Course:CONS370/2019/Tree plantations versus the territorial claims of the Mapuche Indigenous People of Chile
The history of the Mapuche people is one that began, and continues to be, of continual cultural, systemic, and violent racism. Similar to the struggles of many other Indigenous peoples, their history is one where their suffering and marginalization have been omitted or justified by those in power. Mapuche experience has long been negated by a constructed or downplayed version of events since European contact. However, to fully understand and appreciate the position of Mapuche people today, and to have a more holistic context with which to approach Aboriginal forestry in Chile, one must have complete, unbiased information.
Description and history
The Mapuche, who comprise the majority of Indigenous peoples in Chile, are believed to have occupied lands in the southern part of the country as early as 500-600 BC (Bengoa, 2004). This paper will focus on Araucanía, a region which the Mapuche have traditionally occupied and lived independently. Communities there were originally based on hunter-gathering subsistence systems, with some plant domestication. When the Spanish conquered the neighboring indigenous groups in Central Chile, Mapuche territory received unique recognition of distinction and sovereignty, because at the time they couldn’t be extricated from their lands. The Bio-Bio river was seen as the border between Chile and the autonomous nation of Mapuches. This arrangement wasn’t altogether favorable to the Mapuche, but is significant in that an indigenous group was actually acknowledged and left alone, at least until Chile declared their independence from Spain in 1810. This is when interactions around the border began to be more tenuous, as Chile developed an interest in expanding and unifying its territory. Beginning in 1862, conflicts and guerrilla battles ensued between the Mapuche and Chileans, most notably the Guerra a Muerte, [insert dates] which reduced the Mapuche population and diminished their supplies. The fraught conflicts resulted in a growing narrative among Chileans about Mapuche people being ruthless barbarians, reshaping the noble savage image that was prevalent before. Ongoing burning and pillaging on both sides fostered resentment and the mentality that the indigenous were a barrier in the way of territorial expansion. Since the beginning, the Mapuche refused to be integrated into the settler society, but whereas initially their space was respected and they were seen as a neighbor, by xx date the Chilean government displayed a new vested interest in occupying their lands for agricultural production, in part because at that time [dates] the national imports exceeded its exports. Through manipulation of public opinion, it became the commonly held belief that Araucanía was actually Chilean, and that the Mapuche were only allowed to live there conditionally. Further stereotyping by the Chilean public painted them as lazy and uncivilized: a people whose conquest was necessary (Richards, 2013). The rationale that the Mapuche were incapable of extracting the full productivity from their lands also was used as justification for the planned occupation of Araucanía.
Moreover, the Chilean government chose to take a more indirect form of expansion, by gradually shifting the border, and facilitating internal discord among Mapuche groups. This method of expropriation was an alternative to outright violence, although in 1866 the state of Chile declared itself to be the owner of Araucanía, sparking immediate military pushback by the Mapuche. The subsequent conflict, referred to as Pacificacion, or War of Extermination, was a brutal combination of burning Mapuche villages, the capture of women and children, theft of livestock, and destruction of crops. By 1870, many Mapuche had fled south into Argentina because without animals and the ability to plant crops, many died of starvation. This is one example of a point in history that is remembered and discussed commonly as a time of negotiation, instead of an admission of State violence and Mapuche suffering. The result was Chilean occupation of Araucanía, with special camps designated for the displaced remaining Mapuche. There was one final uprising, but due to modern military technologies, it was a short-lived attempt, and failed at defending indigenous land and sovereignty. The year 1883, for several reasons, marked the end of independent Mapuche life. Widespread starvation, epidemics, and lack of shelter caused a drastic population drop-off, from around 150,000 before the war to around 110,000 after. Survivors were meant to live on separate plots of land called reductions, which comprised only 500,000 hectares in total and was 6% of land that was previously Mapuche territory. The way reductions were structured meant they were often isolated and inaccessible, and disregarded aspects of cultural arrangement so families were grouped together, leading to internal disagreements and disorganization. The rest of the land was auctioned by the Chilean government to wealthy estate owners, farmers, or given to European immigrants. This practice was meant to industrialize and civilize the area, further highlighting the racism imposed on the Mapuche.
The several conflicts and enduring marginalization forced the Mapuche people to change their traditional methods of subsistence to a limited form of farming on the reductions, and many were too poor to rotate crops which left the land infertile, on account of the lack of fallow. By the 1930’s, many Mapuche had migrated elsewhere, as remaining in Araucanía meant living in poverty or assimilating to settler values. In addition, until 1971 one fifth of Mapuche lands were sold off to non-Indigenous people, resulting in 832 of 3000 original communities (a revised term for reductions) being divided.
This history was the reality of indigenous people in Chile, and is similar to the position of indigenous groups living through colonialism all over the world. Persistent legal, political, and cultural discrimination provided the basis for the modern day issues and conflicts we observe today. This brief, non-exhaustive summary of events in Araucanía provides some insight as to relationships between the Mapuche and Chilean government, and to their origins as a small, vulnerable population.
In addition to the past discrimination faced by the Mapuche people, several other factors came into play that affected the practices of aboriginal forestry. The Pinochet era of governance, from 1973-1990, brought in a regime of neoliberal economic policy that attempted to replicate American free-market growth (Labarca, 2008). This approach to economic policy and politics was “characterized by an export-based economic strategy, opening the economy to international investment, elimination of trade barriers, decentralization, privatization, and the elimination of universal social services” (Richards, 2011). The imposition of a neoliberalist agenda in Chile had a similar effect to America at the time, by perpetuating colonial systemic discrimination and socioeconomic disparities. The regime reinforced and naturalized hierarchies that are still in operation today. Since the 1990’s, the succeeding Concertacion government has kept many of the radical free trade policies in place, which has placed greater emphasis on output for export in Araucanía, to compete with international products (Richards, 2011). This has had adverse effects on both indigenous and small-scale businesses.
Working in conjunction with reduced barriers to trade were incentives like subsidies and tax exemptions for certain types of forestry (Lamarca, 2004). The Pinochet administration passed Degree Law 701, which covered 75% of the costs of planting and maintaining timber plantations (Richards, 2011). Since the 1930’s there had already been tax exemptions for plantations, and by the 80’s subsidies were as high as 90% (ibid). The Corporacion Nacional Forestal, or National Forest Agency, granted timber companies $110 million USD, and $29.6 million in Araucania alone, which somewhat contradicted the commitment of government to remain outside of the industry arena. Moreover, the forestry sector is monopolistic in structure, with two out of the country's three major financial institutions owning 50% of all timber plantations and 100% of the wood pulp industry. The three firms together owned 75% of plantations, production, and exports, and received close to 90% of the subsidies given by the government (Richards, 2011). Yet another huge advantage of these companies is the state sponsored plants that were set up decades earlier, meaning there was no initial investment needed or start-up costs. The major timber companies today are Arauco, CMPC, and Swiss-owned Terranova-MASISA. In contrast to indigenous small-scale forestry initiatives, which take huge amounts of investment, infrastructure, and collaboration, and has many barriers to market entry, these companies got their start by benefiting from the marginalized history of the region and the immensely influential free trade government policies.
The late 80’s showed an increase in the forestry sector, with timber revenues placing only behind agriculture and mining exports (Haughey, 2007). The reality was that the majority of plantations were on ancestral Mapuche lands. The upward trend in timber only increased in Araucanía, as number of hectares planted there grew between 1997 and 2007, even when planting for Chile as a whole was decreasing (ISNE, 2007a, 30). Following the Pinochet dictatorship, the Chilean government continued to support and heavily subsidize big industry actors. For decades now the big three financial firms continue to own most subsidiaries and subcontractors (Haughey, 2007).
From a social perspective, many in Chile do not see anything wrong with how the forestry industry works and plays to the disadvantage of Mapuche people, in part because of misinformation and inaccurate media. Bosques para Chile, or Forests for Chile, is a government affiliated campaign that promotes plantations as if they were forests. They use images and definitions of forest and plantations interchangeably, which creates a false idea of what is natural and native to the country and what is grown to be economically profitable. Members of the Bosques para Chile include timber companies, paper mill businesses, state agencies, and even the national indigenous development agency (CONADE). The campaign has few environmental goals or targets, with its main purpose being to promote the timber industry. The misinformation about plantations versus forests spreads the conception that plantations are good, and that more of them is the same as having more trees and natural ecosystems. This is far from the truth, as plantations are not only detrimental to the environment, they also encroach on indigenous territory and impede traditional forestry practices. Small and medium scale farming and forestry are both on a downward trajectory due to the high competition of the neoliberal free market and vast disparity that selective government policy has created (Richards, 2011).
Most of the land in Chile is either government land, privately owned, or owned by a forestry company as they bought it from the government when the lands of the Mapuches were sold off, often for very low prices. There is no official system for Mapuche or indigenous people in Chile to gain land ownership, for forestry purposes or not. As a result, many conflicts have become violent, with the Mapuche people burning forests or forestry equipment on the sites of their land claims to attempt to disrupt production and protest their situation. Many of these conflicts do not reach the federal courts of Chile as the forestry companies will just give up a small piece of land, often far from the original dispute, in hopes to quiet the disturbance. Monetary incentives may also be used in an attempt to avoid an insurgency. Moreover, aggressive police presence and harsh punishments are also employed to deter any kind of collective uprising, and protests are seen as “a threat to the state” (Lamarca, 20).
There is a need for more research into Mapuche land tenure arrangements, as few publications are available that describe the past or current system of land ownership. One can only assume that based on Araucania’s history and the tension between indigenous people and the Chilean government, very few concessions and permits are given or distributed. This lack of literature makes conveying information about aboriginal forestry in Chile difficult, and requires attention so that greater awareness can be brought to the issue.
While less is known about land tenure, a more salient aspect of forestry operations in Chile is their plantation approach to planting and harvesting. The industry is almost completely plantation-based, with non-native species being planted and managed and then exported. often this takes place on lands that were once natural forest and/or Mapuche traditional territory. While this may seem like a good way to reforest a region and attract forestry work, in Chile plantations often replace old-growth forests and native species, affecting the local biodiversity of the area and surrounding ecosystems (Heilmayr et al., 2016). Planting has, and is, still often done without local consultation or consideration for residents, and without a thoughtful long-term sustainability plan in place. Therefore, even though tree cover has increased over time, the biodiversity, health and overall quality of life in the area has actually diminished since the plantation forestry began (Heilmayr et al., 2016).
These players are the Mapuche people and the groups and coalitions they have formed. Because Mapuche is a term that covers many different individual groups, each one could be considered affected, especially if evolving conflict is in their group's territory as compared to a group far from a conflict site, like a forestry operation or government project, such as a dam. They are affected due to their reliance upon the natural landscape to support their traditional and ancestral way of life. The Mapuche people have traditions and connections to the land that are irreplaceable by government projects or plantation forests. However in this conflict the Mapuche are not alone, they have forged partnerships with many groups beyond that of their indigenous community groups such as working with environmental organisations, human rights activists and scholars that can all help to further their claims on their traditional territory (Carruthers & Rodriguez 2009).
The main objectives of the Mapuche peoples are to reclaim their ancestral lands to be able to retain and carry on their way of life and connectedness with nature. For example their traditional knowledge and use of the native monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), of which the Mapuche have a deep historical and traditional knowledge; of uses and management of the forests in the area. but this information and care taking is not being tapped into (Herrmann 2006). The groups the Mapuche form are for that purpose, to support the goals of reaching semi-autonomy and the ability for self-governance and to have access to their historical lands and resources that presently they have little to, nor legal access to under Chilean law.
However these people have little power and say in the fate of their territories. the history of oppression and conflict with the Chilean government has impacted the negative public opinion of the Mapuches in many cases and much of the legal system is of no assistance to the Mapuche cause. Due to there being no real legal recourse for Mapuche people to take their land claims and other matters to, many of the local conflicts are forced to become violent or dangerous because it is the only course the Mapuches can take to make their voice heard and protect their lands from logging, agriculture or plantations of non-native forests. As a result they are often labeled civil terrorists by the media and/or government and that can sway the perception of their plight, often invalidating it and backing the Mapuche people into legal corners where they have to settle for unfavorable deals or face incarceration (Richards 2010, Torres-Salinas et al. 2016). Often if the case can be brought to a court setting the intangible connection of the Mapuche is not considered in the ruling towards the land claim, some suggesting that this is a key hangup in the system and that the courts need to increase the amount of weight that Mapuche emotional connection to the land has (Gonzalez-Hidalgo & Zografos 2017).
Interested Outside Stakeholders
The Araucania Region of Chile is the poorest of the country, and as a result the Chilean government has a strong stake in the area, trying to implement social projects with the purpose of boosting the economy in the region and show social progress to the rest of the nation who have less stake in what happens in the Araucania region. Further, the turmoil of the region is also of concern to the government for how it looks to have such civil conflict and as a result the Chilean government may make decisions that favor the powerful monied players of the region and not the just treatment of the Mapuches and the reasonable resolution of conflicts. It has been seen in some instances that this very policy, the act of working towards short term profits like from logging or other forest exploitation, can have long term damaging effects on the environment and social climates of the Mapuche in the area (Schmidt & Rose 2017).
In terms of influence, the government has the utmost authority over the fate of the land, with the authority to influence land disputes and to award or sell lands to forestry companies for either logging or plantation forest. As a result the actions of the Chilean government have massive impact on the Mapuche. indigenous rights groups have only the ability to call out the Chilean government if they do not take proper action, such as not following ILO convention 169, which Chile has ratified. There has been cases of the actions of the government showing disconnection from the words of the government. statements of good intent and of recognition have been made, but then in ancestral Mapuche lands massive civil projects have been undertaken, against the will of those local Mapuche people (Carruthers & Rodriguez 2009). An example of the government saying one thing, often for the benefit of public image and then doing quite the opposite on the ground.
In many cases forestry companies provide the main source of conflict over ancestral Mapuche lands. Many companies or groups have been given tenure by past regimes or governments and as a result they have legal holding of the land and an investment in harvesting the forest or plantation that is associated with that legal holding. The forestry companies are looking to protect their investment and to carry out their operations, which are in direct opposition to the Mapuche desires.
The lack of help for Mapuche land claims means that in most cases where the land has legally been transferred to the forestry company there is little recourse that the indigenous people have available to them. there is power in the legal document that states the forestry company own the land, making it very difficult to overturn as the government often favors industry in the cases for the economic prosperity the companies claim to bring (and threaten to take away) from the region. Subsequently the forest companies can also initiate some of this conflict and then back the Mapuche people into a corner where they have to choose between a poor deal that often cedes land for small land compensation in other areas, often remote or of no timber value, and often far from the initial location of dispute (Gonzalez-Hidalgo & Zografos 2017).
Other interested parties
Bodies such as environmental groups, scholars and their institutions, social groups and more can all be considered interested parties as they have a desire to rectify the damage that has been done to the Mapuche people (Carruthers & Rodriguez 2009). These groups have no physical or historical ties to this region of the world and their livelihoods do not rely specifically on the fate of the Araucania region but they have an interest in helping out nonetheless. Unfortunately these groups often have little ability to cause change beyond the small scale interventions to communities. they have no legal precedent over the government and until such a time as when the Chilean government wants to recognize the rights of its Mapuche people and wants to make a difference in helping to protect their ancestral rights there is little that can be done beyond simple activism and any localized help they can bring.
Both the colonial legacy of relations in Chile and the neoliberal agenda have facilitated a mentality that emphasizes the utility of the natural environment rather than its cultural or sentimental value. A growing issue in government-indigenous interactions is the failure to acknowledge the intrinsic importance of territory rather than prioritizing economic growth or development (Bauer, 2015). Opposing values create tension when discussing tenure and rights to these historical areas. “Indigenous communities have made demands for the recognition of territory, which broadly understands that the utility of land stems not from its economic utility, but rather emerges from a deeper, mutually constitutive relationship between indigenous peoples and land” (Bauer, 2015). Further complications arise when indigenous spiritual, symbolic connection to territory isn’t understood or appreciated, and thus not represented in discourse or reflected in policy. This is where international law increasingly plays a key role, in the legal recognition of indigenous land rights and ownership, like ILO 169 (which Chile did not ratify until 2008). Binding international agreements are a positive effort to communicate indigenous relationships and incorporate them into a ratified legal framework, although there has to be enough support from the nation to adhere to and respect the terms. Agreements and declarations have become more common, although this is also indicative of governments' lack of initiative to draft their own legislation.
For the Mapuche, land is specially tied to their sense of identity and community. However, their reduced territory and lack of title acknowledgement from the Chilean government have meant they are vulnerable to losing more to development and private enterprises. Chile is one of few remaining Latin countries that have yet to recognize its indigenous population’s rights to their ancestral territory. In addition, “the 1980 constitution, written during the Pinochet dictatorship, does not incorporate indigenous demands; the state is not recognized as multi‐ethnic, pluricultural or plurinational, and indigenous land is not addressed” (Bauer, 2015). Indigenous forestry and any other land-based activities have been drastically impacted by the lack of distinction between traditional and settler lands, and the historical disadvantages faced by groups like the Mapuche.
As has been addressed earlier, the state of Mapuche relations with outside forces in Chile is not ideal, for any of the parties involved. many of the current plans for the region appear to be lackluster in their relation with the Mapuche. Due to the government's desire to improve the region, many large scale projects to bring jobs and income to the region are proposed and they are often environmentally damaging, on traditional Mapuche territory and go against the desire of the local indigenous people. The resulting disputes impact the region heavily as the goals of the government and the goals of the Mapuche people do not align and without the government stepping in, it is near impossible for Mapuche people to defend their land claims without resorting to violence. Nearly all forestry operations in the area are under control by companies that have acquired the land rights and now have legal standing to operate on Mapuche territory without consent, an unequivocal failure by the Government of Chile to defend the right of its indigenous people as per ILO 169 which they have ratified. In 2018 it was announced by the Chilean government that they were aiming to invest 8 billion USD over the next 8 years into the Araucania region for development and to increase quality of life. However many indigenous leaders are not convinced of the potential of this program, they feel that the money will never trickle down to them and that the program does nothing to address the land claims that the Mapuches have been struggling with for a long time (DW news 2018). Coupled with this investment the government has had some cases of working to help the indigenous groups of specific areas, to much political and media attention, whilst also denying land claims of the Mapuches in other areas. When these cases are looked at, it is often the distant or not economically desirable areas that receive the aid from government while the more accessible regions and ones with higher value have the land claims shut down and the logging continues essentially unabated (Carruthers & Rodriguez 2009). This trend is alarming as it shows a willingness to base the result of a land claim on traditional territory on the economic value of that land and the forestry companies' desires and not on the ancestral rights of the indigenous people who come from that land. The result is that the Mapuches resort to burning of plantations and of forestry equipment in order to make their voices heard, something that has raised tensions in the area even higher as instead of a discussion between the groups involved it has become a battle for every inch, something that benefits nobody. When the conflicts of the area become so public the media plays a big role in the interpretations that are presented of the situation. Media coverage has the ability to potentially help the Mapuche cause or it can hinder it. In many cases in the Araucania region the media does little to help the Mapuches, often framing them as civil terrorists or savages that are hindering the progress in Chile (Richards 2010). Between the media and the laws of Chile being against the interests and claims of the indigenous, often they become embroiled in legal battles that are tilted against them and they are left to either cede their claims and take a poor deal or to be incarcerated (Tockman 2004).
|Party:||Goals/ objectives||Affected or interested||Relative power|
|The Mapuche people||To maintain their ancestral way of life and reclaim their traditional territories and right to autonomy and self-governance.||Affected||Very low, poor legal standing and little to no ability to defy government rulings aside from protest or violence .|
|Chilean Government||To increase economic prosperity and quality of life in the Araucania Region.||Interested||Very high, they have the legal proceedings to make the decisions of what happens on the land, can still use and enact laws from past regimes when it is most convenient to meet their economic objectives regardless of the Mapuches position.|
|Forestry companies||To make the most out of their holding and to profit from their operation sin the area.||Interested||High, they can offer jobs and income to the region, which the government desires, they own a lot of the land in the region, allowing them legal control in many cases and land disputes.|
However grim the situation looks in the Araucania there are some examples of good progress being made, and these may help to lay a framework for future efforts in the area to help the Mapuche, not only with land claims but also with overall health, ecosystem management and potential indigenous led forestry operations. Due to the loss of traditional medicines to plantation expansion the Mapuche people have had less ability to practice their traditional medicinal remedies and their overall health has declined as a result. However there are efforts to combat this loss of tradition in combination with western medicine through the establishment of a hospital that has both traditional Mapuche healers and western trained doctors on staff so all people of the region can receive the care they need in the manner they desire (Moloney 2010). This is an important step as it is validating the traditional techniques of the Mapuches and harmonizing them with western medicine practices. Beyond the establishment of traditional medicine, the Mapuches have a massive amount of traditional forest management knowledge that could be tapped into and used for the design of indigenous forestry systems (Herrmann 2006). If the native forests are able to be preserved, it may allow for betterment of the region as a whole, as native forests provide more, and higher quality, ecosystem services to the region than plantation forests (Locher-Krause et al. 2017). They are able to better support biodiversity, provide water purification, and have the ability to provide social and cultural services that plantations are incapable of. Another potential avenue for indigenous forestry to go is salvage logging, allowing the extraction of dead timber without massive impact on the native forests and the services they provide (Smith-Ramirez et al. 2014).
There are many aspects of Mapuche experience today that can be attributed to past injustices, resulting in decreased opportunities and loss of livelihoods. Going forward, the Chilean government has many issues to tackle as far as reparations, reconciliation, repatriation, and recognition of indigenous peoples. Their first steps should be engaging with international agreements that acknowledge aboriginal rights, in addition to changing the outdated legislation that allowed for the expropriation of territories and discriminatory land allowances. Education and outreach programs are also necessary to mitigate hundreds of years of misconception, to rebuild and foster new relationships between Mapuche and Chilean people. The government especially must take ownership for its role in disenfranchising the Mapuche, and apologize for its perpetuated complacency and inaction. Then, moving into more technical areas of land policy, “resolving pending territorial issues – land demarcation, enforcement of indigenous territorial rights, cessation of unwanted extractive activities on indigenous lands, and legal jurisdiction – would eliminate much of the conflict between the state and indigenous peoples in Latin America” (Van Cott, 1994).
To compensate for the gap in knowledge about Mapuche forestry practices, more research should be done in the future that examines tenure systems and laws around property ownership. The role of NGO’s in the region also warrants attention, as they can be significant actors and stakeholders in relations between indigenous groups and state/ corporate players.
Only with these measures, and many others beyond the scope of this work, will the state of Mapuche and other indigenous groups in Chile improve, and therefore allow for their involvement as independent actors in the forestry industry.
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Bengoa, J. (2013). Rural Chile transformed: Lights and shadows. Journal of Agrarian Change, 16(4), 627-645.
Carruthers D, & Rodriguez P. (2009) Mapuche Protest, Environmental Conflict and Social Movement Linkage in Chile. Third World Quarterly 30. 743-760.
De la Maza, F. (2014). Between conflict and recognition: The construction of Chilean indigenous policy in the Araucanía region. Critique of Anthropology, 34(3), 346-366.
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Chile announces aid plan for indigenous Mapuche region (2018, July 25th) DW news Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/chile-announces-aid-plan-for-indigenous-mapuche-region/a-45622911
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