Feb 15, 2011

EES NandoPeretti 2010-2013: Mapuche Activities October 2010 - February 2011

Despite Chile's international reputation as one of the most stable and prosperous countries in South America, not all the inhabitants have equally benefited from the impact of its democratic and economic development. Hiding behind this mask of progress, the largest ethnic group in Chile, the Mapuche, has long suffered from poverty and discrimination whilst authorities have failed to deliver a substantial contribution to fully recognize the indigenous peoples' rights to learn, use and practice their own language and culture. The implementation of inadequate state policies has seen very few or no positive results in this regard.

The introduction of the 'Indigenous Law' in 1993 and the ratification of the ILO Convention 169 in 2008 have been affected by the lack of steady financial support and qualified human resources. Moreover the lack of indigenous representation within official and government bodies has hampered the participation of the Mapuche themselves in the construction of a legal framework and the design of public policies that address more thoroughly their historic demands.


New legal dispositions adopted in 2009 by the Ministry of Education included the teaching of indigenous languages as a mandatory subject in the first year of primary school but it can only apply to schools where the percentage of indigenous children is 20% or more. This criterion does not reflect the real proportion of indigenous population in Chile, which according to the 2002 census is 4.6% of the total population (from which 87.3% are Mapuche). This is clearly ruling out most of the urban and even some rural communities in the Alto Bío Bío and Araucanía regions where the Mapuche communities are larger. In fact, according to the Registry of Students in Chile only 7.5% of all indigenous children had access to indigenous education in 2007 and from 2009 the number of schools working with this program has decreased due to budget cuts.

Overall, the Mapuche are deeply struggling to have access to means of preserving their cultural identity which is also gradually being eroded due to migration to the cities and the loss of their lands which has led to a deeper marginalization of their culture.


In order to ensure that the Mapuche culture will continue to be a rich source of ancient knowledge, wisdom and values deeply rooted in the protection of their natural environment and the preservation of natural resources and sustainable livelihoods, the EES: Dimensions of Indigenous Identity Project has embarked on the organization of an educational program aimed at new generations of Mapuche. This project has fostered a process of revitalization of the Mapuche identity as a whole, necessary to halt the progressive loss of mapudungun -the Mapuche language- and their cultural heritage.


This process is based on a new approach to self-recognition, socialization and internalization as a way to revive the elements constitutive of the Mapuche identity. These educational endeavours also contribute to further fight unfair stigmatization fueled by the government's folkloristic approach to their culture and the mainstream media misleading portrayal of the Mapuche as a constant source of conflict over land reclamation.


In January 2011 UNPO together with the Escuela de Filosofia, Espiritualidad y Sabiduria Ancestral Mapuche implemented this year's first Mapuche summer school in the Lumahue community, in the IX Region. The three-day event helped Mapuche children and youth re-connect with their culture in a natural surrounding. Nearly 60 participants had the opportunity to share and meet other children from neighbouring mapuche communities, some of them who are already living in urban centres and who contributed with different views and experiences on what it means to be Mapuche elsewhere. They all talked and learned about the origin of their culture, covering topics such as health, philosophy, science, spirituality, ancient wisdom, mapuche language and the meaning of their social practices, customs and spiritual ceremonies.

Strong emphasis was given to Mapuche values and principles, especially those that constitute the base for the relation between Mapuche and the Nature, their respect for the environment and the importance of strenghtening collective bonds to foster a larger sense of community. The children's families also joined evening sessions that brought together the youth and the elders aiming to increase their sense of belonging through a better understanding of their ancient traditions and beliefs. Participants were divided according to their age group and were provided with all necessary educational material, lodging and meals.


During this visit UNPO witnessed the youth's thirst for revitalizing their culture. Young mapuche leaders also shared their experiences in spreading this knowledge and reaching out to their own communities highlighting the need and importance of further training new generations of young Mapuche leaders. The school also saw the participation of guest instructors from distant towns who were encouraged to multiply these efforts back in their own communities.


UNPO had the opportunity to film and produce audiovisual material to document the impact of such educational programs on the preservation of the Mapuche culture and identity. This material will also serve for the production of the first website for the Mapuche School, a useful platform to promote the Mapuche School in Chile and abroad by giving both visibility to the project and opportunities to those who will be able to use the site as an educational tool.

Additionally, a meeting with other organizations that are currently working on initatives on revitalization of indigenous languages and cultures across the country took place in the capital Santiago. The aim of these meetings was to discuss potential opportunities to organize seminars and conferences, to raise awareness of the cultural and identity struggle of new generations of Mapuche, including the importance of community cohesion, cross-cultural understanding and intercultural values as a tool to fight discrimination and promote democratic principles.