Mapuche Activist Elisa Loncón Elected to Lead Chile’s Constitutional Convention

The female Indigenous rights activist will lead the rewrite of the dictatorship-era constitution.

It’s a new era in Chile. Over the weekend, my South American homeland officially began the process of rewriting its Pinochet-era constitution. It’s a historic moment for Chile and one that is doubly exciting after an Indigenous Mapuche woman was chosen to lead the rewrite. 

Elisa Loncón, a Chilean and Mapuche linguist and Indigenous rights activist, was chosen by 96 of the 155 delegates who make up the constitutional assembly to reside as president. According to Bloomberg, Loncón was elected by Indigenous assembly members as well as the Frente Amplio left-wing coalition and some members of the Socialist party.  

In May, the constitutional body was elected to draft a new constitution to replace the one established during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. It began its work on July 4 and will have nine months, which can be extended an additional three months, to draft a new constitution. 

“I am grateful for the support of the different coalitions that placed their trust and their dreams in the hands of the Mapuche nation, who voted for a Mapuche person, a woman, to change the history of this country,” Loncón said, according to Al Jazeera.  

In a separate statement published by Democracy Now!, Loncón said she has the responsibility of presiding over a process that will change Chile, “a plurinational Chile, an intercultural Chile, a Chile that does not go against the rights of women, the rights of citizens, a Chile that looks after Mother Earth, and a Chile that safeguards water against being dominated.” 

It can’t be denied that Loncón’s nomination is not only historic for Chile but absolutely monumental on a global scale. Chile is one of dozens of countries in the West that have systematically abused, exploited and massacred its Indigenous people. 

In Canada, reports continue to emerge of hundreds of newly found graves at residential schools where Indigenous children were taken from their homes, stripped of their culture, raped, abused and killed. Meanwhile, US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland launched an investigation into Native American boarding schools that forced assimilations in the 1800s and 1900s, CNN reported. 

Loncón’s nomination –– as well as the election of more than a dozen other Indigenous people to the constitutional assembly –– is just the beginning of what must be done to restore rights back to Indigenous people across the Americas. 

Chile is the only country in Latin America that does not recognize Indigenous people in its constitution, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs notes. This has meant that the country’s nine Indigenous groups have faced an uphill battle when it comes to territorial rights and other social and political issues. 

The new constitution offers Chile the opportunity to address these and other issues affecting the country’s nearly 19 million citizens. The constitutional assembly will have to address Chile’s private pension system, women’s rights, public health and education, discrimination against minority groups and the environment. Delegates will have the added issue of working on the new constitution under the government of outgoing President Sebastian Piñera, a widely unpopular conservative leader. 

It remains to be seen what exactly Loncón and the rest of the constitutional assembly will be able to accomplish with the new constitution. The new mandate is expected to face a referendum in 2022, but people should not expect Chile to see immediate changes. 

“A new constitution will change structures, but not necessarily behavior,” Guillermo Larrain, an economist and author of The Stability of the Social Contract in Chile, told Al Jazeera. “In the short term at least, it is difficult to think that Chile will turn into the paradise of equality and inclusivity.” 

As a Chilena looking in, it makes me so proud that my country is taking steps to address deep-rooted socio-economic and political issues. I believe it’s high time that women –– and especially Indigenous women –– take the lead in Chilean politics. Chile has the opportunity to be an example to its Latin American neighbors when it comes to righting the wrongs put in place by dictatorships and other ruthless leaders. 

Photo used is a screenshot from a report by CNN Chile.