• Indigenous peoples in Chile

    Indigenous peoples in Chile

    There are 10 different indigenous groups in Chile. The largest one is Mapuche, followed by the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay, and the Quechua peoples. Chile is the only country in Latin America that does not recognise the indigenous peoples in its constitution.


Indigenous Peoples in Chile

There are 10 different Indigenous groups in Chile. The largest one is the Mapuche, followed by the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay, and the Quechua peoples. Chile is the only country in Latin America, that does not recognise the Indigenous Peoples in its constitution. For that, Indigenous groups face challenges, especially in terms of territorial rights.

However, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the Government of Chile on 13 September 2007 and ILO convention 169 was ratified in 2008. Despite Chile’s constitution not recognizing the Indigenous Peoples, the Ministry of Social Development has convened an Indigenous constitutional drafting process to gain the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples on the content of a new constitution.

Law No. 19,253 of 1993 on Indigenous promotion, protection, and development remains in effect, even though it does not meet international law standards concerning the rights of Indigenous Peoples to land, territory, natural resources, participation, and political autonomy.  

Indigenous Peoples in Chile 

There are 10 different Indigenous groups in Chile. Despite being in constant increase since the 1990s, the Indigenous population of Chile has not varied greatly since the 2017 census, resulting in 2,185,792 people self-identifying as Indigenous, or the equivalent of 12.8% of the country’s total population of 17,076,076. The Mapuche are the most numerous (almost 1,800,000 individuals), followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). 

There has been a notable and sustained increase in the proportion of Indigenous population living in urban areas, with 87.8% of Indigenous members now living in cities compared to 12.2% living in the countryside. 

Main challenges for Chile’s Indigenous Peoples

According to the Ministry of Social Development, 30.8% of the Indigenous population live in poverty, while for the non-indigenous population that figure is 19.9%. The region of Araucanía, which concentrates the largest Indigenous population, continues to be the country’s poorest region.

A continuous struggle for the Mapuche peoples is their rights to the lands and territories, which legally and/or ancestrally belong to them. In the Region of the Araucanía and Los Ríos, the rights of the Mapuche people have been gravely threatened by the expansion of extractive, production, and infrastructure projects. The great majority of these initiatives belong to private corporations.

Although a new legislative bill raises questions on the part of Indigenous Peoples and has created the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP) and the National Protected Areas System (SNAP), it fails to recognize the contribution of Indigenous Peoples to biodiversity, does not protect indigenous rights against public and private conservation initiatives, nor recognizes or protect indigenous and community conservation initiatives.

Another challenge is the criminalization of Mapuche social protest by the state. During 2017, the State broadly used the Antiterrorist Act to persecute members of the Mapuche people. During the course of the year, that law was invoked against 23 Mapuche persons charged with terrorist homicidal arson, terrorist arson, and/or terrorist conspiracy.

Legislative progress for Chile’s Indigenous Peoples

In August 2017, the Ministry of Social Development started to a process of consultation of Indigenous Peoples' perspectives in regard to the content of Indigenous matters for a new constitution. This process, namely the "Indigenous Constitutional Assembly Process" gathered proposals as involving the Indigenous Peoples' legal recognition as nations, the status of Chile as plurinational State, the right to the self-determination and autonomy, the right to the territory and natural resources, the right to special indigenous representation, and linguistic and social rights. However, the process has failed to take the content that the indigenous peoples had identified as priorities into account.

Following the social protests that broke out in the country from October 2019 onward demanding in-depth institutional change, and with approval given for the drafting of a new constitution in a referendum held in October 2020, there is now a new opportunity opening up for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples and their collective rights within the new Political Constitution.

Indigenous peoples in Chile’s Constituent process: an unresolved challenge

The protests succeeded in establishing a constituent process and now special Indigenous seats are being demanded.

The results of the plebiscite held on October 25, 2020 were unequivocal. Four out of five citizens pronounced themselves in favor of a new political constitution. The same proportion voted for the constitution to be written by officials elected for this purpose through a Constitutional Convention. This result represents an essential step towards putting an end to the 1980 Political Constitution enacted during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which, despite numerous reforms, has continued to limit the exercise of human rights and a full-fledged democracy, generating exclusions and inequalities of every kind. In this context, the people of Chile discuss the inclusion of 23 additional seats in the constitutional convention for Indigenous representatives, as well as one seat for an Afro-descendant representative.

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Indigenous World 2020: Rapa Nui

The Rapa Nui people of Easter Island continued to demand recognition of their rights throughout 2019. This related largely to demanding that the Chilean state recognise and implement the International Annexation Treaty known as the “Agreement of Wills”, signed on 9 September 1888 and which forms the basis of the relationship between Rapa Nui and Chile, given that the Rapa Nui were never a conquered people.

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Indigenous World 2019: Chile

In Chile, nine indigenous peoples are recognized by statute,1 comprised of 1,585,680 persons, they represent 9% of the country’s total population. However, in the 2017 Census, 12.8% of Chile’s population, totalling 2,158,792 people, were recognized as indigenous. These peoples and their populations are: Mapuche (1,754,147), Aymara (156,754), Diaguita (88,474), Atacameño (31,800), Quechua (27,260), Colla (16,088), Kawésqar (5,298), Rapanui (5,065), and Yámana or Yagán (131). Though mostly inhabiting urban areas, particularly the Metropolitan region (30.1%), Araucanía (19.6%) and Los Lagos (13.1%),2 as of the year 2015, 24.7% resided in rural zones.

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Indigenous World 2020: Chile

Since the 2017 census,1 and despite constant increases in numbers since the 1990s, the Indigenous population has not shown any great changes. When considering their demographic for public policy and regulatory purposes, they are still given as 12.8%  of the total population, or approximately 2,158,792 individuals, with the Mapuche being the most numerous among them (some 1,800,000 people). A clear increase in the urban Indigenous population can be seen at the expense of the rural population, with 87.8% now living in urban areas as opposed to 12.2% in rural.2

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Indigenous World 2019: Rapa Nui (Easter Islands)

The 2012 census estimated Rapa Nui’s (Easter Island) total population at around 5,761 across an area of 163.6 square kilometers. This estimate turned out to be flawed, and as a result has largely been nullified.1 The 2002 census, which estimated the total population at 3,765 people is therefore referenced in most calculations. That census recognized 60% of the population as indigenous Rapa Nui, while 39% were mainland Chileans with mixed decent. Easter Island’s traditional language is Rapa Nui. The 2017 projections from the Chilean Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (INE), estimated a population of 7,750.

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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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