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Indigenous peoples in Latin America claim territorial self-governance

Having their own indigenous local governments is one of the most significant claims made by indigenous peoples in Latin America.

IWGIA fully supports this demand and together with regional partners and local institutions strengthened the momentum through a two-day international seminar in October 2016. The seminar was held in the Bolivian Chaco and brought together indigenous representatives from Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.

Pressure on indigenous peoples triggers claim for self-governance

Territorial self-governance involves all processes related to how indigenous societies control and decide how to administer the future of their ways of life within the territory they inhabit.

In Latin America, despite substantial achievements in land titling, extractive industries are continuing their relentless advance onto indigenous territories in search of natural resources. Almost all countries in Latin America have ratified ILO Convention 169, but real consultation rarely occurs.

Indigenous communities are therefore facing a loss of control over their territories and environmental degradation of their lands. This enormous pressure on their traditional way of living triggers the urge for territorial self-governance as a political project.

“Autonomy is not a gift, it is our victory”

Charagua Iyambae - the first Guarani autonomous government in Bolivia

“Our process of crafting autonomy is not a gift, it is our victory”, said Ronald Andrés, indigenous leader of Charagua Norte, to welcome the more than hundred participants of the autonomy seminar.

Located in the south-east of Bolivia, Charagua is one of the largest municipalities in the country and home to 70 indigenous Guarani communities. The process of creating an indigenous local government started back in 2009 when the plurinational constitution was enacted and secured the right to autonomy of indigenous peoples.

Four years later, they formulated their own statutes by referendum and elected their own local authorities, who took office in January 2017.

The rule of indigenous local governments is based on direct participation: Representatives are not referring to political parties, but to their indigenous territory.

This means a shift from the traditional municipality model to a model based on territorial local needs. A radical change from centralised top-down decision-making by states and ministries.

The Wampis Nation in Peru  

Whereas Bolivia is far ahead of providing a favourable legal framework for establishing autonomous territories, the situation in Peru is different:

“We cannot wait for the state to proclaim our autonomy, we have to directly exercise it because it is our right,” says Wrays Pérez, the first-ever President of the Wampis Nation.

The Wampis Nation was constituted in 2015 and now its government covers 1.3 million hectares of the Wampis territory in the Amazon rainforest. For Wrays Pérez the priorities are clear: Autonomy is not sustainable if there is no control over the natural resources within their ancestral land.

“What we take home from this seminar is the strong message of how much we are moving forward to achieve self-determination. We are all innovating in different ways from our territories,” says Wrays Pérez.

“We are all innovating in different ways from our territories”

Read more about the establishment of the Wampis Nation hereThe Wampis Nation - the first indigenous autonomous government in Peru


A promising development for indigenous peoples

Beyond national contexts, the participants agreed that a common concern is a continuing pressure from companies. They disregard indigenous land rights and keep getting concessions for extracting natural resources or building large-scale infrastructure without consulting the affected indigenous communities.
“The establishment of local indigenous governments is a promising development. It gives indigenous peoples better opportunities to control their land and future. And finally territorial self-governance is a direct fulfilment of indigenous peoples’ right to participate equally in democratic processes,“ says Alejandro Parellada from IWGIA.

Tags: Land rights



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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