SANTIAGO — After three years of examination, Congress approved a bill that recognizes Chango people as an official ethnic group. The term “Chango” was first used in the 17th century by Europeans to describe the coastal groups of northern Chile. Now, this indigenous group is among the 10 indigenous peoples recognized by the Chilean state.
The bill that seeks to modify the National Corporation for Indigenous Development to recognize the Chango as an ethnic group was approved by Congress after three years of study. The recognition allows the Chango to access state benefits and preserve their legacy and way of life. They are the 10th ethnic group to be recognized by the state. The other nine are: the Aymaras, Atacameños, Collas, Diaguitas, Kawésqar, Mapuche, Quechuas, Rapa Nui, and Yámanas.
According to a summary published by the Senate, the bill recognizes all the indigenous coastal communities from the Antofagasta region to the Valparaíso region as Chango. The aim is to protect the habitat of these people, as well as the biodiversity that is of great importance for their development and survival.
Results from the latest census in 2017 show that throughout the country, nearly 2.2 million people considered themselves to be part of an indigenous group. Of those, only 4,725 said they were Chango. An investigation published by the Senate and conducted by the agency Arista Social shows that Antofagasta has the most, 2,913, and that 470 live in Atacama, 740 in Coquimbo, and 135 in Valparaíso.
Before the Hispanic colonization of South America, Chango already inhabited the coasts of northern Chile. According to the National Museum of Chilean Natural History, this ethnic group was composed of “descendants of a long tradition of cultures dedicated to fishing and exploitation of marine resources.”
The Chango have always been associated with the sea. They recognized the sea as a reference to their identity and their main source of survival. The most distinctive symbol of this ethnic group was a raft made of wolf leather.
In “Los Changos de las Costas de Chile” (“Chango of the Chilean Coasts”), by Richard Latcham and published in 1910, Latcham mentioned that the term Chango was not meant for one specific group, but rather used to describe several groups of people that inhabited the coastal areas in northern Chile.
The Chilean Museum of pre-Columbian Art, also mentions the possibility that the Chango people were composed of several ethnic groups. “There is very little information available about the language or languages used by the Chango people. Some authors suggest that they used a blend of the Aymara and Kunza languages, while others claim that they spoke Mapudungun and also understood Kunza. This supports the theory that the Chango were not a single ethnic group but rather a number of largely unrelated tribes.”
The Chango Today
The documentary “Somos Changos” (“We are Chango”), financed by the National Fund for Arts and Cultural Development, shows how the community that currently inhabits the Pan de Azúcar cove carries the cultural inheritance of Chango, as they practice the same activities the Chango did: fishing, shellfish extraction, and diving.
In January 2020, the National Council for Chango People was created, to fight for the recognition of the ethnic group. This week, after Congress approved the bill that acknowledges the Chango people, the council posted a statement on Facebook, showing the gratitude towards the recognition. “… only 3 years in Congress, but our work of consolidating ourselves after a century of invisibility, denial, and omission, has been very long … this achievement would not have been possible without the strength of our Chango people to fight for being recognized … (and) to preserve our culture.”
Socialist Party Congressperson Daniela Cicardini, who proposed the bill in 2017, celebrated the approval and posted on Twitter that “there is still a long way to go, but there is satisfaction in dignifying the value of northern (indigenous) people from the Atacama region.”
The initiative is now ready to be enacted into law by President Sebastián Piñera.
Por rescate patrimonial de los #PueblosIndigenas
En @Camara_cl se aprobó nuestro Prycto q reconoce al #PuebloChango como étnia indígena de #Chile
Se despachó para PRONTO SER LEY! Falta mucho pero hay satisfacción de dignificar valor de pueblos del norte y la región de #Atacama! pic.twitter.com/W61NUK7PQC
— Daniella Cicardini (@Dani_Cicardini) September 8, 2020
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant