19 October 2016: There have been decades of half-hearted efforts from the Chilean government to make peace with the Mapuche communities, says Danny Pavitt. But common efforts to fight climate change could help the two parties work together.

Juana Calfunoa is the head of a the Mapuche community in Chile. Image credit: Danny Pavitt

The Mapuche community see their natural surroundings as their life force, one that is diminished with each dam constructed and road paved through it
Juana Calfunao, the Mapuche chief locally known as a Lonko, has lost count of how many times the carabineros, or the Chilean police, have stormed into her southern Chile residence. In her blog, she documents the most recent raid. At 2am carabineros turned her small home upside down in search of a family member. Shocking as they are, these events have unfortunately become commonplace for Juana and her family. As an outspoken member of the Mapuche indigenous community, Juana encapsulates all it means to be Mapuche in Chile today.

The Mapuche community is one of the few that resisted the Spanish invasion beginning midway through the 16th century. They have grown accustomed to confrontation. For decades, Mapuche groups in La Araucania region have been painted with a single adversarial stroke. Subsequent government efforts to improve relationships with groups like the Mapuche have been halfhearted at best.

Today, the Chilean government has made it clear that its priorities revolve around economic gains through development and the harnessing of nature’s strength to provide power to its urban centres and beyond. The Mapuche community, on the other hand, see their natural surroundings as their life force, one that is diminished with each dam constructed and road paved through their region.

It should be no surprise, then, that when the Chilean government announces a project to pave a road that runs directly through Juana’s property to increase access to a hydroelectric dam in the region, these efforts are met with resistance.

The government has been vocal about its strict intolerance for protests. But there may be a turning point on the horizon
The government has been vocal about its strict intolerance for protests that prohibit them from “doing their job”, using the archaic and human rights-violating anti-terrorism laws to validate Mapuche actions as such. But is there a turning point on the horizon?

The physical distance between Mapuche communities and the high-rises of Santiago has made it easy to ignore the atrocities the Mapuche and other groups have been exposed to over the years. However, the urgent action needed to mitigate the impacts of global climate change is closing the vast gap of concern and understanding between Mapuche and government values. Climate change, as a pressing issue that requires immediate action, has been brought to the doorsteps of city offices, through pressure from local and international communities in movements and official agreements like those reached in Paris late last year.

The time may be upon government officials to listen to the collective voice of the Mapuche and adopt their approach in becoming more aligned with environmental protection efforts: their survival and the survival of their children rely on it.

While the reasons for the governmental increase in environmental concerns may not be predicated on creating peace between these two groups, there is an unusual opportunity to do so that may initially be peripheral but has the potential to start a new peacebuilding process in the area.

The moment has arrived for the Chilean government to acknowledge alternative ways of regarding peace and the environment
The government could take a more active role in consulting Mapuche leaders about improved ways to envision development in “shared” areas. By leveraging Mapuche knowledge regarding natural resource management and considering the greater environmental impacts of proposed development projects, the government set a new standard for communication that promotes lasting peace between the groups.

In using nature as a vehicle to build peace between these groups, there seems to be hopeful outcomes that would serve to align the Chilean government more appropriately with international environmental and human rights-based regulations (such as UNDRIP), improve their relationships with the Mapuche community, and show a more robust attempt to sustainably address the needs of our planet’s health.

Innovative leadership from the Chilean government is crucial to the incorporation of local and traditional knowledge into policies that dictate how development happens within the country’s political boundaries. The pressures of climate change have and will continue to confront the Chilean government, and its internal leadership will determine whether or not they seize the opportunity to create something new with the Mapuche community in their efforts to adapt to and mitigate those impacts.

The moment has arrived for the Chilean government to acknowledge alternative ways of thinking regarding peace and the environment. This change is most likely going to come from the urgent concerns and fears for the future that climate change presents to those government officials and the legacies they seek to leave behind. If a peace process is sparked between the Mapuche and the Chilean Government due to common efforts to answer calls for climate change action, it would be “matar dos pájaros de un tiro,” as Chileans say or killing two birds with one stone.


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