• Indigenous peoples in Bolivia

    Indigenous peoples in Bolivia

    There are 36 recognized peoples in Bolivia. With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and a new Constitution, Bolivia took the name of plurinational state.


Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia

There are 36 recognized peoples in Bolivia. With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and a new Constitution, Bolivia adopted the status of a plurinational state. However, the country's Indigenous Peoples still face challenges, especially in terms of seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves and hydroelectric projects.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was approved by Law in November 2007. Since 1991, Bolivia is a signatory of ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. 

The Quechua, Aymara and other Indigenous groups

According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population over the age of 15 are of Indigenous origin, although the National Institute of Statistics’ (INE) 2017 projections indicate that this percentage is likely to have increased to 48%.

There are 38 recognised peoples in Bolivia, the majority in the Andes are Quechua-speaking peoples (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%), who self-identify as 16 nations. In the lowlands, the Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaraní (2.5%) and Moxeño (1.4%) peoples are in the majority and, together with the remaining 2.4%, make up 20 recognised Indigenous Peoples.

Main challenges for Bolivia’s Indigenous Peoples

A major challenge for the Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia relates to the seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves, as well as hydroelectric projects. They directly impact the people inhabiting the territory of the projects, often Indigenous Peoples and peasants.

Progress for Bolivia's Indigenous Peoples

To date, the Indigenous Peoples have consolidated 23 million ha. of collective property under the status of Community Lands of Origin (TCOs), representing 21% of the country’s total land mass.

Thanks to the Framework Law on Autonomies 031/10 of 22 July 2010, a number of Indigenous Peoples are now forming their own self-governments. Thirty-six Indigenous autonomies have commenced the process for accessing self-government, 21 by means of municipal conversion and 15 by territorial means or TIOC. Three of them have already established their self-government, and another five have achieved their autonomous status through a declaration of constitutionality. 

In 2017, the government of Bolivia decided to revive the conflict over the building of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway through the Isiboro Sucre National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) by approving Law No. 969/17 on 13 August. However, the VIII Indigenous March, supported by all of the country’s Indigenous organisations, stopped this construction of the highway.

Bolivia: moving towards Indigenous led conservation


The experience of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, biodiversity conservation has evolved from a focus on wildlife protection to collaborative alliances with Indigenous communities. What at the beginning was an isolated conservation effort, has been transformed into an essential cooperation, where conservation and Indigenous Territorial Management converge in the Madidi Landscape.

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Ethnocide and discrimination of the Tsimane people: the paradox of the Plurinational State


Some 12 Indigenous communities of the Tsimane people living in the Yucumo region are in danger of extinction due to the invasion of settlers, deforestation and the burning of their homes. In addition to being dispossessed of their traditional lands, the Tsimane are discriminated against and have serious difficulties in accessing justice. Under the complicit gaze of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, violence, threats and fear are commonplace.

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The Indigenous World 2023: Bolivia

According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population over the age of 15 is of Indigenous origin, although 2017 projections by the National Institute of Statistics indicate that this percentage is likely to now have increased to 48%. Of the 36 recognized peoples in the country, the majority of those living in the Andes are Quechua- and Aymara-speaking (49.5% and 40.6% respectively). In the lowlands, the Indigenous Peoples are largely the Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaraní (2.5%) and Moxeño (1.4%) who, together with the remaining 2.4%, make up the 36 recognized Indigenous Peoples.

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Indigenous governance and conservation of the commons in Bolivia


The relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the environmental movement has not always been on the best or terms. Although the communities have protected nature where they have lived for centuries, it took years for conservationist organizations to understand that wild flora and fauna do not only occupy forests. While some conservationists continue to call for the expulsion of Indigenous people from protected areas, others have understood the role Indigenous communities play in the reproduction of life. In Bolivia, the Guarani have created protected areas under their own regulations, while five Amazonian peoples have just created a protected area rich in biodiversity.

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Autonomy in the Multi-ethnic Indigenous Territory in Bolivia


In 1990, indigenous peoples of the Lowlands led the March for Territory and Dignity with the aim of claiming their rights to land and territory. With the approval of the new Political Constitution of the State in 2009, a legal horizon was opened for the Mojeño Trinitario, Mojeño Ignaciano, Chimán, Yuracaré and Movima peoples of the Southern Amazon to begin their autonomy process. After 12 years of bureaucratic hurdles, the peoples that make up the Multiethnic Indigenous Territory are just a few steps away from the formal constitution of their autonomous government.

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Legal pluralism in Bolivia: from the Guaraní people’s perspective


Indigenous justice recognizes that communities have their own organizational structures and allows them to execute their own norms under the guarantee of the nation-state. In this sense, the law promotes harmonious social coexistence and cooperation between ordinary, Indigenous and agro-environmental justice. Despite the existence of a broad regulatory framework that recognizes the plurality of jurisdictions, there are still many obstacles to the exercise of and respect for Indigenous law. It is necessary that Indigenous peoples strengthen their organizations, know their norms and teach the importance of these norms to the new generations.

Regional Seminar on Indigenous Justice. Photo: María Cerezo

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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