The old demand of the Mapuche Indians for the restitution of land and greater autonomy resurfaces 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 methods to rebuild the “Mapuche nation”.
Symbol of resistance, the “Wenufoje” – the Mapuche flag made up of multicolored squares – 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 new fundamental rights to be inscribed in this new Constitution in the event of victory of the “Apruebo” (I approve), 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 first people of the country who represent about 7% of the Chilean population – with poverty levels twice as high as the rest of the population – opinions differ.
“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, ”Mapuche leader Juan Pichun told AFP.
Resistance and sabotage
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.
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 logging companies exercising “effective territorial control” over the land where the Mapuche live and work in agriculture.
But for the government, the CAM is a small radical group, even a “terrorist”, at the origin of arson of schools, trucks and agricultural machinery in recent months in the regions of Araucania and Biobio (southern ).
“We are not a criminal group, we are not vandals, but fighters”, rejects the indigenous leader.
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,” Mapuche historian Fernando Pairican said to AFP, who said he understood the fear and mistrust of certain members of his community. community.
This scholar from the University of Santiago adheres to the thesis that the constitutional process would make possible fundamental collective rights for indigenous communities.
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 ”Mapuche Nation”, estimates this professor at the University of Chile.
According to him, the aspiration of the natives 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 says.
For the time being, even if the “Apruebo” wins, no seat is reserved specifically for indigenous representatives in the future Constituent Convention called to write a new Constitution for all Chileans.