There are more than 300 languages spoken in Mexico to present, which represents the same number of cultural possibilities to which an individual can belong. Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), aware of this problematic, have been working for several years in professionalization of anthropological expert appraisal, a legal instrument that inserts into the justice administration processes that involve indigenous groups their scientific and technically based opinion.

As part of this task, the 1st Colloquy of Anthropological Expert Appraisal was organized with the objective of forming specialists in the discipline that began building up in Mexican legal processes in the 1990’s decade, with the aim of clarifying cultural context and define decisions beyond Mexican Positive Law, which is related to Occidental Culture. 

At the inauguration of the Colloquy, Francisco Barriga Puente, INAH national coordinator of Anthropology, commented that safeguard and respect of indigenous rights implies harmonic participation of different specialists, among them anthropologists that, as a trade, must compromise with legitimate and legal vindications of indigenous societies.

He remarked that anthropological expert appraisal is a legal instrument that enforces reasoned, scientific and technically based opinion; in order to fulfill this, integration of multidisciplinary teams is needed. “Execution of such tool, directed towards equitable law administration, includes law, archaeological, ethnohistorical, linguistic, social and paleontological dimensions, in different degrees”.

Barriga mentioned that INAH has fomented specialization on the matter through activities such as the Forensic Anthropology Course, which relevance has drawn attention of other institutions capturing professionals from medicine and law.

Another action developed mainly at the Institute is the formulation of the Linguistic Rights General Law, raising the need of contributing to interpreters and translators specialized on indigenous languages, to support individuals involved in trials.

Academic coordinator of the colloquy, anthropologist Carmen Morales Valderrama, explained expert appraisal is a resource used in Mexico when the implicated person is part of a culture different from the dominant.

“According to the number of languages used in Mexico, we have more than 300 possibilities of being part of other culture, even if we live in an urban context. As long as their affiliation is not clear, an investigation must be conducted in order to establish the person’s cultural roots, as well as the context where she or he acted in a determined way and from which such act is considered a crime”.

Morales remarked that cultural factors have objectivity: for instance, there are members of communities that know that a territory belongs to them by means of oral tradition or because their family has worked it for a period of time, although sometimes there are no documents to prove it.

She mentioned a case in Chihuahua Mountain Range where owners did not have property deeds and there were not Colonial archives with documents that specified the property of land; archaeological excavation of ancestors and physical anthropology studies helped to determine that contemporary inhabitants descended from buried people, once owners of the land.

With this example, the anthropologist remarked that in anthropological expert appraisal not only social anthropology, but physical anthropology, ethnology, linguistics and archaeology intervene.