On Wednesday, December 28th, the Chilean government returned 1,480 hectares (approximately 3,650 acres) of land to four different Mapuche communities in the Region of Los Rios. The land transfers were the biggest ever to take place in that part of the country and will benefit approximately 500 Mapuche individuals. Some of the communities involved had been waiting a decade or more for the return of their lands and, although happy to receive title, they were critical of the slowness of the process.
In order for this land transaction to take place, the Chilean government spent more than US$8 million to acquire the nearly 1,500 hectares of land. Those lands were then officially given over to the communities in a ceremony on December 28th that included both the Minister of Social Development, Joaquín Lavín, as well as the National Director of CONADI (the Chilean government’s Indigenous development corporation), Jorge Retamal. Leaders and members from the Mapuche communities of Fermin Chocano de Futrono, Dionisio Manquel, Ina Huincul and Coyamilleo were also present.
The communities were obviously happy with acquiring their land — some after more than a decade of work — but, for some the excitement was tempered by the struggles associated with the process. For instance, Miguel Manquel, the president of the Mapuche community of Dionisio Manquel, stated that “we are very happy” about the land transfer and that “we needed this field,” but he also added that, in order to acquire the land, it often felt like the Mapuche people are “swimming against the current” to get returned that which has been theirs for centuries.
Likewise, the president of the Mapuche community of Fermín Chocano, Héctor Burgos, told the media that he was happy that his community had finally received its lands, but then went on to criticize the process. “It is wrong to delay [the process] so long…there are too many delays, too much bureaucracy.”
The conflicted feelings of many Mapuche people involved in similar land processes perhaps is best summed up by Pedro Mariman, a Mapuche leader who works for the Observatorio Ciudadano — an NGO in Chile that focuses primarily on indigenous issues. According to Mariman, it is exciting and gratifying when the land process has been completed and communities reacquire their ancestral lands, but on the other hand, it also calls attention to the slowness of the government and its inability to make indigenous rights as high of a priority as they should be.