The Mapuche indigenous people have struggled against multiple colonial forces for centuries, in what maps show today as southern Chile.
They resisted the Inca Empire in ancient times, Spanish invaders in the 16th Century, and, for the past couple of centuries the Chilean state and state-sponsored European settlers.
In recent decades, the Mapuche have struggled against capitalist corporations exploiting their traditional land for logging –replacing native forests with pine monoculture – and other damaging agricultural practices.
The Chilean government has escalated its violence in the region in the past few years. Militarised police have been deployed, using bullets and teargas to repress Mapuche attempts to occupy and recover their ancestral land.
A particularly concerning incident took place on August 1, when a group of right-wing Chilean civilians violently attacked Mapuche people who were occupying the local government building in Curacautín.
The police allowed the attack and even coordinated with the violent group, as they kicked the Mapuche out of the building amidst racist chants.
The attackers entered the building with clubs and other weapons. Their leader, right-wing local entrepreneur Gloria Naveillan, encouraged the crowd to “do whatever it takes to get them out”.
The Mapuche inside were beaten and suffered knife wounds. There were women, elderly people and children among them. Despite the local and international outrage the racist attack provoked, the only individuals detained were Mapuche victims.
In this context of long-term and increasing state violence, the discovery of the bodies of two Mapuche women on August 7 has shaken the country. Iris Rosales Quiñilen, 53, and her daughter Rosa Quintana Rosales, 17, were found hanging in their home.
The incident, initially described by authorities as a suicide, has raised suspicions in the community, and leaders have called for an investigation. Several deaths of environmental and indigenous activists across Latin America have been documented in recent years.
Meanwhile, this week marks the 100th day of hunger strikes by machi [Mapuche spiritual leader] Celestino Córdova, and another 27 Mapuche imprisoned by the Chilean state. They took this step to protest their removal from their land and community, in contravention of international agreements.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Chile representative Joel Hernández declared: “The aspirations of the machi Celestino Córdova are legitimate.” The Chilean government, meanwhile, has expressed their “openness to dialogue”, whilst not taking any concrete steps toward it.
In this complex situation, Córdova, who has been taken to hospital in a critical condition, issued the following message:
“To the Mapuche nation and the native peoples, to all the societies in the world, regardless of aboriginality, all the peoples who struggle for their spiritual beliefs, for their land, for their freedom, for their right to their people’s dignity, always looking for a whole balance with the natural order of our mother earth, Ñuke Mapu, which has overly gifted us as humankind, and that has sadly been neglected in the value she deserves.
“I deeply regret to have to convey my last message in the last days I have left for my ultimate sacrifice, finding great pride in giving my life for the Mapuche people, for our spiritual beliefs, which are sacred above all, and which we should never give up. Above all as a machi, it is my duty as mandated supernaturally in the spiritual dimension.
“In order for my death to come quicker, I am ready to continue on a dry hunger strike at any time, so my outcome is not slow as expected by state agents, the current government and the corporate sector in general.
“Until my very last day I will remind the Chilean state that, not content with slaughtering our ancestors, they have cruelly enforced a spiritual, cultural, and socio-economic impoverishment onto our Mapuche nation since the beginning of the invasion, up until the current times.
“From January 2013, the Chilean state through its police agents, deprived me of my rewe [totem], of my family, of my community, of my land, of all my patients, for whom I procured life and health, being a Mapuche spiritual authority.
“But the time for favourable justice is coming close for all the first nations of the world, and for all the people oppressed, as is supernaturally ordained; we are already experiencing a renewal of the world.
“Finally, I’ll express my deep gratitude to life for having given me a family, the opportunity to make a small contribution to the struggle of our people, and to be at the service of humanity. I’m also grateful for having opened the hearts of many people of the different lands of the world.
“I only hope that it is demanded of the Chilean state by every means to restitute our ancestral Mapuche land, to pay its historical debt with all the first nations, and to not perform an autopsy after my death.
“Chaltumay, many thanks.”