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Ancestral Land Rights – A People Hungry for Change

By Nina Dean* - June 10th 2011

The heart of a people is like a deep river flowing to the sea, and the hearts of its leaders those who like the wise and gentle salmon, navigate their people to find their way back home, in doing so sacrifice their lives for the preservation and perpetuation of future generations to come, hold deep resonance to that heart. The river which rises and falls, ebbs and flows, suffers both flood and drought survives, not in spite of but because of its twisting and turbulent fate; And most of all, the river finds its destiny regardless of its circumstance. The heart of the Mapuche nation is no different.

Like a great and winding river, the silver shining serpent encircles the earth binding her with light, with love, with truth, with beauty and with divine and cosmic grace. Its timeless motion cannot be measured, its transient vision cannot be tempered nor tamed, for in the heart of the serpent lives the sacred heart of man entwined with our mother earth, known to the Mapuche nation as nuke mapu.

It is this sacred heart of living man intrinsically bound with earth that beats so strongly in the hearts and minds of indigenous peoples and their leaders, it is this virulent heart beat that invigorates the indigenous Mapuche struggle and that of all indigenous struggles across the globe in the face of capitalist induced sterilization and its cultural genocidal intent, complicit with the agendas of global governments and their morally reprehensible intent to hold the ultimate power and control of the wealth of nations regardless of the consequence to man or nature.

Almost 500 years after the arrival of Spanish colonial forces in Wallmapu (Mapuche ancestral territory) whose hostile presence had been systematically thwarted by Mapuche warriors and their nationalist heroes and leaders; 130 years following the brutally enforced Chilean and Argentinean colonisation that illegally occupied fertile, valuable Mapuche ancestral territory and cast aside its indigenous inhabitants to unfamiliar and baron reservations, a total of 5% of their original habitat, the river that is the will of the Mapuche people and its source their ancient ancestors, continues on in its journey towards its ultimate destination, self determination, justice, equality, liberation and ancestral territorial autonomy.

Whilst the Mapuche ancestral territory has been viewed by the Chilean and Argentinean states as it was by the Spanish colonists before them as a valuable monetary asset, rich in natural resources and thus ‘ripe for exploitation’, considered as an economic state reserve which could be exploited at will according to economic demand of those states populations.  As the modern capitalist republics have evolved and expanded, so too have their requirement for resources with which to feed state expansion. In effect the illegal annexation of Mapuche Wallmapu by the independent republics of Chilean and Argentina coupled with the preceding  attempts by the Spanish Crown at subjugation and ownership of Mapuche territory had laid the foundations for the economic security of their nations future, despite the numerous treaties signed between the aforementioned nations which defined all southern territory beyond the Bio Bio and Colorado rivers as Mapuche national territory; These treaties remain valid under international law to the present day.

In line with this historic republican predisposition to strategically control Mapuche territory by a combination of Machiavellian outright force and manipulation, in the tradition of  previous successive Chilean and Argentinean governments,  the present right wing administration of Chile headed by former businessman Sebastian Piñera,  harbours  long term covert plans to emerge victorious in securing ultimate control over Mapuche territory and resources; an agenda strategically obscured by superficial  PR rhetoric and governmental spin designed to provide a smokescreen with which to protect their chilling future ambitions.

This intention is well demonstrated following the widespread Chilean national outrage against plans to develop the Hydro Aysén dam project in Mapuche territory when President Piñera outlined this long term objective stating “People deserve more protection than trees” and insisted the nation may face blackouts if HidroAysén is not approved.  Thus justifying the states intentions to exploit Mapuche territory for future Chilean state development mega-plans. It is this long term goal which Piñera refers to when he speaks of ‘the Chilean way’ and the ‘Chilean Dream’, but like all dreams of man, utopia is in the eye of the beholder and as such is subject to the aspirations and values of each individual or group. Piñera’s dream ‘the Chilean way’ conveniently promulgated by the post Pinochet business elite, including his brother Jose Piñera who served as Minister for mining under the Pinochet dictatorship, with aspirations of national privatization and free market economy, is to build and consolidate a capitalist mega state to make the rich grow richer and ever more powerful without consideration of the civil, political and human rights of the Mapuche people nor the multiple historic legitimate treaties previously signed between the two nations.

Conversely the indigenous Mapuche who have lived sustainably in harmony and respect with Wallmapu, the ancestral land upon which they have lived for thousands of years, hold an opposing polar perspective in terms of their morals, values and goals, borne of their traditional cosmic vision (fundamentally that mother earth is a living being in permanent communion with its inhabitants, providing sustenance and protection) which in turn informs their national aspirations as a people; The Mapuche dream is to continue to live as their ancestors have for thousands of years  before them, sustainably and with respect for their environment without exploiting it for capital gain for its own sake. It is to be expected therefore that a phenomenal tension should arise from such a conflict of interests.  Whilst simultaneously the power imbalance between the opposing forces is also immediately apparent. The state has held power via military might and wealth, much of which had originally been derived by the illegal misappropriation of Mapuche land and resources and that of other indigenous nations it formerly occupied and stole lands from. Whilst the future of their choosing relies upon the maintenance of this position of exploitation.

Today Mapuche resources are illegally acquired by a combination of military force, expressed in the militarization of Mapuche communities, military repression of Mapuche ancestral land rights activists and community members, through the illicit unconscionable arbitrary detention of Mapuche and their leaders who resist occupation and assimilation using primarily Anti Terrorist law (first introduced under the Pinochet dictatorship to quell democratic dissent) thus enabling the unchallengeable implementation of forestry, farming, extraction and energy projects within their territory (in breach of international conventions), and ultimately by the denial of Mapuche justice, equality and self determination via the criminalization of their rights under Chilean state judicial processes.

Mapuche are a peaceful nation they have no military force, and they represent the most economically disadvantaged sector of Chilean society, a position initially induced by the original theft of their fertile lands by the Chilean and Argentinean states during which aprox 50% of the population of Wallmapu were forced to migrate to large cities in the North and today perpetuated by the institutionally racist marginalisation of Mapuche within the modern urban workforce. Quite simply today’s Mapuche are empowered only through their tenacity, strength of culture and identity along with their deep rooted spiritual belief in the Mapuche cosmic vision.

Mapuche political prisoner and hunger striker Hector Llaitul in Court of Cañete with Mapuche supporters-March 2011

Hence Mapuche resistance to invasion, occupation and assimilation has remained consistent for 500 years to the present day, with its most recent manifestation being that of the mapuche hunger strike of 2011 staged by four Mapuche political prisoners Héctor Llaitul, Ramón Llanquileo, Jonathan Huillical and José Huenuche all members of a grass roots ancestral land rights resistance movement known as Coordinadora Arauco Malleco. The political prisoners had originally been condemned to 25 and 20 years prison sentences respectively for allegedly committing robbery and attempted murder of a Chilean government official, later having their sentences reduced to 14 and 8 years by the Supreme Court of Chile. The men had committed to hunger strike in a final attempt to seek justice and fair trial without the application of anti terrorist law measures, which permits evidence obtained from anonymous witnesses who cannot be cross examined by the defence, and trial in military not civil courts, ultimately issuing hefty and disproportionate sentences of up to and beyond 100 years often for minor charges, thus failing to provide fair, transparent and due process in line with accepted international standards of justice.

The present Mapuche hunger strike was borne of a unified national defiance against the enforced imposition of ‘the Chilean way’ and whilst the outcome of the present hunger strike remains to be seen, it can be said with certainty that the Mapuche remain as convinced today as they have always been of the crucial importance of victory in this 500 year old battle against Chilean economic intentions, for to lose this struggle would usher the loss of all that has true meaning and value to the Mapuche people, notwithstanding the loss of their tangible connection to god known to the Mapuche as Ñenechen. Viewed in this context perhaps it becomes easier for the non-Mapuche population to grasp that the gravity of the Mapuche struggle is quantifiable only when one takes into account that the means of sustainable survival inextricably embodied in Mapuche territorial rights, and synonymous with their deep sense of connection to god inherent in mother earth (Ñuke mapu) ancient Wallmapu are quite simply and unquestionably inseparable and thus eternally non- negotiable.

*Vice secretary
Mapuche International Link

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