indigenous groups in chile
Indigenous groups throughout Latin America have a long history of fighting to preserve their land, their culture and their lives. Here are eight facts about indigenous groups in Chile and some of the struggles they face.

8 Facts About Indigenous Groups in Chile

  1. Different groups: Chile is home to nine indigenous groups. These groups include the Mapuche, the largest and most politically active indigenous group in Chile, as well as the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay and the Quechua. Together, these nine indigenous groups account for more than 1,565,000 people or approximately 9% of the total Chile population.
  2. History: The Mapuche have continuously fought for their independence since the 1500s, first against the Spanish and continuing after Chile gained its independence in 1818. They were successful in maintaining their sovereignty until the 1860s, when the Mapuche lost nearly 23 million acres of land to the Chilean government. From 1860 to 1885, 100,000 Mapuche were killed in a joint military effort by the Chilean and Argentine governments.
  3. Poverty: Approximately one-third of the indigenous peoples in Chile live in poverty. For the non-indigenous, the rate is closer to one-fifth.
  4. Recognition and rights: Chile remains the only Latin American country to not recognize its indigenous peoples in its Constitution. However, the Chilean government did adopt the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, and a year later they ratified the International Labor Organization Convention 169. Convention 169 recognizes the human rights violations many indigenous peoples have faced at the hands of their own government. It also calls for policies to protect the language, culture and freedoms of indigenous peoples and tribes.
  5. Land ownership: Dispute over land ownership is one of the primary issues for indigenous peoples in Chile. The indigenous fight with corporations, such as the logging firm Forestal Arauco S.A.. After taking control of much of the Curanilahue region, the company stripped it of its trees. This ruined the land lived on by many indigenous peoples.
  6. Resistance: Some indigenous peoples and tribes have broken out in rebellion against the taking of their land by setting fire to trees, forestry vehicles and crops. In response, the government created anti-terrorism legislation that labels arson as a terrorist act. Resistance has continued, however. In 2017 alone, 43 acts of resistance, many of them in the form of arson against logging firms, were taken by the Mapuche in Temuco, the capital of the Araucanía region.
  7. Positive changes: There has been continuous communication between the Chilean government and various indigenous groups about the creation of a new constitution. Additionally, the Piñera administration announced plans in 2018 to invest a total of $24 billion in development projects in the region of La Araucanía, an area heavily populated by indigenous peoples. These development projects will include housing subsidies, infrastructure improvements and a dozen new hospitals. Piñera’s plans also include the creation of a Ministry and Council of Native Peoples to give them greater federal representation. His plans have not yet included any land redistribution, however.
  8. Legal victories: The Human Rights Watch reported that the murder of Mapuche activist Camilo Catrillanca in 2018 led to the persecution of four police officers directly involved. This was a small but key victory for the Mapuche. For decades, police have abused their authority to torture and kill indigenous peoples and manufacture evidence to unlawfully imprison them. In 2017, charges against several Mapuche were eventually dropped when it was brought to light that police officers had created fake WhatsApp messages to build a case of arson against them.

These 8 facts about indigenous groups in Chile illustrate some of the struggles they face. Moving forward, more work needs to be done to ensure the voices of the indigenous are heard and their rights are recognized.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr

Mapuche Oppression
An indigenous group of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, the Mapuche live in the heart of oppression. Despite a long history of war on culture and tradition, the Mapuche have remained dedicated to irreplaceable ancestral lands, recently taking to protests for expression against Mapuche oppression.

Enduring unforgiving Spanish colonialism and Pinochet’s dehumanizing regime of the late 1990s, the indigenous group fell under harsh marginalization, their resistance ultimately criminalized. Moreover, with deep-seeded enmity rooted in the expropriation of ancestral lands by big forestry corporations, the Mapuche now stand tall to defend their rights with no sign of giving up.

The Mapuche Are Vocal

The array of indigenous groups that populate the state of Chile make up about 10 percent of the national population. Small, in comparison, but these groups preserve what remains of the once prominent inhabitation of tribes that traversed the length of the country.

The Mapuche, being the largest of the remaining indigenous groups, remain relevant. From historical anecdotes detailing their resistance to the reign of the Incas and the invading Spaniards to their modern day revolution for justice, the Mapuche are neither silent nor invisible, but rather stoic warriors.

Desperate to literally strike gold, riches drove the Spanish into Chile — yet the Spaniards were never able to fully defeat the Mapuche presence in this area. Enter: modern day. Vocal and politically involved, the Mapuche struggle against oppression has led to national and international visibility.

Their Land is Their Livelihood

From the rebellion against the Spanish to modern-day protesting, Mapuche oppression has remained consistent. Victimized by violence and poverty, indigenous independence has been compromised, especially through the campaign know as “Pacification of the Araucanía Region.” This program was designed to legally integrate much of the Mapuche land into Chilean territory.

Without land – a fundamental foundation for cohesion and tradition – self-sustainability becomes almost impossible. Without self-sustainability, a vital encompassment of Mapuche identity, they had no other choice but to migrate to the urban populace, an unfortunate move to foreign scenery and lifestyles. Consequently, employment obstacles prompted poverty and, subsequently, the forced construction of informal housing settlements.

Mapuche oppression only escalated during the reign of dictator Augosto Pincohet. Under the “Law of Community Division,” devised by Pinochet himself, any remains of communal Mapuche land was rendered privatized. Wholehearted resistance to such targeted and deliberate injustice led to the disappearance of many indigenous peoples by the government.

With restored democracy, efforts have been made to mend the relationship between indigenous groups and the Chilean government. The establishment of CONADI, or the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena), and the reallocation of ancestral land for self-sustainability are steps in the right direction.

Mapuche Resistance: A Force To Be Reckoned With

Police occupation has heavily increased in Araucanía, a region dense with dwellers of Mapuche ancestry. The militarization of the region surfaces as a direct result of Mapuche defiance.

Recently, Mapuche resistance has taken to aggressive tactics. Determined to both reclaim ancestral lands and gain political sovereignty, the indigenous group has turned to direct action. The Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), an anti-capitalist organization, is just but one part of the rebellion.

“The government practices and respects Catholicism but it discriminates against Mapuche spiritual beliefs,” an indigenous Mapuche stated. “The Mapuche have been impoverished spiritually, culturally and economically by Chile. I’m willing to sacrifice my life for my people.”

Mapuche Hope For Restoration Is Indestructible

Not looking for cushy legislation that holds no ground or legitimate benefit, the Mapuche simply request the return of autonomy to their populace and land. The citizens of Araucanía, the region with the worst poverty and unemployment rates in the country, have no intention of quieting down.

“When we recover lands we plant crops, breed animals and reconstruct our cultural world,” says Llaitul, a spokesperson for CAM. “We will build houses but our first priority is a spiritual center, the rewe.”

With tensions still thin, the center-left president Michelle Bachelet proposed a project to Congress: an Indigenous Peoples’ Ministry.

Furthermore, Bachelet proposed future dedication to infrastructure, including road construction, clean drinking water and programs to reallocate ancestral land back to the indigenous Mapuche.

“We’ve failed as a country,” Bachelet stated from La Moneda presidential palace in metropolitan Santiago. But, with Mapuche prowess, their dedication to full restoration is a force to be reckoned with.

– Mary Grace Miller
Photo: Flickr