Indigenous groups throughout Latin America have a long history of fighting to preserve their land, their culture and their lives. Here are eight facts about indigenous groups in Chile and some of the struggles they face.
8 Facts About Indigenous Groups in Chile
- Different groups: Chile is home to nine indigenous groups. These groups include the Mapuche, the largest and most politically active indigenous group in Chile, as well as the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay and the Quechua. Together, these nine indigenous groups account for more than 1,565,000 people or approximately 9% of the total Chile population.
- History: The Mapuche have continuously fought for their independence since the 1500s, first against the Spanish and continuing after Chile gained its independence in 1818. They were successful in maintaining their sovereignty until the 1860s, when the Mapuche lost nearly 23 million acres of land to the Chilean government. From 1860 to 1885, 100,000 Mapuche were killed in a joint military effort by the Chilean and Argentine governments.
- Poverty: Approximately one-third of the indigenous peoples in Chile live in poverty. For the non-indigenous, the rate is closer to one-fifth.
- Recognition and rights: Chile remains the only Latin American country to not recognize its indigenous peoples in its Constitution. However, the Chilean government did adopt the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, and a year later they ratified the International Labor Organization Convention 169. Convention 169 recognizes the human rights violations many indigenous peoples have faced at the hands of their own government. It also calls for policies to protect the language, culture and freedoms of indigenous peoples and tribes.
- Land ownership: Dispute over land ownership is one of the primary issues for indigenous peoples in Chile. The indigenous fight with corporations, such as the logging firm Forestal Arauco S.A.. After taking control of much of the Curanilahue region, the company stripped it of its trees. This ruined the land lived on by many indigenous peoples.
- Resistance: Some indigenous peoples and tribes have broken out in rebellion against the taking of their land by setting fire to trees, forestry vehicles and crops. In response, the government created anti-terrorism legislation that labels arson as a terrorist act. Resistance has continued, however. In 2017 alone, 43 acts of resistance, many of them in the form of arson against logging firms, were taken by the Mapuche in Temuco, the capital of the Araucanía region.
- Positive changes: There has been continuous communication between the Chilean government and various indigenous groups about the creation of a new constitution. Additionally, the Piñera administration announced plans in 2018 to invest a total of $24 billion in development projects in the region of La Araucanía, an area heavily populated by indigenous peoples. These development projects will include housing subsidies, infrastructure improvements and a dozen new hospitals. Piñera’s plans also include the creation of a Ministry and Council of Native Peoples to give them greater federal representation. His plans have not yet included any land redistribution, however.
- Legal victories: The Human Rights Watch reported that the murder of Mapuche activist Camilo Catrillanca in 2018 led to the persecution of four police officers directly involved. This was a small but key victory for the Mapuche. For decades, police have abused their authority to torture and kill indigenous peoples and manufacture evidence to unlawfully imprison them. In 2017, charges against several Mapuche were eventually dropped when it was brought to light that police officers had created fake WhatsApp messages to build a case of arson against them.
These 8 facts about indigenous groups in Chile illustrate some of the struggles they face. Moving forward, more work needs to be done to ensure the voices of the indigenous are heard and their rights are recognized.
– Scott Boyce