Constitutional Process NATIONAL

What could Chile’s indigenous communities gain on Sunday?

As the constitutional process gains momentum, indigenous rights have fallen by the wayside. While native communities were strongly represented in the previous process, they are unlikely to gain much in Sunday’s elections for the advisers to the Constitutional Council. So far, it looks like indigenous matters will be marked by continuity rather than change.

On May 7, voters will elect 50 advisers to the Constitutional Council that will draft Chile’s new Constitution, but the entity will not provide reserved seats for the indigenous population.

In the Constitutional Convention that wrote the draft that was widely rejected in September 2022, 17 of 155 seats were reserved for recognized ethnic groups.

This time, indigenous candidates are part of a two-member list, both of them Mapuche, and may be elected by members of an indigenous community. Yet, since voters have only one vote, the indigenous candidates face overwhelming odds.

The Ruling Coalition’s Proposal

As part of a minimum agreement, the government coalition proposes to constitutionally recognize indigenous peoples and enshrine their rights to community and consultation “within the framework of the internationally binding Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Specifically, the proposed new Constitution should include an adequate form of political representation.”

The parties propose an indigenous statute to guarantee these rights.

Longstanding Demands

 According to the 2017 census, more than two million Chileans belong to one of 10 indigenous groups, like the Mapuche or Aymara.

Indigenous peoples have long demanded constitutional recognition. Then-president Patricio Aylwin signed an agreement in 1989 to recognize indigenous peoples generally and constitutionally. Like similar agreements between the native population and the state, the agreement remained hollow. Since 1990, Congress has rejected seven bills to include indigenous communities in the Constitution.

But the Aylwin administration created Conadi, an entity to help increase political participation and promote indigenous identity, among others.

Natalia Caniguan, an indigenous expert at Universidad de la Frontera, told Chile Today in the run-up to the elections for the Constitutional Convention in 2020 that the law was a step in the right direction but not sufficient: “This law talks about ethnic groups instead of nations. When you say ethnic groups, you lower the category and are unable to guarantee people’s rights.” 

Caniguan said only constitutional recognition would guarantee rights.

Last Year’s Draft

The rejected draft included substantial constitutional changes for indigenous communities, some sparking controversy and misinformation. 

The language, identity, and right to territorial autonomy of groups like the Mapuche, Kawésqar, and Selk’nam would have been recognized.

A controversial clause involved consultation on all matters that affected indigenous peoples. Well-known commentators like Mario Waissbluth misrepresented the clause, smearing the indigenous leader of the Constitutional Convention, Elisa Loncón by claiming police and military would have to ask for permission to enter indigenous territories.

Another controversial point was the establishment of a native legal system. Detractors claimed it would involve two sets of rules and permit crimes. But the related article emphasized that national laws would supersede any specific native law.

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