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News > Latin America

Mapuche Communities Advance In Recognition of Ancestral Coast

  • Joris van Spilbergen expedition to Mocha Island, Mapuche sacred territory for the coast people, on April 1615 a la isla Mocha en abril de 1615.

    Joris van Spilbergen expedition to Mocha Island, Mapuche sacred territory for the coast people, on April 1615 a la isla Mocha en abril de 1615. | Photo: Carrilano.

Published 9 October 2018

The Lafkenche (Lafken, sea; -che, person) Law in Chile aims to grant Mapuche communities rights over their coastlines.

The Supreme Court of Chile revoked the decision of Coyhaique’s Court of Appeal, ruling in favor of the Williche de Melinka Mapuche communities that are demanding a coastline for their activities.


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The communities are demanding a Coastline Sea Space for First Peoples (ECMPO), on grounds of the Lafkenche Law (N. 20,249), but the Regional Commission on the Use of the Coastline (CRUBC) had previously rejected it.

The Lafkenche Law, passed under the first administration of Michelle Bachelet, provides indigenous communities with legal tools to demand the right to coastlines based on their religious, economic, recreational or other traditional activities in their ancestral territories, in order to protect them from further external ventures.

The tribunal ordered the commission to take on the necessary measures and call its members to a voting session and discuss on the matter paying close attention to the Lafkenche Law.

The Longko, a community leader, Daniel Canihullan Huentel from Pu Wapi said the decision represented a “historic ruling.”

“The Supreme Court confirmed we were right and allowed us to keep on our struggle to defend our spaces, our territories, and to given them a sustainable use,” said Canihullan Huentel. “This wouldn’t be possible with the decision of Aysen’s CRUBC, because by defending the industrial salmon fishing sector they are ultimately defending pollution and ecological disaster, which is already too much in all our territories.”


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Luisa Lepio Milipichun, secretary of Pu Wapi, said the decision filled them with energy and that it helps the situation of Melinka.

“We’ve seen how the salmon industry has tried to put the people against our community by giving them leftovers,” said Lepio Milipichun.

Francisco Vera Millaquen, a Werken-spokesperson and human rights defender said that the ruling comes to rectify the institutions, as some of them pretend to evade the law by interpret it wrongfully and even ignoring the Lafkenche Law 20,249.

“This ruling is the second on the matter, added to that of 2012 with the Folil Trincao of Quellon community,” adds Vera Millaquen, “in which he had go to upstream because the Port Mont Court rejected the appeal just as it happened now with the Coyhaique Court.”

After being given to the communities, ECMPOs are under their administration and responsibility for an indefinite term, as long as no illegal activities take place.

Since it was passed in 2008, several communities have started processes to formally hold control of their ancestral coastlines.

By March 2018 there were 79 ECMPO demands representing 2.5 million coast and sea hectares in Atacama, Magallanes and the Antarctic, but only five of them have completed the bureaucratic process.

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