Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Pinochet’s Legacy among the Mapuche Indigenous Communities

September 10, 2013

  Tracy Oberle, CCAO Summer Intern

Columban lay missionary, Monika Lewatikana (front row with cap), with Mapuche community members

One group of people who suffered greatly under the Pinochet government was the Mapuche indigenous community. I spoke to Monika Lewatikana, a Fijian lay missionary who worked with the Mapuche in Chile for a number of years before coming to El Paso, Texas to work on the border. She lived among the Mapuche community as her missionary placement site. Monika is an indigenous woman from Fiji, and she developed a strong relationship with the Mapuche during her years of service. I asked her about Mapuche culture and the treatment of the Mapuche during the Pinochet regime.

Water, crops, and soil are interconnected to the Mapuche people. Mapuche is translated into “people of the land.” They believe the reason they were put on this earth is to protect nature. The natives offer thanks to the Great Creator through using the land in the ways they were taught in their oral stories. Monika explained their faith to be like a triangle. The two bottom corners were the Mapuche people and the land. They please their Creator, the top of the triangle, by taking care of the land they were given.

The Pinochet regime took the land that rightfully belonged to the Mapuche and made them move to southern Chile where the land was less fertile. In order to get their land back that is essential to their way of living there were many incidents where the native people would protest by burning man made buildings to get the non-natives out of their sacred space. In response Pinochet created an “anti-terrorism law” making what the Mapuche were doing an act of terrorism punishable by death or life in prison. The law is still in place in Chile.

There are many more lasting effects of the Pinochet regime. There is still much discrimination against the Mapuche. Monika told a story about a man with serious injuries taken to the emergency room. The people working at the hospital declared his injuries were not an emergency because he was Mapuche.

In the education field the Mapuche are also discriminated against. They are given lesser standards in high schools which restrict their acceptance to universities.

Access to clean water has also been an issue for the Mapuche people. In the 1980’s the Pinochet regime changed the water codes so that private investors would control access to water. Many mining and logging companies have access to water while poorer communities, such as the Mapuche do not have access to water, which is necessary for them to worship the Great Creator. Read more about water privatization in Chile here.

The Columbans in Chile work with the Mapuche people to create an open space for dialogue between the native population and the government to help restore justice and achieve equality for the Mapuche.