On Tuesday, July 12th, Mapuche-Huilliche communities occupied traditional lands near the town of Rio Bueno (Los Lagos Region) to stop the destruction of a major sacred site and to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Pilmaiquén River. In total, members from more than 20 communities peacefully occupied the lands. The community action prompted conflicting responses from the Chilean Government, with the local director of CONADI (Chile’s Indigenous development corporation) supporting the communities’ demands to have the land returned, while the local Chilean prosecutor ordered that the occupation be broken up.
According to Millaray Huechulaf, a spokesperson for the communities, the land in question is approximately 32 acres, and is home to a significant sacred site for the communities as well as a traditional burial ground. Huechulaf, on behalf of the communities, asserts that illegal logging has already taken place on the land and that far worse will happen if the land is not returned to the Mapuche people. The regional director of CONADI, Juan Andrés Melinao, confirmed the communities’ claims, stating that their had been a “deplorable and vile violation” of the communities’ Indigenous site. The director also pledged his support for helping the communities get control of their land again.
Despite this acknowledgement by a government official, the local prosecutor sought to have the Mapuche-Huilliche community members removed from the lands. The court in Rio Bueno granted the prosecutor’s request to have the lands vacated.
Despite the decision by the court, the communities indicated that they intend to keep fighting to regain complete control of their traditional lands and sacred sites, and called on other communities to join in the efforts.