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The situation in Ngulu Mapu intensifies

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 31, 2009 01:16pm | Post a Comment
Although it's received little-to-no coverage in most mainstream media, clashes between Mapuche activists and the Chilean government have intensified as of late. Two days ago, thousands of Mapuche and other Chileans gathered around the country to protest plans for damming many of the country's rivers. This was only the latest round in a growing protest movement over land rights issues in Ngulu Mapu, the Mapuche homeland.

Mapuche memorial

Just two weeks ago, a young Mapuche, Jaime Mendoza Collío, was shot in the back and killed by a Chilean police officer. The police were attempting to evict a group of about eighty Mapuche who were occuypying the San Sebastián farm. Following Collío's death, many Mapuche took to the streets of Temuco demanding direct talks with the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet. The killing of Collío was only the latest death of a Mapuche at the hands of Chilean police. On January 3, 2008, 22-year-old Mapuche student Matias Catrileo was shot and killed by police. 17-year-old Alex Lemun was similarly shot and killed in November of 2002.


The Mapuche, whose claims to Ngulu Mapu stem from thousands of years of continuous presence, routinely clash with the Chilean governments as it sells off more and more of the Mapuche homelands to foreign mining companies which wreak considerable environmental destruction whilst reaping considerable profits. Meanwhile, large timber firms (most state-owned) continue to deforest the countryside. Most of the timber ends up in the US, at an annual profit of about $600 million. After the forests are destroyed, the timber firms replant the area with thirsty, non-native trees like eucalyptus. Those who speak out against what they call environmental racism are frequently arrested under the banner of counter-terrorism. The government regularly applies laws enacted during the Pinochet dictatorship to imprison activists, especially those belonging to Mapuche organizations like Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM).


In 1993, the government passed a law that recognizes Mapuche and Chile's other indigenous peoples and allows for Mapudungun, their language, to be taught in schools. For many, much more needs to be done. In addition to seeking the ownership of their ancestral homeland, the Mapuche seek constitutional recognition of their tribal identity, rights and culture. Toward that aim, a delegation of Mapuche leaders recently traveled to Geneva to appear before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), where they hoped to gain condemnation of the Chilean goverment's alleged environmental racism.


Susana Abgélica y Los Peñis

The Mapuche's origins aren't agreed upon and their languaage, Mapudungun, is variously classified as relating to other Andean languages, Carribean Arawak, Mayan and even North American Penutian. Recent DNA analysis has shown that the Mapuche's Araucana chicken is native to Polynesia and was a staple of their diet before the European colonization of the Americas, suggesting that there was trade between Pacific Islanders and Native Americans (Rapa Nui is off the Chilean coast). The Mapuche also succesfully resisted several attempts by the mighty Inca empire to subjugate them. Although the Spaniards first claimed the lands in the 16th century, the Mapuche proved so effective in driving them away that it wasn't until 1862 that any permanent Chilean presence was established. It was the longest indigenous resistance struggle in the western hempisphere and, as recent tensions reveal, for many Mapuche, it continues.


Nancy San Martín
For those interested in Mapuche in film, there are several movies that focus on Mapuche issues, including Mapuche (1972), La Nave de Los Locos (1995) and the documentary Huinchan. There are also, of course, many CDs representing the music of Mapuche people, ranging from traditional to, inevitably, hip-hop. In addition to the artists featured above, Mapuzungun, Groupe Kalfucanelo, Tino La Guitarra Mapuche, Beatriz Pichi Malen and many other examples of music representing the voice of the Mapuche are available.


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Unrecognized Peoples (6), Unrecognized Nations (6), Latino/spanish Cinema (9), Unpo (11), Chile (1), South America (3), World Music (111), Native Americans (11), Mapuche (1), Native American Cinema (4), Native America (7)