Chilean Community

The presence of resident Chilean nationals in Saskatchewan was almost non-existent before 1973. However, as a result of the American-sponsored, violent overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, more than a million Chileans fled their country seeking refuge from persecution. Several thousand came to Canada, and a few hundred settled in Saskatchewan. The most recent Census (2001) reports that there are 845 Chileans living in Saskatchewan: 285 in Regina and 290 in Saskatoon. The political reasons behind their immigrating characterized the activities by which Chileans would become known in the local community. Provincial press reports (particularly from Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw) show that from the mid-1970s until the end of the military dictatorship in the early 1990s, Chileans, with the support of many Canadian churches, trade unions, students, political activists, human rights organizations and individuals, staged hunger strikes, educational conferences, vigils, picket lines, and marches. These protest activities denounced the systematic violation of human, labour, political and civil rights taking place in Chile. Although the repression of the Chilean people was taking place thousands of kilometres away, it had a profound impact on the hearts and minds of the new Saskatchewan residents.

The history of Saskatchewan’s small Chilean community also reveals significant developments in art and sport. The Regina and Saskatoon Chilean Association Folklore Groups, Mamma Llajta, the Salvador Allende Folklore Group, Raíces Chilenas (Chilean Roots), and Desde el Sur (From the South) are examples of old and new performing artists whose live singing and dancing enable Chilean and Latin American folklore and music to be enjoyed by audiences throughout the province. Chileans have supported the growth of soccer in Saskatchewan: Barrabases in Regina and Arauco in Saskatoon are two of the most successful teams at the provincial level in their respective divisions, and both had a large contingent of Chileans over the years. The solidarity, cultural, athletic, and educational organizations created by Chilean arrivals to Saskatchewan helped many of them to rebuild their social and professional identities. The fact that every day across Saskatchewan hundreds of Chileans work in many different professions is a testament to the resilience of a community whose members overcame the trauma of a military coup at home, and quickly adjusted to the realities of a new society, a new language, and a new climate.

Miguel Sanchez