Flag of the Mapuche People, adopted in 1992 and first presented to the Spanish King upon his visit to Chile.
In an area located in south-central Chile there is a group of people that have survived repeated invasions and colonial conquest over hundreds of years. This group has been oppressed by the post-Independence Chilean government and were pushed from their home lands in the late 1800's. The Mapuche People who once stood at a strong 1.5 Million in population have been reduced to about ⅔ of their original strength. Most of the population is forced to live in squalor, in poor rural communities. With the rising strength of millennial populations that are better educated, the Mapuche People have started to fight back against the oppression. With a population that makes up nearly 10% of Chile’s, the Mapuche people are grossly underrepresented in the Chilean government. A more active group of Mapuche people are now pushing back against the government in violent and disruptive ways, intercepting logging trucks, burning farmland and shooting uncooperative personnel. With outcries for the reinstatement of traditional Mapuche land, the Chilean government is facing a national crisis that is being closely monitored by the world as a large scale indigenous vs. state altercation.
- Mapuche People
- An indigenous group located in South America along the central Chilean coast and mountain range.
- The Mapuche people were one of the few indigenous groups that were not conquered by the Spanish in the conquering of the south American continent.
- The Mapuche languages are spoken in both Chile and Argentina. Having 2 branches of the language, Huilliche and Mapudungun, there are only 20,000 people who still speak either of them.
- In 1880, the Chilean military defeated and overthrew the Mapuche people in a process known as Pacificacion de la Araucania.
- Making up nearly 10% of the native Chilean population now, their people have lost nearly 95% of their ancestral land. This land is now mainly owned by large industrial corporations that exploit the areas' water and forest resources.
- Today most of the Mapuche people can be found in the large metropolitan cities such as Santiago and Concepcion while others continue to live in reducciones, communities designated for them after the Pacification.
- The Mapuche peoples' traditional territory spans from the central coast of Chile to the high central Andes mountains. The Mapuche are found in both Chile and Argentina.
- Spain and the Chilean State recognized the land south of the Biobio River, located in south-central Chile, as Mapuche territory. In Chile the Mapuche live in the provinces of Bio-Bio, Arauco, Malleco, Cautin, Valdivia, Osorno, Llanquihue and Chiloe.
Tenure & Administrative arrangements
- Pre- 1800’s
- In 1541, Spanish colonists arrived in Chile with the intention to conquer the land and all of the people inhabiting it (Newman, 2017). Unlike many other peoples and lands, the Spanish were unable to conquer the Mapuche peoples on the battlefield, as was the Chilean state themselves. This forced the recognition of the land south of the Biobio River in the southern part of Chile as “Mapuche Territory” (Newman, 2017). The Mapuche people now occupied portions of Chile south of the Biobio River and the Araucania.
- In 1641, the Spanish Crown and the Mapuche Nation established a border which was ratified by both parties as well as the Chilean and Argentinian States. This was known as the treaty of Killin (The Mapuche Nation). For the next two centuries, these lands were recognised as Mapuche territory, and they had the right to exercise self-determination (The Mapuche Nation). The Mapuche people were now the first Indigenous group with legal title to their land, recognized under international law.
- 19th Century
- Between 1860-1885, a joint military campaign known as the “Pacification of Araucania” was initiated by the Chilean and Argentinian states, which aimed to take back the land which the Mapuche people had legal title to through any means necessary (The Mapuche Nation). Around 100,000 innocent Mapuche people were cruelly massacred in the genocidal takeover of their land, and the remaining indigenous people were forced to relocate to indigenous reservations as their land had been confiscated from them (The Mapuche Nation). Chile and Argentina managed to violate international law without any consequences.
- Chile and Argentina committed not only legitimate genocide through the massacre of thousands of Mapuche individuals, but they also committed cultural genocide by completely disassembling the Mapuches long history of culture, and forcing them to assimilate with western patterns and precepts (Hale, 2018). Mapuche people were exiled for many decades and were stripped of any traditional authority and land rights they had once possessed (The Mapuche Nation).
- Late 20th Century - Present Day
- In 1990, Chile returned to a democratic government (Conertacion), which promised to create a new Indigenous law which would aim to help re-incorporate indigenous communities and their participation amongst state policy decision (Richards, 2007). This law was passed in 1993, and promised to not only recognize indigenous groups, such as the Mapuche, as a major part of Chile’s history, but also facilitate the economic development of Indigenous groups, and the reparation of the land once taken from these people. (Richards, 2007).
- Although the new democratic government in Chile wanted to see the repair of the damage inflicted on their Indigenous peoples over the past decades, the pursuit of decolonization of Mapuche-state relations was not properly addressed (Hale, 2018). This ended up being the catalyst for the Mapuche resistance we are seeing in the past ten-years, as the Chilean lumber industry continues to flourish in the regions of Biobio and Araucania, once entirely occupied by Indigenous peoples (Radwin, 2017). The intensification of commercial logging has been the single biggest obstacle preventing the Mapuche people from exercising their right to live on their own terms in their original territory (Richards, 2007).
- The past two decades have been filled with immense resistance by the Mapuche people to conform to Chile’s definition of how and where they should live their lives. Much of this resistance has included violence against ‘white farmers’ inhabiting their native land (Newman, 2017).
- The 1993 law prohibits Mapuche people who receive land from selling or using their land as collateral, and thus they are ineligible to obtain any loans which would help them invest in making the land they were given more productive (Newman, 2017). This encourages more conflict and violent resistance.
Photograph of Mapuche protest in contested territory.
The Mapuche people are holding out for a long battle between them and the Chilean government. After being persecuted for decades the new younger Mapuche generation are starting to become a more educated people. This education has taught them the cruelties the government has been conducting towards their people and on their land. This new younger generation of Mapuche individuals are protesting and standing up to the government to reclaim their traditional ancestral territory but are being met with cruelty and sometimes violence.The Mapuche people's objective is to stand up for their ancestral land which was forcibly taken away from them by the Chilean government in the 1880s and reclaim the area as their own and expel all large industry operations on the land that are destroying the local environment. .The southern Mapuche stronghold of Temuco has been a key focal point for these people as it represents one of the few cities in Chile where the Mapuche are the majority. Even though the Chilean government attempted to make reparations with the Mapuche people in the 1990's many groups of Mapuche people have radicalized and started to carry out attacks on businesses operating on their traditional land. These attacks include Arson, sabotage, and assault.(Pipiniot, 2018) The Mapuche are searching for greater reparations and proper representation in government so the future of the Mapuche can be taken into consideration along with the future of Chile. The Chilean government has already begun taking steps to end this dispute by creating a reparations commission that would distribute owed land, money and educational scholarships. (Radwin, 2017)
- Power- The main weapon used by the Mapuche in trying to fight back against this oppressive regime is occupying land and protest. Many of these new young groups that have been fighting back have developed a deep distrust for many groups such as media and interested supporters. (Piponiot, 2018) These communities, the ones who have been fighting for years and years, are hoping to win the fight against the government and current land owners by slowly wearing down their will to keep a grip on their power. There is large risk in doing this though because many of these groups can then be seen as easy target groupings and could be evicted by authorities.
- Means of Action- Currently the main actions that the Mapuche have been taking are protest, this is an unsustainable tactic because in order for a group to properly have their voice heard they need proper representation in government. With a group that represents almost 10% of the Chilean population, the Mapuche should strive for proper representation in the nation's governing bodies. This would allow for laws and regulations to be shaped along with the needs and necessities of the Mapuche. There have been efforts made to give more representation to the Mapuche and to also provide proper land reparations for the amount that was taken by the government. Unfortunately the way that these reparations have been set up the mapuche cannot sell or use land as collateral. (Newman, 2017) By not being able to sell the land or use it as collateral the Mapuche do not have enough money to buy or lease agriculture equipment to make the land more profitable so as to contribute to the nation.
Interested Outside Stakeholder
- Chilean Government
- Objectives- starting with the acquisition of land in the 1880's the Chilean government has only just begun formulating ways of giving back to the Mapuche people for the unfair atrocities they conducted on their land. The Chilean government has been hit with harsh media coverage from around the world in regards to the Mapuche protests along with other protests happening within the country. In order to try and amend the past the Chilean government wants to start giving the land back to the Mapuche but many of these seemingly beneficial amendments are riddled with ploys in order to keep the land operations the way they want it to. After obtaining the land the Chilean government and other large corporations begun conducting large scale industrial operations that were severely harming the land. Troubled by the way the land was taken from them and they way it was being treated, the Mapuche began their protest and in the 1990’s. these protests started to pose serious problems for the government mainly due to Chile having some of the worst recorded forest fires in history during this time and many of these fires were tied to arson in Mapuche land disputed areas.
- Power- The Chilean government is still in its democratic infancy due to the overthrow of its dictator. This poses a problem for any government because it takes times for nations and governments to work out the issues in their version of democracy. One of these issues is trying to get the non-indigenous farmers who are operating on the land to sell but many are refusing. [What of the logging companies?] The main problem the Chilean government faces is partitioning the land in an appropriate way. With people currently “owning and operating” Mapuche land, it is difficult for the government to displace these people in order to give the land back to its rightful owners.(Radwin, 2017)
Means of Reparation- The people of Chile are searching for an answer to this dispute and the Chilean government is trying to make amends to all who were wronged during the dictatorship. The main means of reparations have been reinstating land to Mapuche people but much of this land cannot be further developed by the Mapuche in the same way that industry can because of the lack of capital and machinery. [Government support would be a form of reparations for the stolen land of the Mapuche.] Further research and surveys are being conducted to try and figure out the most optimal way to give back to the Mapuche but many of these options require payment of compensation to groups of people.
- Existing Industrial-Scale activities- Many of the industries operating in the traditional Mapuche land are natural resource extraction operations such as forestry and hydroelectricity. The main pillar of the Chilean economy is the massive extraction of natural resources so in order for the government to give up this land, they will also need to give up the major resource extractions being conducted there, causing the economy to experience a large drop (Pardal, 2018) Along with forestry and hydroelectricity there are large scale agricultural operations being conducted on the land along with private farms belonging to non-indigenous farmers. The land [specify that you are discussing Mapuche territorial land?] has been a center for industry in Chile due to the nation's rough and rugged terrain in the southern tip of Patagonia, the large mountainous Andes and hot high elevation deserts. [this last sentence is unclear]
- The ongoing conflict amongst Chile and the Mapuche people stems from the state's disregard for recognizing the Mapuche people in the Chilean constitution, as well as not subscribing to the ILO Convention 169, which promotes and protects human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples (The Mapuche Nation). Mapuche resistance and protests have been met with fatal endings for dozens of activists over the years at the hands of the Chilean security forces (Ponce, 2019).
- Alex Lemun was a Mapuche activist who was killed by security forces at the age of 17 while occupying land.
- Matias Catrileo was killed at the age of 23 for occupying land with other Mapuche activists.
- The assassination of Mapuche community member Camila Catrillanca in 2018 became a focal point of solidarity and support from other sectors of Chilean society. This was important because it is one of the first times that rapprochement between the Mapuche and Chilean society has occurred (Ponce, 2019).
- Although the majority of Mapuche people do not condone violent acts, they fully support land restoration, and recognize that the Mapuche nation was there before the Chilean state, with their own organization and land agreements in place. These agreements were completely violated by the Chilean state, and those violations have yet to be addressed by the government in power (Newman, 2017).
- People in the Mapuche community feel that they have no other alternative to defending their way of life other than through actions which are often violent. Some of these tactics including intercepting lumber trucks, burning farmland, and shooting uncooperative residents (Radwin, 2017). In 2016 alone, there were 227 acts of violence reported in rural areas. Buildings were set ablaze, many deaths and injuries occurred, and yet the Chilean government deems these resistance tactics as “common delinquency,” (Radwin, 2017) and still has yet to implement any equal reparation payments to the Mapuche people. And so the violent acts of protest will continue.
- Mapuche Land Occupation:
- Most Mapuche people live peacefully, yet illegally. They occupy and inhabit land which is owned by major logging or water companies (Pipiniot, 2018). These communities hope to win their fight against the state by wearing them down, while risking eviction from authorities (Pipiniot, 2018).
- Resistance has become so strong in the area of Araucania, that its led to the militarization of the region, which has resulted in increasingly indiscriminate targeting of Indigenous people (Youkee, 2018)
- The Mapuche peoples' historical demands are only now beginning to be understood by the rest of Chile’s society (Ponce, 2019). For decades, the Chilean government fed their society fallacies about the terroristic intentions of the Mapuche people. This growing public awareness of historic wrongs is a vital step towards reconciliation in Chile with their Indigenous groups, as the state will no longer be able to hide behind the negative perception of the Mapuche people. They will be forced into a better reconciliation process in the near future.
- Although it is difficult to agree with the violent acts of protest which have become part of the norm for some of the Mapuche resistance groups, it is very easy to understand the reasoning behind these protests. The Mapuche people have been left at the side of the road in terms of being denied any societal advantages in Chile, and since they inhabited the region long before Chile and Argentina forced them into an impoverished lifestyle for many generations, I can empathize with how that treatment has made them feel as a group. It’s obvious that the Mapuche care deeply about returning to their previous way of life, which promotes their own culture and society, and it’s unfair that they are being prevented from doing that. Hopefully the Chilean government will come under enough pressure in the future to admit the wrongs they committed all those years ago and go about providing the Mapuche people with the means to attain their former state of well being.
Catherine Schmidt & Jeff Rose (2017) Environmental and cultural changes under Chilean neoliberalism: an ethnography of forestry and the Mapuche in Valle Elicura, Local Environment, 22:8, 1019-1034, DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2017.1326475
Charles R. Hale & Rosamel Millaman Reinao (2018) Privatization of the ‘historic debt’? Mapuche territorial claims and the forest industry in southern Chile, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 13:3, 305-325, DOI: 10.1080/17442222.2018.1510658.
Newman, L. (2017, November 17). Mapuche conflict: 'People feel danger every day'. Al Jazeera. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/mapuche-conflict-people-feel-danger-day-171117070132983.html
Patricia Richards (2007) History, Politics, and the Mapuche People in Southern Chile, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 2:2, 213-216, DOI: 10.1080/17442220701506044
Pardal, Alberto Barba. “In Chile, the Mapuche Are Battling for Their Land.” Equal Times, www.equaltimes.org/in-chile-the-mapuche-are-battling.
Piponiot, I., & Rimbaux, V. (2018, October 26). Chile's Mapuche people fighting for their land. France24. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.france24.com/en/reporters/20181026-chile-mapuche-activists-resistance-land
Ponce, C., & Leone, M. (2019, January 16). New solidarity for the Mapuche indigenous movement in todays Chile. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/new-solidarity-for-mapuche-indigenous-movement-in-today-s-chile/
Radwin, M. (2017, March 5). Chile aims to end decades of violent land disputes with the Mapuche people. USA Today. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/03/05/chile-aims-end-decades-violent-land-disputes-mapuche-people/97696674/
“UK Based NGO for Mapuche People.” Mapuche International Link, www.mapuche-nation.org/.
Youkee, M. (2018, June 14). Indigenous Chileans defend their land against loggers with radical tactics. The Guardian. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/14/chile-mapuche-indigenous-arson-radical-environmental-protest