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Top 10 indigenous peoples of Chile

On the national day of indigenous peoples, we invite you to a tour of the 10 main native peoples recognized by the State of Chile.

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More than 2 million Chileans declare themselves to belong to the indigenous people, of which, 1.7 million declare themselves to belong to the Mapuche people, and 156 thousand declare themselves to be Aymara, and 88 thousand recognize themselves as Diaguita, the three most numerous peoples in Chile, according to figures from the last Census (2017). The State of Chile, through Law 19,253, recognizes the Mapuche, Aymara, Rapa Nui, Atacameños or Lickan Antai, Quechua, Colla, Chango, Diaguita, Kawésqar and Yagan as the main indigenous peoples of Chile. On the National Day of Indigenous Peoples, we take a brief look at some key facts about each of them.


Credit: Conadi

The Aymara are the second largest indigenous people in Chile (after the Mapuche), according to official figures, and are currently identified by their language, their Andean culture and the lands they inhabit, in the regions of Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá and Antofagasta. The Aymara communities occupy the altiplano, extending over an immense area around Lake Titicaca (Bolivia), the Chilean Norte Grande and northwestern Argentina.

Among the Aymara artistic expressions, textile art stands out for its technical excellence and fineness, mainly for clothing and ceremonial pieces. Music and dance are two very important cultural expressions, while silver jewelry and objects for ritual use is another art form in which this people excels.

Atacameño or Likan Antai

The Atacameños or Likan Antai occupy valleys, oases and ravines of the Salar de Atacama and the upper basin of the Loa River and its tributary, the Salado River, in the municipalities of Calama and San Pedro de Atacama, both in the Antofagasta region. The language of the Atacameños is Kunza. Many of its members call themselves Likan-Antai, a word that in Kunza means "inhabitants of the territory".

Atacameño art includes ceramics, basketry, textiles, gold and silver work, dance and music, and its traditional economy is based on agriculture and livestock.


The Quechua are defined as an ethnic group based on their language, Quechua. Their communities are located in the Ollagüe area and on the San Pedro River, a tributary of the Loa River (in the Antofagasta region). This region has historical relations with the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia), and economic links with the Loa River basin and the Pacific coast. There are also Quechua communities in the Mamiña oasis and the towns of Quipisca and Miñi Miñe in the Pozo Almonte commune (Tarapacá region). Their economy is based on livestock and agriculture, and today they preserve pottery and textile art as handicrafts.


Credit: Conadi

The Collas currently occupy part of the Atacama Desert, some ravines in the foothills and the edge of the puna in the provinces of Copiapó and Chañaral (Atacama Region), although some of their members live in towns and cities.

Their traditional economy is based on livestock and, to a lesser extent, agriculture. Meanwhile, textile handicrafts with loom and stick weaving are one of the artistic activities practiced by the Colla women, organized in workshops or individual enterprises.


The Chango people are heirs to a coastal maritime tradition in the regions of Antofagasta, Atacama and Coquimbo. Their most distinctive symbol is the wolfskin raft, which was a unique design in the history of navigation. They were adapted to thrive in a coastal strip with almost no fresh water and no terrestrial plant or animal resources; therefore, they did not develop agriculture or animal husbandry.

The Changos today recognize the sea and the cove as key references of their identity, in which the existence of their ancestors and their own has developed. The sea, in addition to the resources it provides, has a life of its own.

The Chango people were formally recognized as an indigenous Chilean ethnic group by a law enacted in 2020. About 4 thousand people are recognized as part of this ethnic group.


The Diaguitas originally inhabited both sides of the Andes Mountains. In Chile, before the arrival of the Spaniards, they occupied the valleys of the Norte Chico -Copiapó, Huasco, Elqui, Limarí-Choapa, in the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo.

It is in the Huasco Valley, specifically in the Tránsito River, where the Diaguita ethnification process resurfaces, whose presence determines the recognition of the Diaguita in 2006, when the Indigenous Law Nº 19.253 was modified to incorporate them as a native people of Chile.

Pottery (through pitchers and crockery) and textile production are two of their traditional handicraft practices.


Credit: Conadi

Rapa Nui or Easter Island is located in the middle of the South Pacific, 3,700 kilometers from the continent, and is part of the Valparaiso region.

Eighty percent of the population is concentrated in Hanga Roa, a town that is the capital of the island and the province, and has five fishing coves (Hanga Piko, Hanga Roa Tai, Hanga Ho'onu or La Perouse, Hanga Nui and Hanga Te'e en Vaihu). The rest of the population is located in the rural areas of the island.

Their economy is based on agriculture, complemented by marine products such as small mollusks and fish such as tuna. Shortly before the year 690 A.D., a monumental religious architecture was born in the coastal sector, through the ahu, stone platforms on which the moai are erected, either alone or in rows of up to fifteen.


Credit: Conadi

It is the most numerous native people in Chile, representing 78% of those who identify themselves as indigenous. Mapuche communities today are located from the Biobío River and its tributary the Queuco River in the north (Biobío Region) to Chiloé (Los Lagos Region) in the south.

The Mapuche cosmovision is of great richness and diversity, and is related to the ordering of the world, the forms of material and symbolic expression that is expressed in rites, ceremonies and nature.

The Mapuche cultural heritage is vast. In its immaterial form it is constituted, among other aspects, by the Mapudungún language, knowledge of nature and human relationships, orality, spiritual and healing practices, as well as religious practices and beliefs.


It is estimated that the Kawésqar arrived in the southern channels about 6,000 years ago. Settlement theories suggest that they came from the north, and arrived following the route of the channels from Chiloé and crossed the Ofqui isthmus. They could also have come from the south, having their origin in the hunting populations of Eastern Patagonia, who became navigators.

Originally, they were a canoeist, nomadic, hunter-gatherer group, and were located in Puerto Eden and the city of Punta Arenas, in the region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica. Their ornaments were necklaces of shells and feathers, and their clothing was a leather cape whose material varied according to the territory (sea lion and deer), and they drew their faces and bodies with stripes and geometric motifs.


Credit: Conadi

Yámana or Yagán is the name given to the southernmost canoe people in the world, who occupied the islands south of Tierra del Fuego, between the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn, whose last families settle today in Villa Ukika and Bahía Mejillones, near Puerto Williams, Magallanes region.

They are characterized by being nomadic peoples who engaged in hunting, fishing and gathering activities. The canoe was central to their way of life, and was constructed from the whole bark of a tree, trimmed and shaped like a gondola.

Source: Conadi and Museo de Arte Precolombino.

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