• Indigenous peoples in Bolivia

    Indigenous peoples in Bolivia

    There are 36 recognized peoples in Bolivia. With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and a new Constitution, Bolivia took the name of plurinational state.
  • Data

    36 indigenous peoples in Bolivia are recognized. 34 indigenous peoples live in the lowlands of Bolivia’s Eastern region.
  • Rights

    2007: Bolivia adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Challenges

    A major challenge for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia relates to the seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves, as well as hydroelectric projects.


Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia

There are 36 recognized peoples in Bolivia. With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and a new Constitution, Bolivia adopted the status of a plurinational state. However, the country's Indigenous Peoples still face challenges, especially in terms of seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves and hydroelectric projects.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was approved by Law in November 2007. Since 1991, Bolivia is a signatory of ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. 

The Quechua, Aymara and other Indigenous groups

According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population over the age of 15 are of Indigenous origin, although the National Institute of Statistics’ (INE) 2017 projections indicate that this percentage is likely to have increased to 48%.

There are 38 recognised peoples in Bolivia, the majority in the Andes are Quechua-speaking peoples (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%), who self-identify as 16 nations. In the lowlands, the Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaraní (2.5%) and Moxeño (1.4%) peoples are in the majority and, together with the remaining 2.4%, make up 20 recognised Indigenous Peoples.

Main challenges for Bolivia’s Indigenous Peoples

A major challenge for the Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia relates to the seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves, as well as hydroelectric projects. They directly impact the people inhabiting the territory of the projects, often Indigenous Peoples and peasants.

Progress for Bolivia's Indigenous Peoples

To date, the Indigenous Peoples have consolidated 23 million ha. of collective property under the status of Community Lands of Origin (TCOs), representing 21% of the country’s total land mass.

Thanks to the Framework Law on Autonomies 031/10 of 22 July 2010, a number of Indigenous Peoples are now forming their own self-governments. Thirty-six Indigenous autonomies have commenced the process for accessing self-government, 21 by means of municipal conversion and 15 by territorial means or TIOC. Three of them have already established their self-government, and another five have achieved their autonomous status through a declaration of constitutionality. 

In 2017, the government of Bolivia decided to revive the conflict over the building of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway through the Isiboro Sucre National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) by approving Law No. 969/17 on 13 August. However, the VIII Indigenous March, supported by all of the country’s Indigenous organisations, stopped this construction of the highway.

Leco indigenous people in Bolivia being slowly poisoned with mercury


Over the last few years, mining activities in the Kaka River have intensified and the use of mercury to amalgamate the precious metal has increased. The Leco indigenous peoples grow their food and fish in these polluted lands and waters. Even though the risks are clear, no research has been carried out to determine how much the health of the community is affected and exposed, and there are no public policies to take care of them.

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The Ayoreo: the last isolated people outside the Amazon


Close to 150 members of the Ayoreo people in voluntary isolation survive in the Chaco region in the border between Bolivia and Paraguay. Among the signs that evidence their presence are the wholes and marks on trees; tools and huts found; footprints near bodies of water; and abandoned objects. Today, they are threatened by deforestation, the construction of roads, megafires, and the advance of the farm and cattle ranching frontier. Both countries should take measures to guarantee the protection of these peoples’ territories as well as their survival.

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The return of Evo Morales in Bolivia

In Andean culture, time falls under cycles and is represented as a circle or wheel locked in perpetual motion. The conception of space, associated with agricultural and pastoral activities, is interpreted in similar terms. On November 11, the former president Evo Morales, closed a cycle as he stepped foot on Chimoré International Airport, returning from his exile. Surrounded by half a million people, the first indigenous president in Bolivian history arrived to the same place from where he had departed exactly one year earlier.

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Bolivia: the Multiethnic Indigenous Territory’s struggle for autonomy


While awaiting a referendum to approve their statute and initiate the new Indigenous Autonomous Government, the communities need to improve the management of their territory and natural resources. The territory's high biodiversity and the communities' livelihoods are being threatened by illegal logging, poaching and fishing, as well as the construction of a road that is facilitating illegal access to the territory.

Photo: Community of San Antonio del Cuverene. Photo: Fátima Monasterio

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The Indigenous World 2021: Bolivia

According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of Bolivians over the age of 15 are of Indigenous origin although the 2017 projections from the National Statistics Institute (INE) indicate that this may now have increased to 48%.[1] Of the 36 peoples recognised in the country, most Quechua (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%) speakers live in the Andean region where they self-identify as one of 16 nationalities. The Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaraní (2.5%) and Moxeño (14%) peoples live in the Lowlands where, together with the remaining 2.4%, they make up the other 20 recognised Indigenous Peoples. The Indigenous Peoples have thus far consolidated 23 million hectares of collectively owned land as Native Community Lands (Tierras Comunitarias de Origen/TCO), representing 21% of the country’s total area. Following the approval of Decree No. 727/10, the TCOs changed their official name to Peasant Native Indigenous Territories (Territorio Indígena Originario Campesino/TIOC). Bolivia has ratified the main international human rights conventions and has been a signatory to ILO Convention 169 since 1991, with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in full effect since the approval of Law No. 3760 of 7 November 2007. With the new 2009 Political State Constitution, Bolivia adopted the status of Plurinational State.

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Speech of David Choquehuanca

Choquehuanca with Morales when he was Minister of External Affairs. Photo: Communidad Andina.

After a decade as Chancellor of Evo Morales, David Choquehuanca was the leader chosen by the Pacto de Unidad to represent Indigenous, native and peasant peoples in the Movimiento al Socialism’s (MAS) binomial. Following the victory by 55% of the votes, in his speech, the Vice President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia called for reconciliation and dialogue among the Bolivian people. Regarded as a wise Aymara, for his knowledge of the worldview of “Vivir Bien” (Living Well), he called upon the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala, to the complementarity of the Chacha-Warmi and to the Andean solidarity of the Ayni.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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