Indigenous claims resurface on the eve of the referendum in Chile

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The Mapuche demands for land restitution and greater autonomy resurfaced on the occasion of the referendum for a new Constitution in Chile: some want to believe in the political process underway to obtain more rights, others advocate more violent to rebuild the Mapuche nation.

Symbol of resistance, the Wenufoje , the Mapuche flag, was very present during the social demonstrations which erupted in Chile from October 18, 2019 and which resulted in the political agreement for the holding of a historic constitutional referendum on Sunday.

During the discussions around the fundamental rights to be included in this new Constitution in the event of the victory of the Apruebo (I agree), the question of the recognition of indigenous peoples, such as the Mapuche, Aymaras or Rapa Nui, among others, could be debated.

However, among the Mapuche, the most important indigenous people in the country who represent around 7% of the Chilean population – with poverty levels twice as high as the rest of the population – opinions differ.

Native women with drums and masks in a demonstration.

Mapuche people demonstrate against the government of Chile, in Santiago, the capital, on October 12, 2020.

Photo: Getty Images / AFP / MARTIN BERNETTI

I agree with (this referendum) as being an unprecedented democratic act on the type of society we want to build, but I have some doubts. Our language, our culture will certainly be recognized, but the land issue will never be addressed. And the big problem is the land issue, told AFP Mapuche leader Juan Pichun.

Juan Pichun is a lonko, or leader of the community of Temulemu, in Traigén, in southern Chile. In 2011, he signed an agreement with two other indigenous communities to reclaim 2,500 hectares of land from the Mininco logging company, ending 15 years of conflict.

Division within the Mapuche

Juan Pichun believes that a new Constitution is not the right way for the Mapuche to recover their lands, rebuild a Mapuche nation and bring ancestral traditions and spirituality to life.

Rather, he is in favor of the hard way, with actions of resistance and sabotage that have worked in the past.

He is a member of the Arauco Malleco Coordination (CAM), which claims sabotage against forestry companies exercising a effective territorial control on the land where the Mapuche live and work in agriculture.

But for the government, CAM is a radical small group, even terrorist, at the origin of arson of schools, trucks and agricultural machinery in recent months in the regions of Araucania and Biobio in the south of the country.

We are not a criminal group, we are not vandals, but fighters.

Juan Pichun, head of the Temulemu community

Other Mapuche however believe that the probable constitutional revision is a preamble to a much needed debate in Chile.

The new Constitution is only the beginning of a process to start debating interculturality, esteem fromAFP Mapuche historian Fernando Pairican, who says he understands the fear and mistrust of certain members of his community.

This academic from the University of Santiago adheres to the thesis that the constitutional process would make possible fundamental collective rights for indigenous communities in Chile.

According to Salvador Millaleo, lawyer and expert on indigenous issues, those who voluntarily place themselves outside the constitutional process have a rather limited position within the Mapuche world.

Most indigenous organizations have abandoned the idea of ​​the Mapuche nation.

Salvador Millaleo, lawyer and expert on indigenous issues

According to him, the aspiration of the Aboriginals is to achieve, through this process, a new coexistence with the rest of the Chileans.

The idea is not to build another state, but to have another form of coexistence where there is no domination, but rather equal treatment., he said.

For the time being, even if the Apruebo, the representation of the Aboriginals remains uncertain within the future Constituent Convention which will draft the new constitution.


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