ARICA – A northern indigenous community received the rights to its ancestral waters in a historic ruling by the Chilean Supreme Court. This comes after the community challenged the previous ruling, which denied its request. This ruling is significant as it relates to the current debate regarding water access in Chile.
Chile’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Aymara community, officially confirming the community’s ancestral water rights. This outcome is the result of the Aymara challenging a previous ruling by a lower court that rejected their claim. The Supreme Court pointed out that the lower court hadn’t considered the anthropological reports that had been presented.
The high court specified that the case met with all the criteria needed for the Indigenous Community Protection and Development Law, which recognizes and protects the existence of the Aymara community. It also takes into account the existence of ancestral rights to both individuals and collectives that belong to the community, meaning that they have free use of their water resources in the town of Putre, near Arica.
The court also highlighted that the water sources in question had been used by the Aymara for animal consumption and agriculture since at least 1920.
This proved to be a big victory for the Aymara and others, as this ruling could set a precedent for future cases that are related to the indigenous communities’ rights to their own water sources. Considering the current drought, these could be many.
The Aymara’s success in this case is also another inroad against the negative effects of climate change in the North of Chile.
The Movement for the Defense of Water, Earth, and the Environment, however, was pessimistic. It lamented that this ruling only proved that the government doesn’t have the disposition to affirm the water rights unless forced by the judicial power.
Acknowledgment of the ancestral right to use local resources is something Chile’s indigenous communities have tried to obtain for a long time. Progress was made when the Indigenous Community Protection and Development Law was created in 1993, but many aspects of this law haven’t been fulfilled by the government.
A key issue now is the use of resources linked to an ancestral right: the debate is whether the descendants of these indigenous “ancestral users” should be allowed to exercise these rights if they stop using the resources in the same way that their predecessors did.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.