April 11, 2013
(2012 Chilean census; 2010 Argentinian census)
Status: Indigenous Group
Population: 1,508,722 in Chile; 205,009 in Argentina
Areas: Central and southern Chile and southern Argentina
Language: Mapudungún and Spanish
Tribal Groups: Picunches, Huilliches, Moluche/Nguluche
UNPO REPRESENTATION: Mapuche Inter-Regional Council
Since January 1993, the Mapuche, represented by the Mapuche Inter-Regional Council, is as member of UNPO.
In Chile their communities are concentrated in the provinces of La Araucanía, Bío Bío, Los Lagos, Los Ríos and Valparaíso, with many migrating to the cities. According to the 2012 census, 37.4% of the Chilean Mapuche population live in Santiago; in Argentina, the Mapuche live mainly in the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Buenos Aires and Santa Cruz.
At present they number approximately 1.5 million in Chile, and 200,000 in Argentina. The Mapuche nation is the most numerous of the indigenous people in Chile and constitutes one of the largest indigenous societies in South America.
UNPO MEMBER PERSPECTIVE
Mapuche Inter-Regional Council (CIM) is an umbrella organisation in Temuco City, in the heart of Mapuche territory, uniting six Mapuche organisations in Chile and Argentina, as well as the Mapuche Exterior Committee. The objectives of the Mapuche Inter-Regional council are improving the people's standard of living, the preservation of the Mapuche culture, and the restitution of ancestral Mapuche lands, as well as the exercise of the right to self-determination.
The Mapuche belong to the tribe of the Araucanians, whose ancestors moved to the region now known as Chile in South America 12,000 years ago. They are the only indigenous group that withstood the attacks of the Inca and were never conquered by them. Before the Spanish arrived in 1541, the Mapuche occupied a vast territory in the “southern cone” of the continent and the population numbered about two million. The Mapuche nation comprised both settled and nomadic communities, hunters, shepherds and farmers, living in small family groups which were under authority of a lonko (chief), and formed part of bigger regional communities. When the Spanish arrived in 1540, the Mapuche occupied most of what is now Chile, from Antofagasta in the north, to the Isla Chiloe in the south. After about a century of interaction with and struggle against the Spanish, the Treaty of Quilin was signed in 1641, which recognised the independence of the Mapuche. Furthermore by this treaty the Mapuche agreed to remain to the south of the Bío Bío River, in an area of only 10 million hectares. For more than two centuries they successfully defended this area against Spanish expansion and, later, Chilean expansion. From 1881 to 1883, the Chilean armies put down a major uprising and finally “pacified” the Mapuche. Until 1881 the Mapuche nation was completely independent, territorially and politically. They were then settled on “reducciónes” or reserves, all relatively small and, in most, cases, separated one from another by areas settled by European immigrants and Chileans.
By 1979 the area of 10 million hectares allocated to the Mapuche had been further reduced to only 350,000 hectares. In 1979, the Mapuche fell victim to the “Indigenous Peoples Law” instituted by the military regime under Pinochet, the aim of which was to destroy the traditional communities of the Mapuche. The democratically elected government of Chile brought little recognition of the rights of indigenous people. In Chile's ninth region, on the Bío Bío River, Mapuche communities and activists have been fighting a long running battle with the largest private companies in Chile because of their hydroelectric dam projects. In June 1997 the $600 million hydroelectric dam project was approved by the Chilean government's environmental office, but this ambitious project, which was but one of six proposed, created many problems for the Mapuche people and their ancestral land and caused tensions to rise.
In Argentina, the Mapuche are facing the threat of confiscation of 110,000 hectares of their land in Pulmari in the Alumine Region. In 1985 the former president Raul Alfonsin announced that the Pulmari region would be returned to the Mapuche (Decree No. 1410), but this did not happen despite persistent requests by the Mapuche communities to the Argentinean authorities. It is precisely the regional government of Alumine that does not respect the above-mentioned national decree. In 1997, the European Parliament passed the “Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights and Indigenous Minorities in Argentina”. It concerns the protection of human rights of indigenous people and also called on the Argentine Government to amend regulations to avoid misinterpretations regarding the rights of the legitimate land owners to defend the rights and interests of Mapuche and to avoid expulsion from their constitutionally recognized lands. Since the beginning of October 1997, the Pichi-Loncoyan and Pilin-Mapu communities of Lumaco municipality have been mobilising in defence of their land rights and the failure of the Chilean judicial system to deliver justice. Earlier this century, these communities were granted legal entitlement to an area of 3,000 hectares of their own ancestral land. Half of this area has now been confiscated by logging companies such as Arauco S.A. The loggers have occupied and exploited the forests in these regions. In an effort to regain their land and protect the forest, the Mapuche tried to stop the logging operations by non-violent actions but on 14 October 1997, a police squad from Puren violently evicted the Mapuches, injuring many of them. 37 people were arrested and jailed for 20 days before being officially charged. Several other confrontations between the Mapuche and the Chilean authorities took place there, during which a total of 36 people were arrested and detained by the Chilean authorities. Many corporations have bought land, destroyed the once abundant forests and evicted indigenous inhabitants for sugar and genetically modified Soya plantations.
In Patagonia, the Mapuche face a similar plight. In 1997 Benetton bought Patagonian land. The Mapuche have lived in these territories for 13,000 years. Benetton now owns 900,000 hectares of Patagonia and is the largest landholder in Argentina. The multinational has since enclosed their ‘property’ with a fence. Benetton demands that the local Mapuche community solicit permission from them to fish in the river.
The Mapuche people have lost control of their territory to Argentina and Chile. Their way of life has been eroded by governmental politics and development projects. In spite of the democratisation process in Chile, human rights violations against the Mapuche continue, as was the case during past administrations. They daily suffer racism, repression and social exclusion, but they keep their struggle alive.
Before the conquistadors arrived, the lush forests of southern Chile belonged to the Mapuche people. Today, though, tree farms stretch in all directions. Ancestral Mapuche lands have been expropriated, by tree farming companies, leading to the plantation of thousands of monoculture eucalyptus and pine trees where there were once native forests. The commercial tree plantations are processed into lumber and paper pulp, mainly for export to North America, Asia and Europe. These foreign plant species absorb a much greater quantity of water than native species, which renders the surrounding land unsuitable for small-scale agriculture—the mainstay of many Mapuche households. The environmental impact of commercial tree farming has acted as a catalyst for a rise in Mapuche activism in recent years.
Their main source of income derives from agriculture, predominantly farming grain and raising cattle. However, many Mapuche have relocated to urban centres. This migration, coupled with a lack of education (less than 3% of Mapuche receive any education beyond high school) means that many Mapuche are forced into labour commonly disdained by the dominant society (housekeeping, construction, hospitality assistance, etc). The living standard of the Mapuche is generally low—approximately one-third of all Mapuche live below the poverty line (less than US $100 per capita). The Mapuche suffer from poor housing, malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism, tuberculosis and a high rate of infant mortality.
The Mapuche in Chile suffer from a discriminatory application of draconian anti-terrorism laws. These laws were created by the Pinochet regime in order for the government to quickly and efficiently dispose of dissidents. Prosecution under these laws permits the use of so-called “faceless witnesses”—witnesses whose identities are withheld and are less accessible for cross-examination. The laws also carry aggravated sentences for ordinary crimes—in some cases up to three degrees higher than the standard criminal code. Furthermore, a threat to commit a crime can be prosecuted as an attempt to commit the crime, unrealistically stretching the criminal law. Several hundred Mapuche have been prosecuted under these laws, with charges ranging from trespass through to arson—charges which do not fall within any international definition of terrorism. Many Mapuche have participated in hunger strikes for up to 60 days, protesting the unfair and discriminatory prosecution of their kin under these laws.
There is no constitutional recognition of the Mapuche in Chile.
There have been instances of police brutality and uses of disproportionate force against Mapuche land occupations.
Cases of police brutality against the Mapuche are tried in military tribunals, and often result in more lenient sentences than those handed down on the Mapuche.
There is a dramatic under-representation of the Mapuche in all levels of government.
Elements of Mapuche culture are being exploited and commercialised for economic gain.
CULTURE AND LANGUAGE
The name “Mapuche” is composed of two parts: “Mapu”, which means land; and “che”, which means people. The Mapuche call their language Mapudungun. The language was first written down by missionaries, and the orthographic systems they used were adaptations from European languages, and varied from author to author. As a result, the many written documents that exist today do not all necessarily use the same alphabet. Mapuche’s language is also called Araucano, a name given by the Spanish colonialists. However, the Mapuche people also speak Spanish. Nowadays Araucanian speakers have almost disappeared from Argentina, while in Chile, the Mapuche—who used to speak only Mapudungun—are now mostly bilingual. Mapadungun lacks substantive protection or promotion, despite the Chilean government's commitment to improve the situation and provide full access to education in Mapuche areas in southern Chile.
Their socio-cultural and political relations have always been shaped and complemented by their spirituality, their religious beliefs and the strong relationship between man, land and nature. They have a deeply religious society. The Mapuche of today have managed to establish a new dimension of what is religious in a syncretism that includes the catholic religion as well as protestant evangelic movements. The Machi (shaman) is fundamental in the configuration of the Mapuche's myths and rites. He is the mediator between the natural and supernatural world and usually has a great knowledge of traditional medicine. Mapuche perform ritual ceremonies, such as: the nguillatun, a ceremony of prayer; the machitun, healing ritual; the wentripantu or celebration of the New Year; day of the winter solstice; funeral and initiation rites.
[updated April 2013]
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