THE MAPUCHE PEOPLE: A history of resistance

The Mapuche are descendants of the Araucanians and the original inhabitants of Chile and Argentina whose history is steeped in resistance. Today, they constitute about 10% of the Chilean population, making them the country’s largest ethnic group. There are approximately 1.5 million Mapuche living in Chile and around 200,000 in Argentina. Before the Spanish conquest in 1541, they lived in scattered farming settlements in the Central Valley of Chile, and relied on hunting and gathering, agriculture, textiles and pottery to make a living. They managed to resist the Spanish in a 350-year struggle, known as the Arauco War, by adapting their techniques and forming alliances between villages. After Chile declared independence from Spain in 1800, the Chilean army invaded Mapuche territory. Millions of acres of Mapuche lands were expropriated and the government began to place the Mapuche in reducciones - Indigenous reservations. Due to population growth and overcrowding in reserves, most Mapuche people have since migrated to the outer suburbs of large urban centres, such as Santiago and Concepción, in an attempt improve their economic situation.

Even though a National Indigenous Law was passed in 1993, the land conflict between the Chilean government and the Mapuche is ongoing. As the poorest ethnic group in Chile, the “people of the land” are still fighting to regain their Indigenous rights, have their ancestral lands restored and their strong Indigenous culture recognized.
May 19, 2015
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