A new treatise on the largest and most internationally visible indigenous people in Chile, the Mapuche, has recently been published by Dr Joanna Crow and University Press of Florida. The book, entitled The Mapuche in Modern Chile provides a revisionist perspective on the complex relationship between the Mapuche and the Chilean state through history up to the present day.

In the work, Dr Crow uses a range of sources including Mapuche testimony, academic texts, government documents, music and art, newspapers and parliamentary debate to describe the variety of lived experience of the Mapuche and aims to take the reader beyond a simple narrative of repression and resistance. Dr Crow is currently a lecturer at the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, in the School of Languages at the University of Bristol. She joined Bristol University in 2006 after completing her PhD at University College London. She has expertise in Latin American literature and history and a particular interest in Chile, publishing several articles in academic journals including: ‘Negotiating Inclusion in the Nation: Mapuche Intellectuals and the Chilean State’, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 5: 2 (July 2010). We asked Dr Crow some key questions about the new book.

Chileno: How long has the process been in researching and writing the book? What has the experience been like and how much did you travel to Chile?

I have some great memories of my time in Chile, especially of meeting and getting to know writers such as Leonel Lienlaf and Cesar Millahueique – I feel very privileged to have been able to talk to them about their work

Dr Crow: From start to finish, about 10 years – a long time! It started as a PhD thesis (2002-2006, Univeristy College London), and then, after securing a contract for publication, I spent a couple of years revising the structure and incorporating some new material. It was a lot of hard work but it was certainly worth it to see the book finally in print! I also met some fantastic people and got to spend a lot of time in Chile (4 or 5 trips, overall about three and a half years). I have some great memories of my time in Chile, especially of meeting and getting to know writers such as Leonel Lienlaf and Cesar Millahueique – I feel very privileged to have been able to talk to them about their work – and of trips to Temuco, where I was able to participate in conferences that really helped connect the past, and the ways in which we think about the past, to the heated political debates of the present.

Chileno: In the introduction to the book, through the ‘postcard Mapuche’, you allude to a ‘noble savage’ narrative in Chile that appears to respect the Mapuche as a warrior nation that helped to defeat the Conquistadors.  The paradox is that at the same time the Mapuche seem to have been either assigned to the rubbish heap of history or marginalised. How do we reconcile these positions? Does this just make it just easier, psychologically, for Chileans to avoid the ‘mapuche question’ ?

Dr Crow: There are multiple narratives of Mapuche history – depending on who is narrating it and when. One exalts them as heroic freedom-fighters who successfully defended their lands against Spanish invaders in the 16th century , namely post-independence era leaders justifying and glorifying their own fight against Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century, but this narrative continues through to today as a key foundational fiction of Chilean nationhood, i.e. the Chilean nation was born from the coming together of two great warrior ‘races’ (the Spanish and the Araucanian). We see it in official Independence Day speeches, presidents’ inaugural lectures etc… The Mapuche that are usually marginalised are the present-day Mapuche – narrated, by the mainstream Chilean press, as having lost their bravery, honour, military prowess and strength of old, on the verge of disappearing etc… The historical Mapuche is acceptable, indeed crucial for Chilean nationalism (he is a national hero). The contemporary Mapuche who fights for his/her territorial, or political rights is often seen as a threat (in many cases deemed a terrorist threat). This is similar to the position of indigenous peoples in nationalistic discourses elsewhere in Latin America.

Chileno: Your thesis, though, is more complex than that isn’t it? Are you suggesting a dynamic relationship between state/nation and people.

Not all state authorities have responded to Mapuche actions and demands in the same way. They have not always or at least they have not consistently repressed Mapuche activism.

Dr Crow: Yes, the relationship is most definitely a constantly shifting and highly complex one. State policies are always changing and the state apparatus is made up of hundreds if not thousands of departments, ministries, institutions, administrative bodies etc… which each have hundreds if not thousands of people working for them. It is impossible to talk of the state as one uniform whole. Not all state authorities have responded to Mapuche actions and demands in the same way. They have not always or at least they have not consistently repressed Mapuche activism. Indeed, even the same state department or government in power has often elaborated multiple discourses towards and policies regarding the Mapuche; these are not always consistent with one another.  So, for example, one part of (or person/institution working for) the education system, under one particular government, might prohibit the use of indigenous language while another promotes it.  This happened even under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. More importantly, many Mapuche people have worked within the state apparatus – as policemen, soldiers, teachers, congressmen, local councillors, mayors, Agarian Reform officials etc… etc… and/ or have dialogued with the state apparatus in some way. They have made demands of the state, and articulated those demands in a way that the state can understand (to a certain extent, on the state’s own terms). But this is not in any way to suggest they are “selling out”. Rather, Mapuche people – a great diversity of people who have different political ideologies, different ways of doing things, different perceptions about the Chilean government and Chilean society and so forth – have developed numerous different strategies for survival since their territory was incorporated into the Chilean state in the late 19th century.

Sometimes they have chosen to negotiate with the state, or they have sought to change the state from within, or they have agreed with some state policies (or even benefitted from some)… the list goes on. They have also, of course, rebelled against the state and rejected state policies. Whilst the reality of power relations means that there have been few Mapuche government ministers or few wealthy Mapuche landowners, and that the Mapuche who do have a voice on the national or local political stage are not necessarily being listened to, this is not the same as to say that they have been passive victims of state actions, or indeed that they are always anti-state.

Chileno: The official version of the 19th century campaigns in La Araucanía avoided terms like ‘invasion’ etc. and one narrative was of an easy peace. The reality was much different wasn’t it?

Dr Crow: This is the focus of chapter 1 in the book. One narrative underscored the possibility of peaceful incorporation of indigenous Mapuche people and their territory into the Chilean state; this was the narrative promoted by the president at the time of the conclusion of the military campaigns in 1883, Domingo Santa Maria. There is much evidence to support this narrative – letters from Mapuche chiefs, for example, pledging loyalty to the Chilean state authorities and promising to inform of any uprisings of rebellions they hear about.

Chilean military leaders also wrote proudly of being able to ‘pacify’ indigenous Mapuche territory with very little recourse to violence. However, many other sources (again, letters, government documents, newspapers) detail the violence of the campaigns – the violence of Mapuche rebellions, but more notably the violence of the Chilean military against the Mapuche, and of those people encouraged to settle the ‘new’ territory after the military campaigns. The violence of the campaigns has now been recognised by the official teaching curriculum, a number of state museums and the recent Commission of Historical Truth and New Treatment of Indigenous Peoples (2001-2003). 

Chileno: If we look at history certain groups have been successful in using ‘freedom fighting’ or ‘terrorism’ to negotiate (e.g. the Irish). Is the willingness to fight over land and all that it brings an explanatory factor in the survival of the Mapuche people?

Dr Crow: Yes, I think so. Successive governments have rejected Mapuche land invasions, say, or violent street protests as a legitimate or ‘rational’ way of trying to get people to listen to their demands, but it does force the issue, it does get press coverage, it does mean the politicians in congress debate the issue. It is sometimes claimed – by newspapers denouncing previous government attempts to restitute some Mapuche lands – that those rural communities who have been involved with the more radical Mapuche organisations (with members in jail on charges of’ terrorism’) are also those that have received lands from the state. This storyline is presented as a criticism of Concertacion policy, but it also points to a connection between political activism and concrete achievements. 

Chileno: The penultimate chapter in the book takes us up to contemporary times. Can you talk us through this a bit?

Dr Crow: Chapter 6 is about memory and competing claims to historical ‘truth’ in the context of official policies of neoliberal multiculturalism during the Concertacion governments (1990-2010). It outlines the tensions inherent in neoliberal multiculturalism (for instance, neoliberal economic policies – such as hydroelectric dam projects, expansion of the logging industry – impacting negatively on Mapuche rural communities in the south, at the same time as the laws of the state, e.g. the Indigenous Law of 1993, promise to protect indigenous lands; also, the relationship between the ‘permitted Indian’ who works with the state and the ‘dysfunctional, conflict-prone Indian’ who protests against the state and is sometimes jailed as a terrorist for doing so) as a backdrop to the ‘new’ histories being produced by the Commission of Historical Truth and New Treatment of Indigenous Peoples (which has been highly criticised by many Mapuche but which also included many Mapuche people in its various working groups), the Mapuche newspaper Azkintuwe, a recent controversial book by Mapuche academics, and two well-known Mapuche poets. It seeks to show how contested the process of history-telling is, and also to demonstrate that the divide between the permitted and conflict-prone Indian is a blurred one, and that some Mapuche intellectuals are able to enact both roles at the same time.

Chileno: Very interesting. And so what are the future directions for you and your academic work?

Dr Crow: I am just beginning a new research project on Chilean-Peruvian intellectual encounters, still with a focus debates about the “indigenous question.” One of the aims is to look at the links between the two countries when many previous studies highlight the conflicts and disconnections, not least because of the two major wars of the nineteenth century between Chile and Peru. I am also very interested in exploring the cultural and institutional history behind certain intellectual relationships – the congresses, the joint journal endeavours, book fairs – and in investigating Peruvian experiences of life (and intellectual debates) in Chile, and vice versa. At the moment I am thinking of focusing on 4 or 5 particular relationships, for example the friendship between Gabriela Mistral and Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, but I am very much at the beginning of this project and just thinking through some possible paths of enquiry.

Chileno: These sound like fruitful lines of research. Given that Mapuche issues have been in the media a lot lately, I wondered what your views are on the recent tensions in Southern Chile? What are your views, for example, on the use of anti-terror laws in the region and violence down there?

 In short, the use of anti-terrorism laws to deal with the ‘Mapuche problem’ (as newspapers label it) seems only to exacerbate the problem rather than try to resolve it.

Dr Crow: The tensions seem to be growing, and I don’t see a possible solution in sight, particularly under the government of Sebastián Piñera. The anti-terrorism legislation has been revised slightly, I think, but still remains in effect (I need to double check the exact state of affairs now). It seeks to delegitimise and indeed criminalise Mapuche political activism, but will not stop such activism. Instead, the refusal to engage seriously with the demands of the more ‘radical’ sectors of Mapuche society causes such frustration that the confrontational aspects of Mapuche political activism are likely to increase. In short, the use of anti-terrorism laws to deal with the ‘Mapuche problem’ (as newspapers label it) seems only to exacerbate the problem rather than try to resolve it. We also see a disjuncture between Mapuche violence as presented by the government (unlawful, irrational, encouraged by foreign ‘extremist’ groups etc… ) and the violence used against Mapuche activists and communities by state actors, mainly the military police, which is presented as necessary to defend law and order, the only rational policy worth pursuing etc… In other words, the use of anti-terrorism laws, and the enforcement of those laws, seems to reflect the hypocrisy of much government policy with regard to indigenous peoples.   

Chileno: Right, so what does the future hold for the Mapuche? Would you say there is going to be enough pressure for increased equality?

Dr Crow: An impossible question for a historian to answer! I think there is growing pressure – from some sectors of Chilean society and from the international community (particularly human rights groups), as well as from Mapuche organisations themselves – to recognise Mapuche rights and to stop state violence against Mapuche communities (in the form of police raids, militarisation of Araucanía etc…) but whether this will lead to any concrete changes I am not sure. At least there seems to be more debate about the situation of Mapuche people in Chile, but often those dominating the debate are the landowners and the mainstream press in the south, and business interests, which are often antagonistic to Mapuche demands for land and increased cultural and political autonomy.

Chileno: I know some Mapuche people don’t recognise states such as Chile and Argentina at all, it seems difficult to me to imagine how some of the demands could ever be agreed to. Is full ‘integration’ whatever that means, inevitable?

Dr Crow: No, I don’t think so; I’m not sure anything is inevitable. There are many different possibilities for the future. For example, the granting of more cultural and political autonomy for the region of Araucania – where the Mapuche constitute a significant proportion of the population – could help to empower more Mapuche people at a local level, and they could reject ‘integrationist’ policies whilst still officially being part of the Chilean state (if that doesn’t sound contradictory???). i.e. they can continue to engage with the Chilean state while not necessarily seeing themselves as Chilean. At a national level, things could change – the Chilean state could be recognised as multinational (as has happened in Bolivia) and this would have major repercussions for Mapuche land rights, but I don’t see this happening in the near future. Even if Mapuche autonomist claims are not recognised though – and like you say, it’s difficult to imagine some of the demands could ever be agreed to – this doesn’t mean that such claims will be dropped. Official sources might talk of integration (with differing meanings in terms what happens to difference in the process of integration) but that doesn’t mean it will be achieved, particularly when a growing number of Mapuche seem to reject it.

Chileno: Thanks for your time in explaining your fascinating work.

The book, The Mapuche in Modern Chile is published by University Press of Florida and is out now (29/1/2013). The book is available from better bookstores, or direct, through the publisher.


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