Mapuche Social Movements

The Mapuche Indians are the third-largest indigenous group in South America today. At the time of Spanish contact, the Mapuche occupied much of the Southern Cone, including most of Argentina and Chile. Today the majority of the Mapuche live in the southern regiones (states) of Chile (Nesti 2002:2; Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Chile 2002), the result of almost 500 years of land usurpation and relocation.

The Mapuche are currently Chile’s largest indigenous group, making up roughly 87% of Chile’s indigenous population (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Chile 2002). As a whole, there seems to be disagreement about the percentage of Mapuche in the country’s total population. The most recent Chilean census reports that the Mapuche make up roughly 4% of the country’s whole population (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Chile 2002), whereas in a study of Bacigalupo’s (2004) she indicates they actually comprise 10% of the total populace. One possible reason for such a discrepancy is the Chilean state’s long-standing practice of denying the existence of ethnic diversity in Chile; the national census did not even include such classifications for selection until 1992 (Hill Maher and Staab 2004:79). Therefore, state-level figures and individual identification could differentiate.

In terms of resistance, the Mapuche have been collectively organizing and acting since their first confrontation with Spanish troops in 1546. A popular myth tells of their punishment of Pedro de Valdivia, founder of Santiago (the capital of Chile), by forcing him to drink liquid gold. After a long period of Mapuche resistance, the Spanish acceded to their demands and ratified the Treaty of Kilín in 1641, awarding the Mapuche sovereignty over all lands south of the Bío Bío River (Ray 2007:35-37). However, Chile gained independence in 1819 and defeated the Mapuche in 1883. As a consequence all Mapuche lands were repossessed by the Chilean state (Haughney 2006:19). According to Haughney (2006:23), “the military defeat of the Mapuche meant the loss of their political autonomy, destruction of their goods and livestock, loss of life, and confinement on small plots of land.” In the years following their defeat, the Mapuche were reappropriated to roughly 3,000 reducciones, or reservations (Ray 2007:88). The Mapuche continued to fight for their lands and livelihood until the military coup of 1973 (see Haughney 2006).

The military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) left a lasting impact on the Chilean Mapuche and propelled them into the era of New Social Movements. Pinochet was an avid supporter of neoliberalism and viewed the Mapuche as an impediment to his vision for a newly homogenous and economically prosperous Chile. Their property was communally owned could not be sold, preventing the Pinochet government from profiting off the land by selling it to domestic and foreign enterprise (Haughney 2006:54-55). Pinochet quickly subdivided over half of the reducciones and awarded private ownership to anyone currently residing on communal Mapuche lands, which included non-Mapuche Chileans with no previous communal ownership rights (Mallon 2001:190; Haughney 2006:56). The regime went on to argue “there were no indigenous people in Chile, only Chileans,” (Haughney 2006:57). Haughney (2006) provides a detailed account of how the Mapuche disputed the oppression of the Pinochet regime until its termination in 1990 when the democratic Concertación government came into power.

In the years following the reinstatement of democracy in Chile, multitudes of Mapuche organizations and movements have been collectively organizing against neoliberal policies and capitalist expansion supported by the new Chilean state. Many protests and disputes have centered on land loss and forced migration. The State has often permitted domestic and international companies to enter Mapuche territories and exploit their resources without Mapuche consent. The two industries most commonly involved are hydroelectric power and forestry. Usage of Mapuche lands for these economic gains has rendered much of the soil useless for communal subsistence or altered the terrain in such a way that maintaining a traditional Mapuche lifestyle becomes extremely difficult (Millaman 2001:11-12).

Mapuche issues have been addressed by the State from time to time, but the efficacy of state-level actions that “support” the Mapuche is often contested. In 1993, the Concertación government founded the Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena (National Corporation for Indigenous Development; CONADI), which, according to Park and Richards (2007:1321) “carries out programs related to the protection and expansion of land and water rights, agricultural training, and intercultural education and healthcare.” However, Park and Richards note, the Mapuche are not always satisfied with CONADI’s policies. One Mapuche man stated, “CONADI is a state apparatus to control Mapuche people” (Park and Richards 2007:1329). CONADI’s website offers the following mission statement:

Promover, coordinar y ejecutar la acción del Estado en favor del desarrollo integral de las personas y comunidades indígenas, especialmente en lo económico, social y cultural y de impulsar su participación en la vida nacional, a través de la coordinación intersectorial, el financiamiento de iniciativas de inversión y la prestación de servicios a usuarios [To promote, coordinate and execute State action in favor of the integral development of indigenous persons and communities, especially economically, socially and culturally and boost their participation in national life, through intersecting coordination, the financing of investment initiatives and the provision of services to users; CONADI 2009].

The point here is to integrate the Mapuche into the national system, to support them while simultaneously encouraging them to abide State policies. Therefore, CONADI itself can be defined as an apparatus of the State to promote State interests under the guise of advocating the sociocultural advancement of the Mapuche. Rodriguez and Carruthers (2008:3) confirm: “When calls for indigenous recognition generated political opposition, the governing coalition seized control of the agenda, aggressively undercutting CONADI as an arena for dialogue.” Once again, the State has refused to attend to Mapuche concerns and used its power to undermine their efforts, even within an institution supposedly created for the benefit of Chile’s indigenous peoples.

Three prominent Mapuche social movements are Mapuche International Link (MIL), the Coordinadora de Comunidades Mapuche en Conflicto Arauco-Malleco (Arauco-Malleco Coordinator; CAM) and Wallmapuwen. MIL is a transnational alliance between Argentinean and Chilean Mapuche and European human rights activists; the main contact office is in the United Kingdom. MIL’s primary goals are culturally oriented, encouraging cultural awareness and acceptance of the Mapuche among Argentineans, Chileans and Europeans; MIL also represents the Mapuche before international organizations, such as the United Nations (MIL 2004). CAM, on the other hand, is based in Chile and decidedly more radical, declaring strong opposition to national ideology and “false” Mapuche social movements and activists who they believe to be instruments of the State. Furthermore, they attempt to create and popularize new ideologies to aid in liberating the Mapuche people from the oppressive Chilean state (Weftun 2009). Lastly, Wallmapuwen, founded in 2005, is the first democratic political party run by the Mapuche, for the Mapuche. Their goal is to gain political autonomy from the Chilean state in the Araucanía, Bío Bío and Los Ríos regions of Chile. Mapuche social, political and cultural development and progress are also central party objectives. Wallmapuwen is still in the process of becoming a legally recognized political party, as Chilean law mandates that it must obtain 5,000 signed supporters in order to be eligible in popular elections (Wallmapuwen 2008, 2009).

Recently, the practice of land occupation and alleged destruction by Mapuche activists to impede the development of hydroelectric and forestry companies has further strained their relationship with the Chilean state. The supposedly illicit activity of Mapuche protestors and activists has led to the arrest and imprisonment of many Mapuche, including leaders and noteworthy members of CAM (Weekly News Update on the Americas 2003:4-5; Campos Muñoz 2003:33). Extremely problematic is the government’s use of a Pinochet-era Anti-Terrorism law to prosecute the accused Mapuche, which several organizations agree is not only baseless but a gross human rights violation (Gordon 2005:6-7). Mapuche demonstrations, marches and protests have often been violently suppressed by the Chilean police, and some activists have lost their lives in the conflict (Tockman 2005; Zibechi 2007).

As a whole, the various Mapuche movements and organizations currently active in Chile can be described as New Social Movements because they are reactive to post-industrial, neoliberal policies. At their core, the majority of Mapuche movements are focused on constructing and sharing a collective Mapuche identity. They also assert their cultural significance, delineate economic needs and challenge sociopolitical oppression by civil society and the State. While types of protest and collective action range from small-scale attacks on the forestry industry (see Weinberg 1999) to larger, vertically organized institutions like Wallmapuwen, the Mapuche movements are ultimately concerned with defending their land, culture and people. The Mapuche movements can be classified as indigenous social movements for two major reasons: solidarity within the movements is primarily gained through shared identification as being indigenous (i.e. Mapuche), and most movements’ objectives and disputes are the direct results of ethnicity-based oppression by the Chilean State and civil society.


Coordinadora de Comunidades Mapuche en Conflicto Arauco – Malleco (CAM):


Mapuche International Link (MIL):

Independent news and information regarding the activities of Mapuche movements; also provides an extensive list of links related to the Mapuche movements.

Ñuke Mapu:
Collection of academic information and a research program on the Mapuche, originally based at Sweden’s Uppsala University.



Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella
2004 Shamans’ Pragmatic Gendered Negotiations with Mapuche Resistance Movements and Chilean Political Authorities. Identities 11:501-541.

Campos Muñoz, Luis
2003 Chile’s Mapuche not yet “Pacified”. NACLA Report on the Americas 37(1):32-35.

Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena
2009 Leyes y Normativas que rigen el Funcionamiento de la Institución. Electronic document,, accessed April 29.

Gordon, Gretchen
2005 Chile’s Terror Duplicity. Multinational Monitor 26(5):6-7.

Haughney, Diane
2006 Neoliberal Economics, Democratic Transition, and Mapuche Demands for Rights in Chile. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Hill Maher, Kristen and Silke Staab
2005 Nanny Politics: The Dilemmas of Working Women’s Empowerment in Santiago, Chile. International Feminist Journal of Politics 7(1):71-88.

Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Chile
2002 Censo 2002: Síntesis de Resultados. Santiago: Empresa Periodística La Nación, S.A.

Nesti, Lorenzo
2002 The Mapuche-Pehuenche and the Ralco Dam on the Bío-Bío River: The Challenge of Protecting Indigenous Land Rights. International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 9:1-40.

Mallon, Florencia E.
2005 Courage Tastes of Blood: The Mapuche Community of Nicolás Ailío and the Chilean State, 1906-2001. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Mapuche International Link
2004[1996] About Us. Electronic document,, accessed April 29, 2009.

Millaman, Rosamel
2001 Mapuches Press for Autonomy. NACLA Report on the Americas 35(2):10-12.

Park, Yun-Joo and Patricia Richards
2007 Negotiating Neoliberal Multiculturalism: Mapuche Workers in the Chilean State. Social Forces 85(3):1319-1339.

Ray, Leslie
2007 Language of the Land: The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Rodriguez, Patricia and David Carruthers
2008 Testing Democracy’s Promise: Indigenous Mobilization and the Chilean State. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 85:3-21.

Tockman, Jason
2005 Surviving the Chilean Economic Miracle. Cultural Survival Quarterly 29(2):45.

2008 Ideología. Electronic document,, accessed April 29, 2009.

2009 Campaña Legalización 2009. Electronic document,, accessed April 29.

Weekly News Update on the Americas
2003 Chile: Mapuche Activists Acquitted. NACLA Report on the Americas 36(6):4-5.

Weftun: Página Oficial de la Coordinadora de Comunidades Mapuche en Conflicto Arauco – Malleco
2009 Weftun. Electronic document,, accessed April 29, 2009.

Weinberg, Bill
1999 Mapuche Fight Timber and Hydro Developers. Native Americas 16(2):6.

Zibechi, Raúl
2007 The Mapuche People’s New Forms of Struggle. Electronic document,, accessed April 30, 2009.

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