According to Aylwin, the commission, which held its first meeting Monday, "isn't as organization dependent upon the government nor on the president nor on any ministry." By distancing the commission from institutional authorities, Aylwin hopes to foster greater support from indigenous leaders, some of whom have described the commission as nothing more than as a publicity stunt by the Lagos administration. The aim of the commission is to review past treatment of the country's indigenous population, using a similar format as the 1991 Truth and Reconciliation (Rettig) Commission, which collected information on human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Chile's indigenous population has historically been dismissed by many people as detrimental to the progress of the country. The persistence and institutionalization of negative characterizations of indigenous people has created deep-rooted prejudices among many of Chile's non-native inhabitants. By involving indigenous leaders as well as academics, religious leaders and historians, the Indigenous Truth Commission aims to draw up an account of native people's history that will be free of prejudice and embraced by all sectors of society.
This history will then be used to assist the commission in defining the main problems currently facing indigenous communities. From there, it will draft a "new treaty" on the treatment of the native population, which commission members hope will be officially adopted by the State, and unofficially embraced by all Chileans.
The commission, which was convoked on Jan. 18, is expected to conclude its work within two years.
Although the first meeting was attended by various indigenous leaders, predominantly from the government's National Indigenous Development Agency (CONADI) as well as non- native participants, Aylwin said he hoped to persuade other key Mapuche leaders, such as Aucan Huilacaman, chief spokesperson for the radical Todas Las Tierras Council_ Adolfo Millabur, Chile's only indigenous mayor- and Galvarino Reiman, head of the Lumaco Nancucheo Association, to attend the next meeting. Native people represent 15 percent of Chile's population, with 92 percent being Mapuche, 4.8 percent Aymara and 2.2 percent Rapa Nui. The remaining 1 percent is composed of Atacamenos, Quechua and Colla and others.