The Mapuche communities in Chile are concentrated in the provinces of La Araucania, Bio Bio, Los Lagos, Los Rios and Valparaiso, even though many have decided to migrate toward the cities. According to the 2012 Census, 37.4% of Chile’s Mapuche population live in Santiago, the capital, whereas the Argentine Mapuches live mostly in the provinces of Neuquén, Rio Negro, Buenos Aires and Santa Cruz.
Currently, approximately 1.5 million Mapuches live in Chile, while the number is much lower in Argentina: 200 thousand. The Mapuche nation is the most numerous among the indigenous populations of Chile and constitutes one of the largest indigenous societies in South America.
Te ancestral lands of the Mapuches have been expropriated by the lumber companies, which has le to planting thousands of eucalyptus and pine trees where before there used to be native forests. The commercial tree plantations convert the wood into lumber and pulp for making paper; they are then exported to North America, Asia and Europe. The negative impact on the environment brought by the lumber industry has acted as a catalyst for the increase of the Mapuche movements in recent years.
The largest source of income for the Mapuche people comes from agriculture, with wheat cultivation and raising livestock. Nonetheless, more and more Mapuches are moving towards urban centers. This migration, together with a considerable lack of education (only 3% of the Mapuches receive an education higher than junior high school), has resulted in the Mapuches’ work force being placed in jobs that are held in disdain by the dominating society (servants, builders, etc.) The Mapuches’ standard of living is generally very low and approximately a third of the Mapuches lives below the poverty line. In addition, the Mapuches suffer from a lack of nourishment, illiteracy, alcoholism, tuberculosis and a high infant mortality rate.
In Chile, the Mapuches undergo the discriminatory application of so-called anti-terrorism laws. These laws were created by Augusto Pinochet’s regime to rapidly finish off dissidents. Hundreds of Mapuches have been persecuted from these laws, under different charges that go from unauthorized entry to a property up to arson, charges that don’t always fall within the international definition of terrorism. Many Mapuches have participated in hunger strikes for more than 60 days, as a protest for the unjust and discriminatory persecutions that this people receives. Furthermore, there is no constitutional recognition for the Mapuche people in Chile.
One of the most important organisations in this region is the Mapuche Inter-Regional Council, whose headquarters are in Temuco City, in the heart of the Mapuche territory. This Council unites six Mapuche organisations in Chile and Argentina, a well as the Mapuche Exterior Committee. The main objectives of the Mapuche Inter-Region Council are to exercise, on the part of the Mapuche People, their right to self-determination, which implies an improvement in the Mapuches’ standard of living, as well as the preservation of their culture and the restitution of the Mapuches’ ancestral lands.