The Mapuche Indians were once one of the biggest indigenous groups in South America. Today, there are around 1 million Mapuche people living in Chile, and a smaller amount in Argentina. They historically have lived off the land in small farming villages that were autonomous of one another.
Since the colonization of Chile by Spain, the Mapuche way of life has survived, but been pushed and changed by the rules of the colonizers. This post will explain how the biggest blow to the Mapuche cultural and social autonomy has been dealt by the lasting legacies of the Pinochet dictatorship . During the years under authoritarianism, leftist and poor Chileans suffered and were even killed, but this post will focus on legislation and decisions that affected the Mapuche, and how they are doing today (https://minorityrights.org/minorities/mapuche-2/).
From the 16th to 18th centuries, the Mapuche fought back against the colonizers and even reorganized their social structure in order to protect themselves. Things changed at the turn of the 19th century, when Chile gained its independence from Spain and the new Chilean government displaced the indigenous people of Chile to reservations. For the next 180 years the Mapuche lived on these reservations and continued farming as one group and were still “people of the land.”
During the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990) a decree was made that called for the “divisions of the reserves and the liquidation of the Indian communities.” That land was then “given” to individual Mapuche people and put under their names. Because they were still living the Mapuche way they did not have enough money to pay the debts for the land and much of the Mapuche peoples’ land was privatized and sold to wealthy people. This was purposely done, by dictator Pinochet, to displace the people from the land that had previously been designated as theirs. Under a dictatorship many groups are not heard and lack representation. It is estimated by The Minority Rights organization that Pinochet’s decree decreased the number of Mapuche communities by 25 percent.
This resulted in many Mapuche moving into urban areas (mainly the city of Santiago). There they faced more discrimination, especially in the education system and in the labor market.
Pinochet even tried to symbolically erase the Mapuche history by declaring “There are no indigenous people, only Chileans.” This was a deliberate act by Pinochet to undermine any representation for the Mapuche in Chilean politics. Many Mapuche also changed their names to something Chilean so they could try to get ahead socially, resulting in the abandonment by some Mapuche of their cultural lineage and more assimilation into mainstream Chile. Today less than 20% of Mapuche speak their native language.
Pinochet also instated an “anti-terrorism law” that targets Mapuche, specifically the Mapuche “CAM” group. This law allowed use of military court for civilians, double jeopardy, and “faceless witnesses.” Many Mapuche were convicted as terrorists, simply for protesting their lack of rights. This is unjust legislation that is undemocratic.
Even though Pinochet lost power in 1990 and then died in 2007, the Mapuche people are still living under conditions established by his regime. Today, the Catholic church and human rights groups have joined the fight for Mapuche rights. The Chilean government has amended the anti-terrorism law and banned civilians being tired in military court (https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/chile-the-mapuche-struggle-in-pinochet-s-shadow-suZC59MBpkiPfMbK7vCdUA).
Since the end of the Pinochet-era, many Mapuche political organizations have formed. The government has a chance now to support the Mapuche and continue to get rid of laws that are undemocratic for Mapuche as well as the rest of Chilean society. Land rights for the Mapuche continue today, but under a democracy that is fair and just the Mapuche could thrive. There is a vote on October 25th to decide whether the constitution instituted under Pinochet will stay or be replaced by a new one. A new constitution could be a positive change for the Mapuche to be treated as equal Chilean citizens and also be able to continue their culture. A democracy is a place where many different groups should be able to coexist under legislation that is fair and is there to benefit the people, not suppress them(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/world/americas/chile-mapuche-constitution.html).