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Wednesday, June 19
The Indiana Daily Student

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Indigenous Mapuche Indians in turmoil

SANTIAGO, Chile - Our voices rang out the traditional “This Land is Your Land” song that many of us learned as kids.

Maybe it wasn’t the most appropriate song to sing to a group of Mapuche Indians, who for many years have fought with the Chilean government on human rights and land issues.

For our luck, they did not know English, and we simply explained that one of the songs was about love and friendship within the nation, without being specific.

“When you came to our village, you thought it might be dangerous ... that the Mapuche were violent people, didn’t you? You were nervous that there would be violent riots with things being set on fire, weren’t you?” An elderly Mapuche woman asked this in front of a group of attentive CIEE students visiting her house in Temuco, Chile. 

The media portrayal of the conflict is very much skewed, she said. People who have visited her in the past have been surprised by the serenity of the land and the welcoming arms that have greeted them at the farm.

The Mapuche in general are very peaceful people – they like to keep to themselves and are very much nature-centered with their religion and in their ways of living. 

However, fighting for their human rights, against poverty and estate ownership for their people has given them a bad reputation in the news despite the fact that there have been no fatalities on the part of the Mapuche. Here’s a recount of recent violence.

– Aug. 31: A uniformed police officer killed 24-year-old Jaime Mendoza Collío, one of several Mapuche who were occupying an estate in the north of the Araucania region.

– Sept. 4: A landowner fired a shotgun at a group of Mapuche who began starting fires on his property, injuring at least three of them. Masked men later burned down a nearby warehouse, destroying agricultural supplies worth more than $20,000.

– Oct. 1: Felipe Marilla, age 10, was injured during a police raid of the Mapuche community Temucuicui.

– Oct. 16:  Adriana Loncomilla Machi, a Mapuche spiritual leader, was found on the ground after being beaten by police during a raid.

The region of Araucania, also known as the southern Region IX of Chile and at the forefront of the violence, is much in need of assistance. It is home to 30 percent of the 800,000 Mapuche within Chile.

It fell in 2008 to the position of last place in the country in economic effectiveness, averaging a whopping .21, compared to the region of Santiago, which comes closer to .86.  

According to the Santiago Times, “Researchers cited shrinking access to credit, the worsening quality of roads and infrastructure, and limited scientific training in Region IX as reasons for its falling behind.”

The unemployment rate is 14.1 percent in the Araucania area and even as high as 17 percent in areas such as the Malleco province. Several programs have been named to help the Mapuche but are often empty promises.

Current Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, in fact, started a program called Re-Conocer (“to recognize”), which was supposed to distribute land to 115 Mapuche communities.

Now, at the end of her term, only 36 of these have actually received land.

If Sebastian Pinera wins the upcoming presidential election in December, assistance
to the Mapuche would decrease because of his beliefs that the government has not been tough enough on “Mapuche-wrongdoers,” and the unrest is simply causing more problems.

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