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The contemporary Mapuche number 1.2 million people, one of the largest indigenous populations in South America. The word Mapuche means "people of the land," from mapu (land) and che (people). The ancestral lands of Mapuche communities are concentrated in the provinces of Arauco, Bío-Bío, Malleco, Cautín, Valdivia, Osorno, and Chiloé in Chile and the provinces of Neuquén, Rio Negro, and Santa Cruz in Argentina. The Mapuche language, Mapudungun ("language of the earth"), is spoken by the older generations and Mapuche traditional authorities. The young either speak Spanish, the official language of Argentina and Chile, or are bilingual.

The Mapuche were once accomplished guerrilla warriors who resisted the Incas and Spaniards. After independence from Spain in the nineteenth century, Chilean and Argentine armies defeated the Mapuche, seized their territories, and massacred their people. The Mapuche were placed on reservations. Many Mapuche lands were sold to non-Mapuche Chilean farmers. The landless Mapuche had to work as wage laborers for farmers and forestry companies or migrate to the cities to become impoverished secondary citizens. Eighty percent of Mapuche inhabit urban areas. Nevertheless, territory, land, and landscape remain central to their cosmology and identity.

The Mapuche in Chile suffered further assimilation under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990), but the return to democracy saw the passage of indigenous laws recognizing Mapuche culture and language, and the creation of the National Corporation of Indigenous People (CONADI). The democratic governments of Eduardo Frei (1994–2000), Ricardo Lagos (2000–2006), and Michelle Bachelet (2006–), however, built highways and hydroelectric dams on Mapuche lands and supported the rapid exploitation of forests that threaten Mapuche communities and livelihoods.

Mapuche organizations have protested and are struggling to gain recognition as a Mapuche nation. They filed a petition to the Chilean government for the recovery of their territories, cultural and land rights, self-determination, autonomy, greater political participation within the state, and the release of Mapuche political prisoners. These demands have not been met by the government, but are supported by large sectors of the Chilean civilian population, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Many Mapuche are using their common experiences of colonization and domination to strengthen Mapuche identity and create awareness of the Mapuche as a nation that spans Chile and Argentina. This is one of the purposes of Azkintuwe, the first Mapuche Internet newspaper, created in 2003.

See alsoCalfucurá; Malones; Ranqueles.


Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella. Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power, and Healing among Chilean Mapuche. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

Bengoa, José. Historia de un conflicto: El estado y los Mapuches en el siglo XX. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Planeta/Ariel, 1999.

Instituto de Estudios Indígenas, Universidad de la Frontera. Los derechos de los pueblos indígenas en Chile. Santiago, Chile: LOM Ediciones, 2003.

Richards, Patricia. Pobladoras, Indígenas, and the State: Conflicts over Women's Rights in Chile. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

                                  Ana Mariella Bacigalupo

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