Nation profile

Mapuche people
Mapu Che

General information
Population
1,950,000 people (1,745,000 in Chile, 2017 census; 205,000 in Argentina, 2010 census)
Institutions
None recognized by the states; the Mapuche people has its traditional system of organization
State administration
Chile and Argentina
Territorial languages
Mapudungun
Official languages
Spanish
Major religion
Mapuche religion, Catholic Christianity, Evangelical Christianty
National day
We Tripantu (21-24 June)

Presentation

The Mapuche are a people who live in the central zone of the Southern Cone, on both sides of the Andes, in the Americas. Their lands, also known as Wallmapu, have been divided since the 19th century between the states of Chile and Argentina.

The Inca and Spanish empires attempted to occupy the Mapuche lands for centuries. In 1641, Spain gave up occupying the lands south of the Biobío River, and recognised the de facto independence of the Mapuche (Peace or Parliament of Quilín), a virtually unique case in European colonial history in the Americas.

The Mapuche territory was occupied and annexed by Chile and Argentina in two military campaigns between 1860 and 1885 (the Occupation of Araucanía and the Conquest of the Desert). Tens of thousands of Mapuches died during the conquest and later, due to several introduced epidemics. The Mapuche were dispossessed of most of their land —which was given to Chilean, Argentinean, and European settlers—, and their political, linguistic and cultural rights were denied.

That process is at the origin of the conflict that the Mapuche organizations have been maintaining for decades with the Chilean and Argentinean states over the recognition of the historical and cultural rights of the Mapuche people, land ownership and self-government.

Language

Mapudungun is the language of the Mapuche people. It has undergone a historical process of minorisation, both in Chile and Argentina, which has contributed decisively to making it an endangered language, currently spoken by 10% of the Mapuche, and with little inter-generational transmission.

The language is not official in either Chile or Argentina. In Chile it has had limited recognition since 1993 (Law on the Protection, Promotion and Development of Indigenous Peoples). A limited range of schools —and only those where at least 20% of the students are indigenous — have been offering Mapudungun since 2009. In Argentina, the Constitution recognises the right of indigenous peoples to receive bilingual education, but it is poorly implemented.

Identity

At the 2017 Chilean census, 1,745,000 people declared themselves Mapuche. The figure represents almost 10% of Chile’s total population, and 80% of the country’s indigenous population.

Meanwhile, in the 2010 Argentine census, 205,000 people declared themselves Mapuche.

Politics, government, and organisations

The Mapuche people do not have any body officially recognised by Chile or Argentina. Several Mapuche organisations have been demanding self-government since the 1920s, under various political orientations. However, the Mapuche have their own traditional system of political, social, and religious organization; in this document the fundamental aspects of it are explained.

There are two major trends within the Mapuche movement in terms of the relationship with the Chilean state: one is aimed mainly at institutional, political, and rights recognition within the framework of a reformulated multinational state, while the other is advocating unilateral self-determination outside the state system (and often against it).
 
Within the first trend, the main groups are the following:

Ad Mapu (1980). Founded as a cultural organization, it went on to uphold territorial recovery as a fundamental goal of the Mapuche people. It took part in the agreements of Nueva Imperial (1989) of democratic transition at the end of the dictatorship of general Augusto Pinochet.

The Consejo de Todas las Tierras (1990) demands self-determination for the Mapuche people. It led the Mapuche movement in the 1990s. The CTT demands the recovery of ancestral lands and the rebirth of the Mapudungun language, as well as the creation of an autonomous Mapuche government based on traditional Mapuche institutions, as well as constitutional recognition of the rights of the Mapuche people.

Identidad Territorial Lafkenche (1992) works to retake the maritime territory of the Lafkenches —one of the sub-groups making up the Mapuche people— through its participation in local-level politics, however without having established itself as a political party.

The Alianza Territorial Mapuche (2006) aims at taking further the strategies of land occupation and of resistance and denunciation to the repression of the Chilean state and of environmental destruction by Chilean and foreign companies.

The Red de Mujeres Mapuche (2012) brings together Mapuche women from Wallmapu and other territories, with a notable presence in Santiago. Its aim is to promote the rights and identity of Mapuche women both as women and Mapuche, in the face of their perception that other organizations do not prioritize gender issues in their action.

Besides, a Mapuche political party was established in 2005, Wallmapuwen, which was officially registered in Chile between 2016 and 2017. The party defines itself as Mapuche nationalist, democratic, left-wing, autonomist, and secular.

A centre for Mapuche studies, the Comunidad de Historia Mapuche, also exists.

Within the second trend, these are the main groups:

The Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM), born in 1998, brings together local communities who are demanding the return of all ancestral lands to the Mapuche communities and uses political violence as a means of achieving its goals. The CAM’s political programme includes territorial political autonomy over the recovered lands, as a way of rebuilding the political, cultural and religious features of the Mapuche people. It defines itself as a national indigenous and anti-capitalist liberation movement. It does not seek the constitution of a Mapuche state within the current state system, nor an autonomy or recognition agreement with the Chilean state, but the re-establishment of Mapuche self-government as it was before the conquest, outside the premises of the Western world.

Between 2013 and 2016, three other organizations with a similar approach to the CAM's have emerged, albeit in a less structured way: Weichan Auka Mapu (WAM)Resistencia Lafkenche (RF) and Resistencia Mapuche Malleco (RMM). Of the three, the WAM is the one with the widest reach. The RF is confined to the coastal area, where the Lafkenche subgroup of the Mapuche people live. The RMM focuses on the province of Malleco.

Reference

Jordi Bonet i Martí (2014): “El movimiento mapuche en Chile: de la reivindicación por la tierra al reconocimiento como pueblo”Anuario de Movimientos Sociales 2013, Fundación Betiko

Alejandra Gaitán-Barrera & Govand Khalid Azeez (2018): ”Beyond recognition: autonomy, the state, and the Mapuche Coordinadora Arauco Malleco”Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies
 

Ana Luisa Guerrero (2016): "Demandas de derechos humanos de los mapuche en Chile y los discursos jurídicos"Latinoamérica. Revista de Estudios Latinoamericanos

Fernando Pairicán Padilla & Rolando Álvarez Vallejos (2011): "La Nueva Guerra de Arauco: la Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco y los nuevos movimientos de resistencia mapuche en el Chile de la Concertación (1997-2009)". Izquierdas

Fernando Pairican (2021). “Los horizontes autonomistas del movimiento mapuche”. NUSO

Ana Rodríguez (2021). “El mapa político de las organizaciones mapuche tras las elecciones de la Convención Constitucional”. CIPER

(Last updated November 2021.)