Earth, Exploitation and Survival: Dimensions of Indigenous Identity for Montagnard, Mapuche and Batwa People

Project location: Worldwide, Vietnam, Chile, Rwanda
Project start date: October 2010 - Project end date: October 2012
Project number: 2010-61
Beneficiary: UNPO


Despite Chile's international reputation as one of the most stable and prosperous countries in South America, not all the inhabitants have equally benefited from the impact of its democratic and economic development. Hiding behind this mask of progress, the largest ethnic group in Chile, the Mapuche, has long suffered from poverty and discrimination whilst authorities have failed to deliver a substantial contribution to fully recognize the indigenous peoples' rights to learn, use and practice their own language and culture. The implementation of inadequate state policies has seen very few or no positive results in this regard.

The introduction of the 'Indigenous Law' in 1993 and the ratification of the ILO Convention 169 in 2008 have been affected by the lack of steady financial support and qualified human resources. Moreover the lack of indigenous representation within official and government bodies has hampered the participation of the Mapuche themselves in the construction of a legal framework and the design of public policies that address more thoroughly their historic demands.

New legal dispositions adopted in 2009 by the Ministry of Education included the teaching of indigenous languages as a mandatory subject in the first year of primary school but it can only apply to schools where the percentage of indigenous children is 20% or more. This criterion does not reflect the real proportion of indigenous population in Chile, which according to the 2002 census is 4.6% of the total population (from which 87.3% are Mapuche). This is clearly ruling out most of the urban and even some rural communities in the Alto Bío Bío and Araucanía regions where the Mapuche communities are larger. In fact, according to the Registry of Students in Chile only 7.5% of all indigenous children had access to indigenous education in 2007 and from 2009 the number of schools working with this program has decreased due to budget cuts.

Overall, the Mapuche are deeply struggling to have access to means of preserving their cultural identity which is also gradually being eroded due to migration to the cities and the loss of their lands which has led to a deeper marginalization of their culture.

In order to ensure that the Mapuche culture will continue to be a rich source of ancient knowledge, wisdom and values deeply rooted in the protection of their natural environment and the preservation of natural resources and sustainable livelihoods, the EES: Dimensions of Indigenous Identity Project has embarked on the organization of an educational program aimed at new generations of Mapuche. This project has fostered a process of revitalization of the Mapuche identity as a whole, necessary to halt the progressive loss of mapudungun -the Mapuche language- and their cultural heritage.

This process is based on a new approach to self-recognition, socialization and internalization as a way to revive the elements constitutive of the Mapuche identity. These educational endeavours also contribute to further fight unfair stigmatization fueled by the government's folkloristic approach to their culture and the mainstream media misleading portrayal of the Mapuche as a constant source of conflict over land reclamation.

The project commenced with the working visit to Chile, in January 2011, to create solid foundations for the ongoing work with the Mapuche communities.

In January 2011 UNPO together with the Escuela de Filosofia, Espiritualidad y Sabiduria Ancestral Mapuche implemented this year's first Mapuche summer school in the Lumahue community, in the IX Region. The three-day event helped Mapuche children and youth re-connect with their culture in a natural surrounding. Nearly 60 participants had the opportunity to share and meet other children from neighbouring mapuche communities, some of them who are already living in urban centres and who contributed with different views and experiences on what it means to be Mapuche elsewhere. They all talked and learned about the origin of their culture, covering topics such as health, philosophy, science, spirituality, ancient wisdom, mapuche language and the meaning of their social practices, customs and spiritual ceremonies.

Strong emphasis was given to Mapuche values and principles, especially those that constitute the base for the relation between Mapuche and the Nature, their respect for the environment and the importance of strenghtening collective bonds to foster a larger sense of community. The children's families also joined evening sessions that brought together the youth and the elders aiming to increase their sense of belonging through a better understanding of their ancient traditions and beliefs. Participants were divided according to their age group and were provided with all necessary educational material, lodging and meals.

During this visit UNPO witnessed the youth's thirst for revitalizing their culture. Young mapuche leaders also shared their experiences in spreading this knowledge and reaching out to their own communities highlighting the need and importance of further training new generations of young Mapuche leaders. The school also saw the participation of guest instructors from distant towns who were encouraged to multiply these efforts back in their own communities.

UNPO had the opportunity to film and produce audiovisual material to document the impact of such educational programs on the preservation of the Mapuche culture and identity. This material will also serve for the production of the first website for the Mapuche School, a useful platform to promote the Mapuche School in Chile and abroad by giving both visibility to the project and opportunities to those who will be able to use the site as an educational tool.

Additionally, a meeting with other organizations that are currently working on initatives on revitalization of indigenous languages and cultures across the country took place in the capital Santiago. The aim of these meetings was to discuss potential opportunities to organize seminars and conferences, to raise awareness of the cultural and identity struggle of new generations of Mapuche, including the importance of community cohesion, cross-cultural understanding and intercultural values as a tool to fight discrimination and promote democratic principles.


Winter Event For Mapuche Children And Ancestral Authorities In Temuco

The meeting was organized by the Escuela de Filosofía, Sabiduría  y Espiritualidad Ancestral Mapuche (Implementing partner), in the city of Temuco in the month of June 2001. 50 Children between 8 and 12 years old took part to the event.

Main goal

The goal was fostering dialogue and further interaction between Mapuche children and Mapuche ancestral authorities, highlighting the importance of the relation between Nature and the Mapuche culture.

Specific goals

Children had a unique opportunity to learn, share and participate in lectures about the origin of their culture, their ancient traditions, etc. Children learned to recognize and respect the core elements constitutive of the Mapuche culture and consequently understand the importance of respecting the elder and all forms of life in nature. It fostered the interest in achieving the long needed peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding between the Mapuche and non-Mapuche; and promoted the importance of organizing major events and encounters on a regional level at least once every four years. Finally the meeting was meant to reinforce the sense of belonging and the sense of community among the participants.


The methodology applied during the course varied depending on the age of the participants. Children were divided by age group and in all cases a simple and clear form of language was used. Teaching techniques involved the use of images, songs, games and activities where children and ancestral authorities participated together. The ancestral authorities were assisted by 2 volunteers and every group was led by an instructor and a coordinator.


The event brought together children and the elder who had the opportunity to learn and discuss topics of daily relevance, especially those related to the environment and the importance of protecting nature within the Mapuche culture. Ancestral authorities such as Lonko, Machi, Ngenpin, Werken, and children between 8 and 12 years old participated in a two-day cultural encounter which allowed them to have a first-hand experience with regards to the way Mapuche values and traditions deal with today's most important environmental issues. The event started with an opening ceremony and a range of sociocultural activities, including spiritual ceremonies such as the “Llellipun”, followed by a thorough yet simple explanation of the purpose and meaning of such ceremonies and the relevant role they play in preserving one's culture. Instructors also were  in charge of workshops where art and other forms of cultural expression were explored. The last activity concluded with a public presentation where the families of the participants also joined to experience first hand what the children had learned during the course. A special closing ceremony was led by the ancestral authorities.


Number of participants:

50 children

Number of instructors / volunteers:

5 instructors

3 coordinators

15 volunteers


The future implementation of this kind of event and other similar efforts should be also supported by Mapuche organizations currently working with Mapuche communities living in urban centres and/or educational institutions and the families of the participants. The work of the Escuela de Filosofía y Sabiduría Ancestral Mapuche will be then focused on providing consultancy, organizational assistance, logistic support, networking and the production of educational material.


Welcome session

1° Kiñe Troi: “CHALIN” (Identify cultural relevance through ancient social customs)

2° Epu Troi: “LLELLIPUN” (Greeting spiritual ceremony - Ñuke Mapu)

3° Küla Troi: “Dialogue with ancestral authorities”

“Keeping the environmental balance in the Mapuche world”

Natural laws - Ñuke Mapu

Self regulation in order to achieve harmony

4° Meli Troi:  Group workshops

Coexistence in the Mapuche world

5° Kechu Troi: art workshops / cultural expression

Introduction to Mapuche art (Music, Dance and Painting)

6° Closing ceremony


MAPUCHE Congress on Indigenous Languages in Chile: Promoting cultural and linguistic diversity in Chile (November 18-19, 2011)


The Congress aimed to highlight the importance of the intercultural dialogue between the indigenous people and the rest of society in Chile, including the government and public institutions. This dialogue must bring about a substantial change in the way indigenous languages and cultures are perceived across the country. Indigenous languages must be regarded as a source of knowledge and therefore the need to further spread their use whilst strengthening mutual respect between indigenous and non-indigenous communities is a top priority. These activities will also continue the debate about the strategies to truly protect linguistic diversity in the country.


General Objective:

1-. Follow up the agreements reached during previous meetings, focusing on the protection of the language and the education rights of indigenous peoples. 

2. Strengthen the dialogue between indigenous peoples, public institutions and civil society in order to foster linguistic and cultural diversity in the country.

Specific Goals:

1. Promote the importance of indigenous cultures and languages in the public sector.

2. Evaluate strengths and weaknesses of current teaching strategies as well as state policies implemented to improve the teaching of indigenous languages.

3. Reach an agreement regarding a proposed bill to create a General Law on Indigenous Rights and discuss the strategies to start negotiations on a parliamentarian level.


Linguistic and Educational Rights for indigenous peoples and linguistic strategies.

New and innovative indigenous languages learning techniques and learning experiences among children, youngsters and adults.

Teaching methodologies for indigenous languages.

Promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity in the private and public media.

Challenges in the development of indigenous languages.

Traditional knowledge and intellectual property.



The Congress combined discursive strategies used by both the academic community and the indigenous peoples. The event also served as a platform to promote cultural activities such as art workshops, theatre plays, poetry reading, music and dance acts.

The Congress saw the participation of different age groups: children, young adults, adults and the elderly. Participants were also community and social leaders, pundits, academics, local and traditional instructors, civil servants and officials working in the fields of education or indigenous issues.

Media, both private and public, such as radio, television and newspapers were also invited to participate in the debates and roundtables. The aim was to provide a platform where media and local communities can debate the question of promoting cultural diversity and whether the media does anything to endorse such causes.


Summer school for Mapuche Children and Ancestral Authorities

2012 Mapuche Summer School / Diploma Course Closing & Award Ceremony

Mapuche School in the Mahuidanche community (Comuna de Pitrufquen)

The leader of the school invited children from 5 nearby communities in the region of Pitrufquen.  The promotion of the school initially reached out more than 200 people and the activity was scheduled on February 24, 25, 26 and 27.  The ‘Escuela de Filosofia y Sabiduria Ancestral Mapuche’ gathered a number of instructors from different regions across Chile to take part of these activities. These instructors received special training prior to the implementation of the school and they also collaborated in the making of original educational material. The school also engaged in promoting the summer school using traditional means but also Internet and phone.

The promotion of the school and the success of such initiatives have also reached 2 new rural schools (‘Escuela san Martin de Porres’ and ‘Escuela Membrillar’) located in the Comuna Padre Las Casas, nearby Temuco, which are now interested in organizing workshops throughout the year, providing children with at least 2 or 3 educational and cultural sessions per month. These sessions should also include conferences to further spread the importance of preserving the Mapudungun (the Mapuche language). At the moment the school has already scheduled 4 workshops that will take place during the spring this year.

This year’s summer school also saw the participation of the students who graduated from the Diploma course on history, spirituality, ancestral wisdom and mapuche language (2009-2011). As a part of a cultural activity, the school organized an award ceremony to pay tribute to those who participated in the diploma course and acknowledge their effort to continue to promote Mapuche values and education. This part of the activity also saw the participation of the Universidad Catolica de Temuco. The total of graduates was 31 and they came from all corners of the country, from regions such as La Union, Pilar Correa de Concepcion, Cañete, Villarrica, Melipeuco, Santiago and even from Bariloche in Argentina.

Mapuche ancestral authorities (such as the machi, lonko and ngenpin) and families and relatives of the graduates also attended the closing ceremony, which took place in the park Cerro Ñielol. Before the award ceremony all participants took part of the mañumtun y nguillañmawün (Mapuche cultural activities performed only during special events), which in this occasion were led by the Machi Hilda Meliqueo from the Palihue community. The purpose of this ceremony was to thank everyone involved and acknowledge the importance of such projects aimed at providing new tools to those who are interested in further teaching and promoting the heritage of the Mapuche culture. All participants had then the opportunity to share their experiences and reaffirm their identity through ancient knowledge and traditions that help them connect once again with their ancestors. The certificates were handed in by the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Universidad Catolica de Temuco, Dr. Ricardo Salas Astrain, the Machi Hilda Meliqueo and the ngenpin and director of the Mapuche Escuela Armando Marileo Lefío.

PHASE V (final)

The final phase of the Mapuche project involved a two-day language training, a conference on traditional education and a website to collect all the material produced in the previous two years.

Mapuche language training

In the two-day language training participants were taught the basics of Mapudungun and other subjects that are not covered by formal education, such as Mapuche philosophy, history, science, spirituality, ancestral culture and the relation between the Mapuche community and nature.

The participants consisted mostly of Mapuche people of various ages and backgrounds as well as several interested non-Mapuche persons. Participants were accommodated according to their age group and provided with all necessary educational material, lodging and meals. Lessons were complemented with side activities which allowed the children to spend time with the elder, sharing experiences, listening to tales and taking part in group meals where everyone shared and learned to understand the importance of strengthening collective bonds and a larger sense of community. The school also saw the participation of guest instructors from distant towns who were encouraged to multiply these efforts back in their own communities. The elders joined evening sessions to help understand the youth the importance of preserving one's culture. Much of the sessions were recorded to document the impact of such educational programs on the preservation of the Mapuche culture and identity. This audiovisual material documents part of the work sessions, including interviews, testimonials and commentary from participants, teachers, academics and other members of the Mapuche community.

Mapuche conference on traditional education

The conference on the state of Mapuche tradition in current mainstream education in Chile and the possibility to supplement it with Mapuche led initiatives was another major part of the activities during the final phase of the project. This conference brought together a wide range of Mapuche activists, scholars and supporters from all over Chile to discuss the state of Mapuche education. During the conference links were made between previous projects. Furthermore, best practices were studied, among which the summer schools and diploma courses. A plan of action was raised in order to continue on the path set which includes a new set of diploma courses by various institutions around the country.

Mapuche websites

In order to have a permanent and global presence to showcase the various projects involving the Mapuche that were done as part of the two year project, a website was set up called the website. This website provides an overview of the most important activities undertaken. It includes text and reports, pictures of the various events and video.

Furthermore, the website was expanded. This website, which was set up by UNPO as part of this Mapuche ancestral philosophy and cultural identity project, highlights the activities of the past summer schools and diploma courses. These learning events provide enrolling students a basic understanding of Mapuche culture, language and traditions. The trainings are set up in such a way to enable the children to learn more about their heritage and to teach older students how to be a teacher of Mapuche ancestral traditions themselves.
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