Zapotec Indigenous People in Mexico Demand Transparency from U.S. Scholar

By Saulo Araujo
January 22nd, 2009

The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) – a longtime partner of Grassroots International based in Mexico – denounced a recently conducted study in the Zapotec region by U.S. geography scholar Peter Herlihy. Prof. Herlihy failed to mention that he received funding from the Foreign Military Studies Office of the U.S. Armed Forces. The failure to obtain full, free and prior informed consent is a violation of the rights of indigenous communities as codified in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations in 2007. In addition, UNOSJO fears that this in-depth geographical mapping of indigenous communities may be used in some harmful manner by the military.

See also: UNOSJO’s full statement | Original Story: “The Road To Hell”

According to UNOSJO, University of Kansas geography professor Peter Herlihy approached local communities of the Sierra Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico to collect information for his project and declined to fully disclose his purpose or his funding sources. In addition to this failure to fully inform indigenous communities of the nature of the study, Mr. Herlihy’s team took advantage of the good-faith of the Zapotec indigenous communities to undertake a study that appears to be of no benefit to the local people.

For 518 years, indigenous people in the Americas have been abused, lied to and exploited in the name of “progress,” including in the fields of education and research. It is regrettable that a U.S. scholar misled indigenous people in the Mesoamerican region in a way that undermines their sovereignty. Echoing the concerns of our partners and allies, Grassroots International hopes that these U.S. military-sponsored studies will be terminated immediately. Further, we request that the University of Kansas hold Prof. Herlihy accountable for his violation of ethics in research, including abusing of the rights of UNOSJO and the indigenous communities of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca, Mexico.