SANTIAGO – The Chilean government and delegates of the nine ethnicities recognized by this South American country began on Monday an unprecedented process of consultations so that indigenous peoples will be specifically considered in the new constitution.
The talks, inaugurated this Monday by President Michelle Bachelet, are in compliance with Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which demands that governments consult the different races living in their respective countries whenever administrative or legislative measures are being introduced that could directly affect them.
At the inaugural ceremony, President Bachelet said her country faces a constitutional challenge “that demands taking action without delay, with democratic passion and responsibility.”
The president said a constitution that does not assure the expanded rights and freedoms of the 21st century, including those of indigenous peoples, “is in need of renovation.”
After noting the participation of the approximately 17,000 people who helped with the work of drawing up a new constitution, Bachelet said in her speech that part of its foundation is the acceptance of indigenous peoples and their rights to their own language, territories, and ethnically differentiated participation and representation.
She also said the proposal establishes the existence of special indigenous reservations where the ethnicity’s own language, emblems and cultural symbols will be recognized as official.
The consultation, attended by 139 delegates from the nine ethnicities recognized in Chile, will continue until next Thursday, the organizers said.
At present the Chilean government officially recognizes the existence of nine native peoples: Mapuches, Aimaras, Quechuas, Atacameños, Rapanuis, Kawesqar, Diaguitas, Yaganes and Yamanas.
Some 700,000 individuals over age 14 have officially declared themselves to be members of these ethnicities, which signifies 4.7 percent of the Chilean population.