfrenDelRosal.

Statement of Indigenous Peoples, Organizations, and Healers on the Health Law Reform

To the people of Mexico

To the original, indigenous, Afro-indigenous, and mestizo peoples.

To the traditional healers, rezadores [praying people], midwives, and doctors of Mexico.

To the different levels of government

The legislation approved unanimously by the House of Representatives and turned over to the Senate reflects a contempt for traditional medicine and those who practice it, mostly women and indigenous people. The pretentious claim to “regulate,” “utilize,” and “leverage” traditional medicine under origin and worldview standards that are foreign to indigenous peoples culture, shows once more the historical and colonial dispossession of our territories, knowledge, and technologies on behalf of the Mexican State, which, by the way, owes redress to the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and Mexico for betrayals committed against them before and after the San Andrés Sakamchem Agreements.

We know that contempt for traditional indigenous medicine is part of the civilizing project. It is something that is occurring worldwide and goes hand in hand with a global health crisis and dispossession of nature, over-industrialized food production, laws to privatize plants used by traditional indigenous medicine, and patents for essential drugs that profit from the general population’s health.

Traditional doctors and midwives, researchers, and civil society organizations have been busy researching the implications of this law during several conferences, and we agreed to an All-Out Repudiation for the following reasons:

  1. First of all, it is a ruling that violates the collective rights of indigenous peoples as well as international agreements that support the right to self-determination since indigenous peoples have not been consulted about this law reform.
  2. Secondly, we have seen that those reforms are part of a hegemonic health system and biomedical industry corporations and their educational institutions that seek to prohibit and subordinate ancestral medicine, therapies, and technologies.

We repudiate the law reform, since racism still governs today and blinds medical officials, legislators, and government researchers who fail to recognize that the knowledge of traditional indigenous medicine is ancestral; it isn’t “complementary” or “alternative.” It has a comprehensive methodology over time and in different populations since it has been used and shared for generations, fostering a vast transgenerational experience without economic or symbolic capital interests. In that sense, traditional indigenous medicine has included therapeutic elements and community technologies that have been tested for centuries to heal plants, animals, and humans. We reject attempts to expropriate this therapeutic efficacy from our people without their consent, to be later sold in the world market.

We denounce that the Mexican state has not been interested in promoting traditional medicine because its therapeutic elements arise from the very same inhabited territories that are being destroyed by megaprojects. These same inhabitants have been persecuted, disappeared, or murdered by the government for defending their territories. There is a great diversity of speakers of native languages ​​as there is of medicine. Nonhuman inhabitants also live in those ecosystems poisoned, sickened, or wiped out by public and private companies through their concessions, which also bring the depletion of a therapeutic variety of traditional indigenous medicine and the trafficking of endangered species. The same way mining companies extract metals from indigenous territories, academic or private institutions extract this knowledge to file patents or simulate academic originality while plagiarizing ideas to obtain scholarships and jobs at pharmaceutical or government institutions. These extractivist research papers do not seek consent from indigenous peoples and fail to cite those indigenous intellectuals who originally developed this knowledge.

Faced with this situation, we propose the following:

a) Recognition of traditional indigenous medicine by first respecting all life, the ecosystems where this knowledge flourishes, and the dignity of those who understand, exchange it, and practice it.

b) Recognition and validation of Traditional Indigenous Mexican and Afro-Mexican Medicine as an ancestral medicine of the peoples and as an intangible cultural heritage that cannot be legitimized by orthodox Western medicine, much less subordinated to the economic interests of capitalism.

c) For laws to be reviewed, revoked, and modified by legislators by adhering to the self-determination of the speakers of diverse native languages used to express native rights,  as well as their decision-making practices based on the councils of elders and according to the traditional health systems of these same peoples.

d) To give recognition is not to certify. On the contrary, recognition means showing respect for treatment, therapy, diagnosis, use, and application of medicines that follow ancestral knowledge and understanding, in dialogue with the structure and organization of traditional health systems of midwives, rezadores, iloles [healers], bonesetters, pulsadores [who diagnose by reading the pulse], who possess the knowledge of ancestral indigenous traditional medicine that should not be subordinated nor controlled by the hegemonic and militarized medical model, nor by an academia with conflicts of interest, which has for years trued to certify midwives and include them in a model that continues to promote obstetric violence and the disappearance of midwifery in our towns and villages.

e) Provide political space to a Council of traditional doctors and midwives from the indigenous population to resolve, be consulted on and address any modification or new legislation related to indigenous peoples’ traditional medicine.

We demand respect for the rights to autonomy and free self-determination of indigenous people and their health systems !!

Stop the privatization of life, nature, and ancestral knowledge!

Respect for the autonomy of indigenous universities like UACO (Universidad Autonomía Comunal de Oaxaca).


Nichim Otanil

Centro de capacitación en culturas ancestrales de Chiapas

Colectividad de elaboración del manual de prevención y tratamiento del covid con plantas de los altos de Chiapas

CRIMMS: Consejo Supremo Regional Indígena Maya Mam’ del Soconusco Chiapas

Tata Esteban Bravo Verdugo Gobernador indígena Mam’ del Soconusco Chiapas

Colectivo Casa Gandhi

Colectivo Artemisas

Casa de partos tradicionales La paloma Azul, san cristobal de las casas

Parteras de Casa Materna del Hospital de las Culturas Chiapas.

Universidad de la Tierra – Oaxaca

Universidad Autónoma Comunal de Oaxaca

Parteras Diosas de la oxitocina ciudad de Oaxaca