Saturday marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. In the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s futile rhetoric, “The interests of the indigenous people must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed … Together, let us recognize and celebrate the valuable and distinctive identities of indigenous people around the world. Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.”
As in all imperialist discourse, the U.N. continues to impose external, hegemonic interpretations and decisions upon indigenous communities in a manner that derides any possibility of forthcoming recognition.
The imperialist concept of empowerment never moves beyond a conglomeration of redundant statements emphasizing the obvious, with the intention of allowing violent historical processes to continue unobstructed.
Circumventing the ramifications of subjugation and land appropriation allows governments and the U.N. to promote further oblivion, thus diverting attention away from the conditions that created indigenous resistance against colonial and neoliberal violence, as in the case of the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Chile.
In 2007, Mapuche leader Aucán Huilcamán stated, “There are three factors which determine the activities of human rights defenders in Chile. The first relates to the judicial doctrine of denial which the Chilean state has established against the Mapuche community; the second refers to the policy of criminalization of the movement for collective rights; and the third is the government’s failure to comply with international legislation and to adhere to recommendations outlined by human rights mechanisms.”
Huilcamán’s statement provides a departure point for discussing the main culprits behind the deterioration of indigenous rights: impunity and oblivion. While the Mapuche struggle against colonization, the years of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and the alleged democratic era commencing with the Concertación governments have contributed to the marginalization and criminalization of Mapuche resistance.
Speaking of oppressive historical vestiges, therefore, undermines the perfected violence that the Mapuche have endured since their resistance against Spanish colonialism started in 1541 — resistance that eventually resulted in recognition of Mapuche territory. Furthermore, this allowed the population to reconstruct the dynamics of resilience against subsequent governments that marginalized the indigenous population. Following the declared independence of the Chilean state, the colonization of Mapuche territory through land purchase and expropriation led to the so-called “Pacification of Araucania” between 1860 and 1865, which, in reality, constituted a genocide of the indigenous population.
The reservations incarcerating Mapuche communities were a step toward attempting restriction and assimilation of the indigenous population, thus eliminating any references to territorial reclamation.
Additionally, Pinochet’s brutal, U.S.-backed military dictatorship went a step further in the attempt to obliterate references to the indigenous population. While Salvador Allende’s government embarked upon the restoration of Mapuche territory, Pinochet furthered the division of land by denying the existence of the Mapuche population in 1979: “The Mapuche do not exist because we are all Chileans.”