• Indigenous peoples in Chile

    Indigenous peoples in Chile

    There are nine different indigenous groups in Chile. The largest one is Mapuche, followed by the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay, and the Quechua peoples. As the only country in Latin America, Chile’s constitution does not recognize the indigenous peoples.
  • Peoples

    1,565,915 indigenous peoples and nine different indigenous groups live in Chile
  • Rights

    2007: Chile adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Current state

    The main challenges for the Mapuche include claiming their rights to land and territories.

RAPA NUI IW 2019

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.

The rights of indigenous peoples are regulated by Law No. 19,253 of 1993 on “indigenous promotion, protection, and development.” However, that law does not meet the standards of international law regarding the indigenous peoples’ rights. Rapa Nui is covered by Chile’s ratification of ILO convention 169 in 2008, which went into effect in 2009.

Refusal to recognize ancestral property rights

During 2018, the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island have maintained their demands for recognition of their territorial and political rights, that is, recognition of their right to self-determination and their ancestral property rights over the entire territory of the island.

In November 2017, Chile finalized the complete transfer of the administration of the Rapa Nui National Park to the Ma’u Henua Indigenous Community, a community constituted under Law No. 19,253, which establishes regulations on Protection, Promotion, and Development of Indigenous People, and which creates the National Indigenous Development Corporation.2 Although this is an important step towards recognition of the Rapa Nui people and for their right to administer their property, the truth is that this transfer was made in the form of a concession to administer the park.

The state still systematically refuses to recognize indigenous peoples’ collective rights to ownership of the land. In particular, ownership of the territory comprising the Rapa Nui National Park, which contains all of the Rapa Nui’s sacred and ancestral sites. This has exacerbated conflicts with the government, as the Rapa Nui see the action as forcing them to live on their land not as owners, but rather as occupants.3

Migratory Act and failure to protect the cultural integrity and archaeological heritage of the Rapa Nui people

In 2018, Law No. 21,070 came into force and was implemented. This law regulates the exercise of the right to reside, remain in and move to and from the Special Territory of Easter Island.4 This legislative development, unique in its kind at the national level, is aimed at protecting and safeguarding against the overpopulation that has affected Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in recent years. Although census figures are disputed, as noted above, the increase in population noted on the island has resulted in irreparable environmental damage. Such environmental damage consists of a depletion of resources and an eventual collapse in the treatment of waste on the island.

It should be noted that the island of Rapa Nui is located approximately 3,800 kilometers away from the South American continent, and its original people live the farthest away from another inhabited point than any other people on the planet. Such extreme geographical conditions pose a true challenge for the survival of members of this community, even in the 21st century. The new law fails to provide a concrete solution to these issues. This is partly due to the lack of participation of the Rapa Nui people in the procedure leading up to the passage of this legislation and the clear lack of information regarding the constant modifications to the original bill.

Drafting and implementation of a Special Statute for Rapa Nui Governance and Administration

In the political realm, for the exercise of the people of Rapa Nui’s right to self-determination over the island’s territory, the first obstacle lies in the Constitution of the Republic of Chile. Chile, as a unitary state, considers only the mainland’s reality for purposes of governing and legislating, without taking into account the traditions, customs and culture of the Rapa Nui people. This has led to a constant conflict between the application of the international human rights treaties signed and ratified by Chile – which protect and guarantee indigenous rights – and the application of Chilean law.5

In innumerable situations it is simply impractical to apply the law in effect in Chile to Rapa Nui, since it often contradicts the customs and ancestral culture of our people. These same impracticalities are apparent in the way that public administrative institutions of the state operate. On the island’s territory they are incapable of functioning in accordance with the mainland’s legal system, because no national regulations have been created that take the unique geographical and cultural conditions of the Rapa Nui people into account.

These issues are directly linked to the Republic of Chile’s Political Constitution’s absence of recognition of the pluricultural nature of the state and the existence of indigenous peoples throughout its territory. Only through laws of lower hierarchical rank have nine original peoples been recognized within Chile: eight Amerindian peoples and one Polynesian (the Rapa Nui people) who inhabit or inhabited the present territory of that country since before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century.6

These issues directly affect the political participation of members of the Rapa Nui people within Chile’s legislature. They have no representation or voice, and throughout history have failed to be considered when laws are developed, which generates constant conflict over the application of national legislation on the island. When developing laws, the existence of this community, its remoteness, its culture and customs have never been considered, causing a sense of neglect among Rapa Nui’s inhabitants.

Under Chile’s current electoral system, the Rapa Nui people have no possibility of having a representative in any Chamber of the National Congress. They are thus unable to express an accurate opinion, which is mandatory in order to be considered in the national legislative process. Historically, the Rapa Nui people have had to go begging in search of political will on the part of mainland congressmen. They are compelled to foment empathy among them, so that the congress members will consider their needs when legislating. This produces an obvious unease and discontent among the Rapa Nui People. 7

There seems to be an obvious lack of political will to implement a Special Statute for Rapa Nui, to which Chile committed more than 10 years ago. In fact, in 2007, after an arduous struggle lasting more than a century, the Chile, through Law No. 20,193, amended the Political Constitution of the Republic, establishing Easter Island as a “special territory”8:

Article 126A. Easter Island and the Juan Fernández Archipelago are special territories. The Governance and Administration of these territories shall be governed by such special statutes as the respective constitutional organic laws may establish.9

To this, the following interim provision was added:

Twenty-two. Until the special statutes referred to in Article 126A come into force, the special territories of Easter Island and the Juan Fernández Archipelago shall continue to be governed by the standard regulations regarding political-administrative division, governance, and the interior administration of the State.10

The Special Governance and Administration Statute, which the Rapa Nui people long for, has not been developed, and there is no political will at the governmental level to make progress in implementing the mandate set forth in the Constitution itself. The Rapa Nui people believe that such a statute would make it possible to solve the majority of the constant, innumerable conflicts with Chile, and ensure the effective exercise of their right to self-determination. For it to be effective, it must emanate from and be refined by the Rapa Nui people, encompassing their considerations and needs, based on their worldview and understanding of their ancestral culture and traditions. The creation and implementation of this Special Statute is currently the main challenge for the Rapa Nui people in the defense of their rights and conservation of autonomy over their territory.

Notes and references

  1. See BBC, “Chile may annul ‘flawed’ 2012 census BBC ” Available at: https://bbc.in/2TaJamE
  2. Ministry of Cooperation and Planning. Act No. 253: Establishes rules on the protection, promotion and development of indigenous peoples, and creates the National Corporation for Indigenous Development. 28 September 1992. Available in http://bit.ly/2EtLIBR
  3. Ministry of National Goods. Decree 119: Part of the Rapa Nui National Park is disaffected, it terminates the administration of the National Forestry Corporation and gives its administration via free long-term use concession to the MA’U HENUA indigenous community. 27 November Available at: http://bit.ly/2Eo5AGK
  4. Ministry of the Interior and public security. Act No. 070: Regulates the exercise of the rights to reside, to remain and to move to and from the special territory of Easter Island. 7 March, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Es9M8j
  5. The state of Chile ratified the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and tribal Peoples in Independent Countries in the year 2008, and in accordance with the provisions of article 38, entered into force in September 2009, through the Decree 236 of the Ministry of Ex-relations Quality Assurance. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Ek7Pus
  6. Act No. 253. Article 1 Establishes rules on the protection, promotion and development of indigenous peoples, and creates the National Corporation for Indigenous Development. 28 September, 1992. Available at: http://bit.ly/2EtLIBR
  7. The National Congress of Chile is composed of the Chamber of Deputies, of 120 members and by the Senate, of 43. Currently, 4 parliamentarians belong to the Mapuche people and one to the Diaguita. They all represent a political party. Available at: http://bit.ly/2EpGGGE
  1. Ministry of the Interior [2007]: Law 20193: constitutional reform that establishes the special territories of Easter Island and Juan Fernandez archipelago. Available at: http://bit.ly/2EpK6sV
  2. Ibidem
  3. Ibidem

Benjamin Ilabaca De La Puente is an attorney in Rapa Nui. He is the representative of the mayor of Easter Island before the Commission of Development of Easter Island (CODEIPA), the Management Council of the Demographic Load and of the Rapa Nui people to the United Nations, in the indigenous rights programme of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He also serves as a Member of the Drafting Commission of the regulation of Law N ° 21.070.

About IWGIA

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

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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