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Indigenous Sovereignty

Ministro Álvaro Elizalde asiste, junto al alcalde de La Granja, Felipe Delpin a la celebración del “We Tripantu” (Año Nuevo Mapuche), en la que participarán seis organizaciones indígenas. June 21, 2014 Vocería de Gobierno

The fight for All Indigenous sovereignty has been a key nexus for democracy in the creation of both the Chilean new proposed Constitution and the adoption of the new Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that was created from the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela in 1999. These constitutions lead in discussions about the autonomy of Indigenous peoples, and their fight to be present in the fundamental writings of these countries. These are far from realities from the colonial legacies of the United States. The Indian Reservation system in the U.S. began as a way to keep the Indigenous people off the land of the white settlers. They were displaced and through violent means, put under the rule of the United States government. Reservations today are far from a place where Indigenous people can preserve their cultures and are still subject to the recognition of the US government to be given land that is rightfully theirs. Further, institutions like UC Berkeley continue to benefit from the legacies of colonialism, as a land grab institution. As UC Berkeley works to rematriate cultural artifacts to the Ohlone people and their various tribes, we can not give them back what is theirs. We open every ceremony with a land acknowledgement, but what does that mean to acknowledge Indigenous lands, rights and autonomy?

In Venezuela, the adoption of the new Constitution sought to reform the autonomy previously granted to Indigenous peoples before the 1961 Constitution. This new constitution declares the fundamental rights of all Indigenous peoples to their language and culture, outlines the need for explicit permission of Indigenous groups for the extradition of resources, and governmental autonomy. The adoption of these practices into the 1999 Constitution came after decades of Indigenous organization, Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela (CONIVE), active protests against anti-indigenous legislation for centuries prior to the electoral revolution of Hugo Chávez, and their fierce advocacy at the legislative level for the adoption of this representation in the Constitution. The constitutional process reflects the push for representation to 131 people in the constitutional referendum, where previously only 3 people were from Indigenous groups. The largest gathering of Indigenous peoples convened to elect these members and that is reflected in articles 119 to 126. With the election of Hugo Chávez, the people of Venezuela were heard when he said, “paying the nation's historic debt to indigenous peoples was part of the great process of change occurring in the country."

See further source in English:

Carr Center for Human Rights for Policy. 10/12/21. Conflict, Militarization, and exploitation of Indigenous Rights and Resources.

In Chile, the new proposed Constitution which was struck down in September of 2022, would have provided the Indigenous people of Chile with increased autonomy in the creation of their governing bodies, created a demarcated land, and would have established Chile as a “pluri-nationalist state.” The adoption of this Constitution would have been the first of its kind to compile the rights of Indigenous peoples into the base law of the country. Indigenous people have been at the forefront of this fight for its adoptions. The Mapuche people, in the year-long process of the creation of this new document, have served as representatives to the Constitutional convention. In Chile, 17 of 155 constitutional representatives were reserved for Indigenous groups. This extensive inclusion of Indigenous rights is a long time coming, with many being introduced for constitutional adoption since the 1990s. The “Council of All Lands”, Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), “Weichan Auka Mapu”) shows consistent organization of the Indigenous actors in Chile as leaders of democracy.

In both cases, the Indigenous groups organized at the ground level and the legislative body to ensure representation. These two examples provide key ideas for the United States, where Indigenous groups are limited to the recognition of the US government and whose 'acknowledgements', even when ensconced as “law of the land” are persistently denied in efforts to protect lands and cultural sovereignty within its borders. These constitutions do more than acknowledge the plight of Indigenous groups in these countries, these constitutions represent a direct participation of these groups in the past, present, and future of their respective countries.



“Constitutional History of Venezuela.” ConstitutionNet, 2016, International IDEA, 21 Dec. 2020,

Exchange, Global. “Venezuela and Indigenous Rights.”, Venezuela Analysis, 25 Feb. 2004,

Figueroa Huencho, Verónica. “Mapuche Movements in Chile: From Resistance to Political Recognition.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, 20 May 2021,

Getchell, Michelle. “The Reservation System | Native Americans (Article).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, 2016,

Lankes, Ana. “The Contentious Vote in Chile That Could Transform Indigenous Rights.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Sept. 2022,

Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Indigenous Peoples in Venezuela, 2004, available at: [accessed 10 October 2022]

Van Cott, Donna Lee. “Andean Indigenous Movements and Constitutional Transformation: Venezuela in Comparative Perspective.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 30, no. 1, 2003, pp. 49–69. JSTOR, Accessed 10 Oct. 2022.


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