Landmark Case: Lake Neltume Lands Returned

Great news from Chile; the Mapuche Nation won back rights to their lands near Lake Neltume in the south. Lake Neltume is east of Valdivia, near the border with Argentina. In 1989, under the Pinochet dictatorship, these lands were “rented” to businesses for 99 years at a cost of $118 a year ($84,000 Chilean pesos) without Mapuche permission. December 24, a Valdivia court ruled unanimously for the 6 acres to be returned to its rightful owners.

Who are the members of Mapuche Nation? For 2000 years, they were the primary people in what is now southern Argentina and Chile. The etymology of their name is pertinent; the first half, “mapu” means land, the second half “che” means people, thus they are “people of the land.” Several tribes in the southern cone shared this same culture and language, called Mapudungun. Even when the Spanish invaders arrived in 1541, the Mapuche fought hard and well to retain their lands and customs. The Spanish were unable to defeat them. In the Quillín Treaty of 1641, the Spanish treated their adversary as a sovereign nation. They agreed that south of the Bío Bío River was Mapuche territory. The pact did not mean the Spanish kept their word or respected the tenets they agreed upon, however. An additional 17 treaties mended broken fences along the way.

For 250 years the Mapuche were successful at preserving their culture, language and sovereign nation status. In 1810 after Chilean independence, they were pressured again, this time to assimilate or starve as they were attacked with superior firepower. The Chileans sought to sequester their lands for agriculture and force their conversion to Christianity. In 1885, the Mapuche were defeated, massacred, and those who survived were forced from their lands into the city. Mapuche children were kidnapped and taken to be servants for Spanish families. This was not the end to harsh treatment for this Nation. Their resistance to the Pinochet Dictatorship was met with brutal force in the 1970s. But the First Peoples of southern Chile are brave, tenacious, and dedicated. They continue to use every means at their disposal; court cases, international organizations, and protests to call attention to their plight.

The most far reaching achievements of the current ruling is that it treats the Mapuche as a Nation and recognizes that land is key to their culture. 379 years after this term of self-determination was applied in 1641, it is good to see it back again, Nation of People of the Land. May all First Nations of the Americas know such respect. ¡Olé! –Rebecca

First article published on this ruling in English, only on Fake Flamenco.

What are your thoughts on this watershed decision?

Mapuche Symbol Image: Huhsunqu
Rebecca Cuningham

21 thoughts on “Landmark Case: Lake Neltume Lands Returned

  1. Very interesting history lesson that has chilling similarities to our indigenous people here. The arrogance of European explorers and settlers is disgusting. I wonder how many cultures and languages have been destroyed in the name of religion.

    My last job before retiring was with Boeing in the Seattle area. I rented an apartment in Puyallup, named after the local tribe. They had just won back their fishing rights in the river that ran by my apartment. They had been denied the right to do something they had done for centuries. Jeez Louise, how ignorant can we be? Such a travesty.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Glad to hear about the Puyallup fishing rights that were restored. I think European colonialism did a lot of damage to the world and Native Peoples. Not sure why Europeans thought themselves so civilized. Their actions proved the opposite. Perhaps we will learn to respect other cultures in this new millennia.

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  2. I see that we’ve still a lot to learn reference America, it’s people and the atrocities committed in the name…euphemism…of progress, which only benefited the rich and powerful. It is time for justice. Lovely post, great information. All the best and Happy New Year!

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    1. Yes, sadly there were no colonists in any hemisphere that respected the local people and shared the natural resources equally. I agree it is time for justice and humane treatment of all people. Thank you for your comments, Francisco. Have a very Happy New Year!

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  3. The First Nations throughout the Americas have been through such cruelly tough times and lost so much of their culture. It’s great that their voices are finally being heard, but they still face an uphill struggle to retain much of their cultural inheritance.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Margaret. I think the suppression of First Nations’ cultures and languages was terribly harmful, as was the theft of their ancestral lands. I have seen tremendous tribe generated progress in Minnesota with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. They have used the funds they’ve generated with their casino business to purchase lands, build homes, make a sacred building, and excellent schools. The Ojibwe Nation is educating children in their language as well. I find that very hopeful.

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments. I think it’s a shame that news has disintegrated into boiler plate copying across the board skipping so many important stories. That’s why I like your novel, positive take on the news on your site. Gracias, R

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      1. Thanks, that looks like a great movie. I am subscribed to blogs with many different perspectives to catch the news: Repeating Islands for the Caribbean, Good Black News for important African American stories, a Chilean newspaper to hear about South American stories and I’m always looking for more sources.

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