The controversial vote in Chile that could change the rights of native people
Some of the most important Indigenous rights in the world would be written into the proposed constitution. But these changes have become the main reason why people want to get rid of the new text.
The Mapuche people fought off the Inca. They fought off the Spanish settlers. Even after hundreds of years, they still fight for the recognition of their lands in modern Chile.
Now, the Mapuche people are close to getting a lot of what they have been fighting for. This could be one of the biggest wins for indigenous people in modern history.
Experts say that if Chileans vote for a new constitution on Sunday, it would give Indigenous people some of the most extensive rights anywhere in the world. If the text is approved, more than two million Indigenous Chileans, 80 percent of whom are Mapuche, would be able to govern their own territories, have their own courts, and be recognized as separate nations within Chile, which has 19 million people.
But these changes have become the most controversial part of the proposed charter and the center of the campaign to get rid of it. The campaign seems to be having an effect: Before the referendum, polls show that people are most likely to choose "reject." Even the left-leaning government has promised to limit some Indigenous rights if the constitution is passed, though it is not clear how or if this will happen.
"When we started this constitutional process, we never thought that this would be the issue that would probably decide the outcome of the plebiscite," said Javier Couso, an expert on constitutions at Diego Portales University in Santiago, the capital.
People said that the convention that was chosen last year to write Chile's new constitution was one of the most open political groups in the world. It had equal numbers of men and women, and 17 of its 155 seats were set aside for Indigenous people. Elisa Loncón, a Mapuche linguist, was its first president. She wore traditional clothes to plenary sessions and often greeted other convention members in Mapudungun, which is the Mapuche language.
Indigenous people had their say about the draft text. The first part of the new constitution would say that Chile is a "plurinational" state, which means that it recognizes more than one nation within its borders.
It would make sure that Indigenous people have a certain number of seats in all elected bodies, including national, regional, and local ones. Indigenous people would have their own independent territories, and their lands and the natural resources on them would be better protected. Most controversially, a separate Indigenous justice system would decide cases that don't affect basic rights or international agreements that Chile has signed.
"I think this constitution is really ahead of the curve," said Antonia Rivas, a lawyer and anthropologist who helped a number of first nations people at the convention by giving them advice. "Indigenous rights were used as a guiding principle, so they were put into every part of the text."
Sebastián Donoso, a board member of the country's National Human Rights Institute, said that 56 of the 388 proposed articles of the constitution deal with Indigenous rights. If the charter is passed, Congress will have to decide how to interpret some of its parts. For example, Congress will have to decide how to define autonomous territories and which cases will be heard by Indigenous courts.
Many of the rights in the proposed constitution already exist in international agreements, like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People from 2007, which was signed by 144 countries, including Chile. It gives Indigenous groups the right to decide for themselves and encourages governments to get the free, prior, and well-informed consent of Indigenous groups before passing laws that may affect them.
The Chilean text would require the state to actually get the consent of Indigenous people, not just try to get it. This is more than what international law requires.
Some rights also exist in countries where there are a lot of indigenous people. Since 1867, for example, the Maori people of New Zealand have had a certain number of seats in Parliament. Bolivia and Ecuador also say that they have more than one nationality.
By some measures, the US is at the front of the pack when it comes to Indigenous rights. Robert Williams Jr., an expert on Indigenous rights at the University of Arizona, said, "Even though it's not perfect, there is nowhere else in the world where Indian tribes have as much power to govern themselves." "Each of our tribes has its own courts, jails, and power over its own members."
But in some ways, the text that Chile wants to add would be more complete. "The Canadian Constitution protects aboriginal and treaty rights. The Sami people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland have their own parliaments, and different parts of Mexico have their own laws," said Claire Charters, a professor of Indigenous law at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. "But the Chilean constitution puts all of that in one written document, which is something no other country does."
So different that it has turned off many Chileans: In a recent survey by the Center for Public Studies, or CEP, a Chilean research institute, most Chileans, including Mapuche people, were against calling their country "plurinational." Instead, they liked the word "multicultural" or didn't care either way.
One representative from the right at the constitutional convention said that the text would lead to a "Indigenous monarchy." The draft constitution was called "indigenist" and "racist" by someone else.
The proposed parallel legal system has been given the most harsh criticism.
In a TV ad paid for by people who don't like the new constitution, one man asks, "Why should there be two kinds of justice if justice is supposed to be blind?" When the leader of an extremist Mapuche group was arrested last week, a right-wing senator said that under an Indigenous justice system, he probably would have been free "within minutes."
Ms. Rivas said, "This idea has taken hold that Indigenous people will have special rights." "When the truth is that Indigenous people have been the most left out, both in the past and now. It hurts a lot to be called a new elite or privileged class.
Even more surprising is that some Mapuche people don't like the draft text or aren't sure how they feel about it.
The head of a Mapuche business group, Jaime Huenchiur, said, "They're selling us a car without an engine." "What good are quotas if many Mapuche people don't know how they'll feed their families tomorrow?" He said that economic growth in Mapuche areas should be the main goal.
In interviews with almost a dozen Mapuche people in and around Temuco, a town in southern Chile in the heart of traditional Mapuche territory, many were skeptical about politics in general and said they hadn't decided how they would vote or wouldn't vote at all.
The CEP survey found that only 16% of Mapuche people trusted the Indigenous representatives at the constitutional convention. This was a much smaller number than the number of people who said they trusted their local leaders or shamans.
Still, many Mapuche activists have fought for their rights to be recognized, which turned a page in history at the convention. Chile is one of only a few Latin American countries whose constitutions don't mention Indigenous groups, even though they make up about 13% of the population, according to the most recent census in 2017.
In the 19th century, after Chile got rid of Spain, the government set up offices in Europe to try to get people to move to the south. They promised to give them land that they said was empty, but was often owned by the Mapuche people.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly from Germany and Switzerland, moved to the land because it was so fertile. In southern Chile, towns like Kunstmann have breweries and coffee shops where cake is called "kuchen," which is a German word.
Rosemarie Junge, the rector of Saint Thomas University in Temuco, said, "My grandchildren go to the German school, we speak German, and we are Lutherans." "The Chilean government gave us permission to do this, but the Indigenous people who lived here before us couldn't do the same for decades." Since the country went back to being a democracy in 1990, Congress has tried at least a dozen times to change the Constitution to recognize Indigenous people. All of these attempts have failed.
A conflict that started with a dictatorship that ended in 1990 and is still going on in the south of the country is making things even worse. Back then, the government allowed logging on large areas of land. Since the return to democracy, some Mapuche groups have stepped up their attacks on the industry.
Recently, the conflict has grown worse. The number of violent incidents that were reported went up from 150 in 2011 to more than 1,700 last year. This includes setting fire to trucks carrying wood and shooting at police officers.
In May, Chile's new left-wing government declared a state of emergency in the south. A few weeks later, Chile's Lower House voted to label four violent Mapuche groups "illegal terrorist organizations."
But some Mapuche people hope that the new constitution will help make the world a more peaceful place.
"What does it mean if this constitution is accepted?" Ms Loncón said. "It means that a Chile without racism is possible, that a democracy that includes everyone is possible, and that having a different identity doesn't make this country less united but rather makes it stronger."