• 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.

The Rapa Nui People and the constituent process


After 130 years of systematic breaches with the Agreement of Wills, the Constitutional Convention has opened a window of hope for the Rapa Nui people to achieve their right to self-determination and for the State of Chile to become a "friend of the island". Through extended open councils held on the island, the Rapa Nui are elaborating a special article that takes into account their specificities. This article is to be included in the new Constitution, with the objective that their voices finally be heard.

Photo: The Rapa Nui people’s pineapples at the Constituent Assembly. Photo: One

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The Indigenous World 2022: Chile

Despite steadily increasing since the 1990s, Chile’s Indigenous population has not seen any major variations since the 2017 census. 2,185,792 people self-identify as Indigenous, which is equivalent to 12.8% of the country's total population (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).[i] Trends highlight the sustained increase in the urban Indigenous population, with 87.8% of Indigenous people now living in towns and cities compared to 12.2% in rural areas.[ii]

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Possibilities of dialogue between the Chilean state and the Mapuche people


After Gabriel Boric's call for a peaceful solution to the conflict in the regions of Bío Bío and Araucanía, the most radical Mapuche organizations, along with some analysts and politicians, rejected the possibility of a negotiation. While tough on crime policies are popular, they only exacerbate the problem in the long run. The experience in other countries suggests that peace is possible, even in situations as complex as Chile's, and that third parties may be necessary to facilitate the dialogue process in a neutral manner.

Photo: Boric Press

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Indigenous Peoples in the Chilean constituent process


The election of the Mapuche constituent member Elisa Loncón as President was a symbol of Indigenous peoples’ protagonism in the drafting of the new Magna Carta. In the same sense, the victory of Gabriel Boric meant greater institutional support and a commitment to provide the Convention with the necessary resources for its operation. The recent approval of Initiative No. 94-1 raises hope that Chile will become a Plurinational State.

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The Indigenous World 2022: Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

During 2021, the Rapa Nui people continued to face the same pandemic situation that has affected the rest of the world. Through prudence and use of their traditional knowledge, they have managed to keep their island free from COVID-19, thanks to the decision of their authorities to close the airport (the only way onto the island) to all commercial flights.

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Chile: “The Constitution must recognize Indigenous Peoples by means of a Plurinational State”


Luis Jiménez Cáceres was elected as a Constitutional Assembly Member for the Aymara people. His Aymara roots come from the regions of Arica and Parinacota (Guallatire Community) and Tarapacá (Chiapa Community). A lawyer specializing in the human rights of Indigenous Peoples and the environment, he affirms that the new Constitution must guarantee territorial autonomy and political participation in decision-making, and recognize pachamama as a subject of law.

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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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