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Monday, Oct. 10 was a holiday in Chile – the day to commemorate the “discovery” of the New World or the encounter of the European World with the Americas. Historically known as the Aniversario del Descubrimiento de América (Anniversary of the Discovery of America), today it is more commonly known as the Día de la Raza or literally, “Day of the Race.”
October 10 was also the day that thousands of indigenous individuals in Chile—some news sources reported over 10,000—marched.
The celebration of the “discovery” of the New World sparks annual debates across the Americas. Chile is certainly not the only country that commemorates the arrival of Europeans to the western hemisphere. Nor is it the only place where indigenous protests and demonstrations occur.
Today it is widely accepted that the use of the word “discovery” is a misleading term and, for many, an offensive way to describe the events that unfolded following the arrival of the Europeans. In 1492, hundreds of thousands of people called this part of the earth home.
The fact that indigenous peoples were living here long before the Europeans arrived is more than just a statement about the continents being physically inhabited. The indigenous peoples living here had their own government systems, their own justice systems, their own educational systems, their own religious and spiritual systems, their own economic systems.
Each of these systems was uniquely created to meet the needs of the peoples who lived here and they were vastly different than the systems that the Europeans were used to. So when the Europeans arrived and attempted to recreate European-style society in the New World, it is easy to see how the worlds of the indigenous peoples were literally turned upside down.
Today, indigenous peoples in Chile and elsewhere in the world have preserved many aspects of their traditional way of life. Their beliefs about how leaders should be chosen, how they should make decisions, how we should use the land and resources we have, what economic development means, and countless other issues, are still strongly held. And often, those beliefs still look very different than what we see in the non-indigenous world.
As a result, today, indigenous peoples and the countries in which they live are still very much wrestling with the aftermath of the encounter that first took place over 500 years ago. The marches on Oct. 10 are a stark reminder of this—that indigenous peoples are still working to have their voices heard, their beliefs respected, and their chosen ways of life permitted to exist.