• 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.


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.

Legal pluralism in Bolivia: from the Guaraní people’s perspective


Indigenous justice recognizes that communities have their own organizational structures and allows them to execute their own norms under the guarantee of the nation-state. In this sense, the law promotes harmonious social coexistence and cooperation between ordinary, Indigenous and agro-environmental justice. Despite the existence of a broad regulatory framework that recognizes the plurality of jurisdictions, there are still many obstacles to the exercise of and respect for Indigenous law. It is necessary that Indigenous peoples strengthen their organizations, know their norms and teach the importance of these norms to the new generations.

Regional Seminar on Indigenous Justice. Photo: María Cerezo

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The Indigenous World 2022: Bolivia

According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population aged 15 or over is of Indigenous origin. Projections from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) in 2017 indicated that this percentage is now likely to have increased to 48%.[i] Of the 36 recognised peoples in the country, the largest groups live in the Andes and are either Quechua-speaking (49.5%) or Aymara-speaking (40.6%); they self-identify as 16 different nationalities. The peoples living in the lowlands are largely Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaraní (2.5%) or Moxeño (1.4%) and these groups, together with the remaining 2.4%, make up the 36 recognised Indigenous Peoples.

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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 industrialisation of lithium and citizen participation in Bolivia


Over the past 10 years, society has had little to no control over the exploitation of the deposits located in the Uyuni Salt Flat. Despite being a right established in the new Political Constitution, no prior consultation process was ever implemented. The two public consultations that did take place were merely a formality that had to be met to obtain the environmental licences. The Indigenous communities of Potosí are demanding that they be informed of the impact of the evaporation ponds, industrial plants and water supply plants. Quite apart from the errors that are occurring in its implementation, the industrialisation process is failing because the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government is not promoting a space for dialogue in which all actors can participate in decision-making.

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

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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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