The Selknam are still alive

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By Alfredo Seguel
Translated by Robert Lae Wild
The reality of the original peoples of the southern channels of Chile and Argentina is one connected with histories of massacres, dispossessions of land, colonialism, assimilation, exiles, and pandemics of old world diseases. These realities were promoted by the Chilean and Argentinian states from the last part of the 19th century and well into the 20th, in which permissive policies facilitated the mass murder of native peoples in exchange for land, goods, and privileges for settlers.
Indigenous Law No. 19,253 partly acknowledges the existence of the original people within the borders of Chile. The law is limited to pointing out the Aymara, Quechua, Atacama (Likan Antai), Kolla, Diaguita, Rapa Nui, Mapuche, Yaghan, and the Kawaskhar peoples as “ethnics," and makes no reference to the existence of the Selk’nam. On the contrary, in March 2019 there was an attempt to pass a bill to declare them “extinct,” trying to put a headstone on a people that are still alive despite all the barbaric acts of the state and colonists.
To the south of the Huilliche-Mapuche and Chona territory are the ancestral territories of the Kawaskar people, the Selk’nam people (cross-border region), and the Yaghan (cross-border region). Memoria Chilena highlights in a publication: “All the peoples of the southern zone, despite the simplicity of their social organization, showed deep religious beliefs and highly complex rituals. In that sense, they were far from the “savages” that the Europeans pretended to see."
Faced with legislative extermination and attempts to deny their identity, the Covadonga Ona Community of Selk’nam families who survived the genocide, the Corporación Pueblo Selk’nam Chile, and theLa Asamblea Originaria por la Descolonizacion y la Plurinacionalidad (ASODEPLU), with separate complaints to international human rights organizations, managed to stop this aberration of justice, transforming reality and finally promoting a legislative initiative that acknowledges their existence.
On June 242020, in General Session No. 35, the Chamber of Deputies of Chile's Congress voted to approve Bill No. 12862-17 with 148 votes in favor and 2 abstentions to “modify Law No. 19,253 with the intention to incorporate the Selk’nam people among the main recognized 'ethnic' indigenous peoples recognized by the state, and who the ILO Convention 169 gives Peoples status.”
It should be noted that in the 2017 census, just as the existence of the Selk’nam was not considered, the same form of exclusion and discrimination was applied to the reality of the Chona identity in the Chiloé and Aysén channels, a people with thousands of years of existence, with diverse heritage and their own way of life, with numerous examples of current ancestral toponymy, even with genetic studies that account for a current significant population of Chona origin. Nevertheless, just as it was attempted with the Selk’nam People, instead of making progress toward establishing minimal acts of reparations from the state and urgently revitalizing policies for the native peoples of these territories, they have opted for absolute denial and political instrumentalization of identities by certain sectors.
For what it is worth, I salute the important achievement of the native peoples’ organizations that not only managed to stop the intended legislative extermination, but also managed to strongly establish, despite genocide, that the Selk’nam People are still alive, hopefully opening avenues to establish reparations and justice.          
Alfredo Seguel is founder of Mapuexpress.

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