On Indigenous Recognition: What would it mean to be recognized in the New Chilean Constitution?
By Fabianna Flores
Image Credit: Javier Torres/AFP (Link)
Written during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, the Chilean constitution continues to be unrepresentative of its diverse citizenship. The constitution is a reflection of historical structural oppression that has long since permeated into Chilean society. Individuals remain disempowered and discriminated against on the grounds race, sexuality, gender, class, and ethnicity, among others. In response to the mass protests across Chile in 2019[KJ1] sparked by pervasive social inequality (Amnesty International, 2019), a plebiscite referendum was held on October 25, 2020. Despite low voter turnout, the referendum resulted in a majority vote to rewrite the constitution. Tasked with the drafting of a new constitution as well as forming one of the most inclusive and representative bodies in Chilean history, is the Chilean Constitutional Convention.
Voted in by Chilean citizens, the Convention achieved gender parity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ candidates, feminist and environmental activists, and candidates from non-elite backgrounds. Importantly for indigenous representation, 17 seats were reserved for indigenous people and leading this legislative body is Elisa Loncón, an indigenous Mapuche woman. Along with a historically high number of seats given to indigenous people, the LGBTQ+ community has also gained visibility by having elected members sitting in the Convention. In the upcoming negotiations, the constitutional recognition of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and identity will also be addressed. The breakthrough of having minority groups represented in a decision-making body and that the Convention will be led by an indigenous Mapuche woman deserves attention.
Indigenous Recognition in Chile (Or the Lack Thereof)
The historical persecution of indigenous communities in Chile continues to this day. For instance, the Mapuche, previously one of the largest indigenous nations, were subjected to oppressive state policies and driven out of their ancestral lands by the Chilean government in the 1880s. During Pinochet’s reign from 1973-1990, extractive neo-liberal commitments of increasing agricultural exports meant that Mapuche territories were capitalized on further and damaged in the name of national development. Institutionalized discrimination against the indigenous communities has led to a constant erasure of their identities and subordination of their ways of knowing.
Indigenous communities have long fought for constitutional recognition of their identity, territorial, and participation rights. Currently, the only law governing the rights of indigenous people system is known as Law 19253, passed in 1993 during Chile’s attempt to return to democracy after dictatorial rule. This law ‘made it the state’s duty to respect, protect, and promote indigenous rights and culture and to safeguard indigenous lands’ yet it fell short of expectations (HRW, 2004). Law 19253 does not exist in isolation, and when coupled with the rest of the Chilean legal apparatus, it becomes a single law within a legal system that places capitalism above all. As Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef, a Mapuche feminist puts it, ‘If the state gives with one hand and takes away with the other, how can indigenous people believe that it’s democratic’ (R.I. Reuque Paillalef, & F.E. Mallon, 2002).
The Chilean Constitutional Convention provides an opportunity for a dialogue in a decision-making body where those in the negotiations speak from their own experiences. This subverts the colonial exercise where dominant groups claim to speak the absolute truth for all. Achieving constitutional recognition would then establish a legal precedent for the rest of Chilean institutions and society to no longer subordinate, but rather value and uphold indigenous rights, ways of living and ways of knowing.
Elisa Loncón: On Representing Marginalized Groups
Elisa Loncón, an indigenous Mapuche woman, has been elected as the president of the Convention, and will be leading the drafting of the new constitution. Indigenous women have long kept indigenous traditions, identities and cultures alive demonstrating collective resistance against gendered, racial and colonial violence. Reducing indigenous women to victims in need of support dismisses their lived stories of survival, protest and action against violence. Giving Elisa Loncón the space to speak her truth recognizes that indigenous women are the only ones who are able to speak on a lifetime of their unique lived experiences. Her fight is one for the earth, territories, identity, and language of the Mapuche communities. Yet resisting oppressive forms of power is simultaneously a fight against all forms of discrimination and structural violence. A decolonized future includes dismantling all interconnected forms of oppression.
Reconciling a fragmented society through coalition politics is no small feat. Within the Convention, there are members from across the political spectrum each with their own identities. Protests have continued in Chile where many argue that members within the Convention are not representative enough of the wider citizenry. However, resistance consists of multiple fights in various fields. It takes the arts, politics, education, journalism, any and all realms to give silenced voices the chance to be heard and understood. Dismantling institutionalized discrimination requires holistic resistance and collaboration across all of Chilean society. Constitutional recognition of marginalized groups would only scratch the surface.
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