The Mapuche people were the first inhabitants of half of the area toda known as Chile and Argentina. Before the Spanish arrived in 1541, the Mapuche occupied a vast territory in the A Southern Cone of the continent and the population numbered about two million. At present they number approximately 1.5 million (constituting over 10% of the total population) in Chile, and two hundred thousand in Argentina. The Mapuche nation now constitute the third largest indigenous society in South America.
A century after their arrival, the Spanish signed the Treaty of Quillin (1641) which defined frontiers with the Mapuche nation.
With the defeat of the Spanish by the newly formed states of Argentina and Chile in 1810, the original treaties of 1641 were abrogated. The new Republics instigated treaties leading to the gradual takeover of the Mapuche territory. Under the pretext of promoting civilization and Christianity, the Mapuche people suffered territorial conquest, military aggression and persecution resulting in the destruction of entire communities.
At the end of the 19th century Chilean and Argentinian armies seized the Mapuche territory, a dispossession recorded in Chilean history as the APacification of the Araucanian, and in Argentina as the ACampaign of the Desert.
The Mapuche nation was finally defeated by both armies in 1885 and many people were either killed or forced from their homes to live impoverished lives in small rural communities and in the cities. During this campaign many children were taken from their families and given to white people to be trained as servants.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND THE UNITED NATIONS
Indigenous peoples are not recognized as People under international laws, and the UN denies any participation in the decision making process concerning their lives. However, in 1982 a Working Group on Indigenous Populations was created, with the main objective of elaborating a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and is today under review by the Member States at the Human Rights Commission of the UN. The positive outcome of this Declaration, depends on the pressure applied to governments by NGOs and Indigenous peoples themselves. The Working Group also appointed a Special rapporteur to deal with treaties made by indigenous people and the states. AThe International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples declared by the UN which began in December 1994, has been specially welcomed by the indigenous people. Further, the establishment of a APermanent Forum within the framework of the Human Rights Commission sponsored by the member states of the UN, is causing great concern amongst Indigenous representatives regarding the fate of the Universal Declaration, since this will mean any delegate will be vetted by their Government before being allowed to attend any sessions. Although Indigenous representatives in general have supported the creation of such a Forum provided it is open to all Indigenous organisations. We see a Permanent Forum playing a role of a lasting constructive dialogue between Indigenous people and government on issues such as the environment, development, education, health and culture.
THE MAPUCHES IN EUROPE
In May 1996 The Mapuche International Link (MIL) was launched in Bristol, U.K. This new organisation replaces the Comite Exterior Mapuche (CEM), which had operated internationally since 1978.
MIL was launched by a group of South American Indians and by Europeans concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. It will continue and widen in scope the excellent work that was undertaken by CEM. Like its predecessor it will continue to spread awareness of the indigenous people of Chile and Argentina and to emphasize the contribution they make to the rich cultural diversity of the world. This will be achieved through exhibitions , publications, regular visits to European conferences and communications with other Mapuche organisations throughout Chile and Argentina - as well as other indigenous peoples of the world.
MIL will continue to promote the interests of the Mapuche Nation, it will also now aim to highlight the issues of all American indigenous peoples and other indigenous people world wide.
It will contribute to the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Peoples and work to enable and empower indigenous peoples to participate in their own development process. Whilst achieving greater levels of self-determination.
MIL will also strive to promote public awareness of all universally recognised international treaties and conventions adopted by the United Nations and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), which have a bearing on humanity and on human rights.
The Comite Exterior Mapuche was a highly visible and effective on scarce resources, the Mapuche International Link aims to emulate and match their achievements.
THE MAPUCHE RESPONSE
In response, a growing number of indigenous people=s organisations and chiefs of rural communities, have been formed throughout Chile and Argentina. Together with Mapuche living in Europe, they are seeking ways to express the anxieties and concerns of a nation, with its own cultural heritage, language, beliefs, history, way of life and world-vision, which is in danger of disappearing.
A NEW BEGINNING:CONSEJO INTER-REGIONAL MAPUCHE
Mapuche organisations, institutions, local chiefs (representing their rural communities) and professional people throughout Chile, together with CEM* , felt they had reached a stage where it was necessary to develop a regional umbrella organisation to unite and represent the Mapuche nation. For this purpose, they launched, in Chile in March 1993, Consejo Inter-regional Mapuche (CIM) or Mapuche Inter-regional Council, a permanent body which represents all sections of Mapuche society.
CIM is managed by regional coordinators in the cities of Santiago, Canete Maicolpi community from Osorno, Temuco (central office) and an international coordinator based in Bristol, England, Mapuche International Link.
The objectives of the organisation are to coordinate the work of independent organisations in order to, avoid duplication of effort, to prioritise projects, to set up a number of departments in the Organisation, such as Education, Environment, Legal and Human Rights (to provide legal support and advice), and a Centre for communication and resources, to give access to administrative facilities and office equipment, and also to represent the Mapuche nation nationally and internationally.
In addition, the Mapuche Inter-regional Council will lobby the Chilean government to allow the Mapuche to take part effectively in the discussion, decision making, and implementation of projects in their ancestral territory. The CIM, by using peaceful means, will oppose policies if they are detrimental to our livelihood or the environment. The CIM will also encourage public awareness of the need to create a society where Mapuche and non-Mapuche alike can live together in a climate of understanding and tolerance, and of mutual respect towards each others cultures.
INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION AND SUPPORT
In 1993, CEM*, together with a coalition of Mapuche organisations, has become a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), based in the Hague. UNPO plays a significant role worldwide, joining nations and peoples together who would not otherwise have an international voice. This new involvement provides a pathway for Mapuche people to present their views at an international level.
The Mapuche need greater recognition and support for their work. Our capacity for resistance and initiative in the face of adversity is proven. Despite policies of assimilation, we survive -and indeed grow- in numbers and strength. The new democratic government in Chile has provided financial support for Mapuche groups, while this support is widely welcomed , it does increase fears that opposition will become institutionalised and become over reliant on Chilean state support. The call now is for judicious funding of projects that the Mapuche themselves plan. This direct enablement to exercise our self-determination and autonomy holds the key to success in ensuring the rights and interests of our people in the future.
* These functions fulfilled in the past by CEM are now covered by MIL