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News > Chile

Chile: How Indigenous People Would Re-Draft the Constitution

  • A protester waves a Mapuche flag in front of a Carabineros Special Forces contingent during a protest this Friday in Santiago's Plaza Italia, Santiago de Chile, Chile.

    A protester waves a Mapuche flag in front of a Carabineros Special Forces contingent during a protest this Friday in Santiago's Plaza Italia, Santiago de Chile, Chile. | Photo: EFE

Published 23 October 2020

Aymara and Quechua nations, the Rapa-nui on the island, and the Mapuche have enormous differences in terms of culture, language, territory, and relationship with the Chilean state.

Close to Chile’s constitutional referendum on October 25, it remains unclear how the Indigenous population will participate in the drafting of the new Carta Magna. To better comprehend this topic, the historian, professor, and author of the book "A proposal for the teaching of Mapuche history" at the University of Chile Juan Carlos Painequeo offers his point of view about the Indigenous people’s situation in the South American nation.


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What has been the trajectory of the Mapuche people's struggle up to this point?

The struggle of the Mapuche people has existed since the process of the Spanish conquest in 1550 approx, is the victory of Curalaba in 1598, and the subsequent signing of the Paces de Quillin in 1641 the immediate consequence of resistance, which secured the border and an autonomous territory for 300 years. The Chilean-Argentinean invasion during the years 1862-1885 subdued and broke this political autonomy of the Mapuche nation, subjecting the territories to a process of permanent colonization that has not ended so far. For the last 150 years, the Mapuche nation has maintained its spaces of resistance, reclaiming its historical territories stripped by the Chilean and Argentine armies' military campaigns. Likewise, cultural vindication has been the spearhead that has allowed the Mapuche nation to preserve its language, culture, and worldview, present to this day.  For the last 30 years, the Mapuche nation has used the mechanisms signed by the Chilean-Argentinean states to claim collective rights guaranteed by ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, among others. However, the process of colonization did not end with the war of invasion but has continued with the constant refusal of the states mentioned to recognize the pre-existence and plurinational in their fundamental charters. 

How have Mapuche people participated in the movement of social struggle since 2019?

The Mapuche nation has maintained constant participation in the social struggle of the Chilean people. During the Pinochet dictatorship, the largest Mapuche organizations of the time raised the need to support the struggle for the liberation of the Chilean people. Unfortunately, the agreements reached in Nueva Imperial in 1989 between the candidate of the Concertación Patricio Aylwin and the Mapuche communities were not fulfilled in their entirety, including the promised constitutional recognition, which still does not exist today. Faced with this situation, during the Chilean mobilization in 2019, the Mapuche nation had active participation in support of Chilean socio-political demands. The wenufoye (Mapuche flag created in 1992) was raised en masse by the society demonstrating in different parts of the country. Finding similarities in the historic Mapuche struggle and resistance. There were also massive demonstrations in major cities of the country. Together with Chileans, they demolished large monuments to the Spanish genocide and Chilean generals who led the armed invasion of Mapuche territory in 1862.

How will the participation of indigenous peoples be in the drafting or modification of a new constitutional text?

The possibility of generating seats reserved for native peoples members when the constituent convention is elected is currently being discussed. These seats would provide a minimum floor for the participation of First Nations. However, in Chile, nine first nations predate the state, against which this small percentage of reserved seats would have to be divided among all of them. This would not be a problem if they were homogeneous cultures or belonging to adjacent territories; unfortunately, this is not the case. Since the Aymara and Quechua nations, the Rapa-nui on the island, and the Mapuche have enormous differences in culture, language, territory, and relationship with the Chilean state. This is already generating some discussions that may affect positive participation in drafting or modifying the constitution. If the reserved seats are not given, the First Nations will participate as citizens without further differentiation. In that scenario, it will be complex to present unified positions that will benefit all the First Nations in the territory. 

How would the inclusion of the indigenous people's worldview in a new constitution impact Chile's political and social landscape?

The repercussions will be varied, starting with the country's economic model. The extractivist economic policy mainly affects territory belonging to the First Nations, mining in the North, and forestry in the South. If the First Nations' cultural notion is incorporated, the fierce extraction of natural resources that exists today will have to be modified. The discussion will be interesting, given that the Chilean economy went through extensive agro-industry in the 18th century, saltpeter in the 19th and 20th centuries, copper until today, and forestry in the last 50 years (forestry in private hands since the Pinochet dictatorship).

Another impact will be seen with the incorporation of the collective rights of the first nations. Chile was built on the idea of one nation, one state, and centralized in Santiago. When considering the Mapuche people's collective rights, in particular, we will have to talk about autonomous territories that do not depend on Santiago, which today is impossible to think about. It will be time to decentralize Chile. This will also affect the idea of nationhood that we have today, which was strengthened during the dictatorship (in Chile, there are no indigenous people; we are all Chileans). A plurinational state would change the same mental structure that has prevailed and taught in schools since the 19th century, which has not changed until now. 

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