Home Institution

Columbia University

Publication Date

Spring 2008

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


Central to the Mapuche reclamations of ancestral territory happening now in Patagonia are notions of “community”. Recognition, on the one hand, of an indigenous right to re-appropriate state land implies historical consciousness of indigenous pueblo preexistence, and the imposition of national communities in which indigenous groups do not find representation. Secondly: in recent decades, the “community” has become a strategic point of reference in the legal and political arenas in which reclamations are registered. A result of the struggles of indigenous activists of the past few decades, official recognition as an indigenous community implies recognition of unique rights. Thirdly: resulting from its incorporation in the state’s “leyes indígenas,” categorization as a community has become a bureaucratic pre-requisite to legitimize territorial reclamation. Appropriation, nonetheless, of such community identification has fortified this population’s commitment to the struggle for political, economic, and cultural autonomy.

This work focuses on the perspectives of individuals belonging to different communities of Río Negro, each self-identifying as Mapuche, and each involved in a different capacity in the movement to reclaim ancestral territory. I ask: what does it mean to call oneself part of a Mapuche community, as this relates to personal historical trajectories; what are some of these trajectories, as they relate to unique personal experience, and the motivations (economic, political, or spiritual) that bring one to want to “save,” “recuperate,” or “amplify” territory; what are the dimensions of belonging to the land and the community that grows and undergoes new experiences through the process of recuperation; in short, what are the political, economic, and identity-based significances attached to this process, and which are set in relation to one another when ideas of community are put in practice?

To more profoundly understand the ways in which personal trajectories, ideas of community, and relationships with territory inter-relate, and in doing so form the process that is the reclamation of ancestral territory from the Argentine state, we concentrate on developing dimensions of meaning found in the words of five Mapuche actors. After a comprehensive introduction to the theme (Part I), this paper delves into individualized analyses (Part II) of each of five testimonies, and the individualized histories that gave rise to them. The assumption I make is that it is impossible to effectively analyze a person’s thoughts on so personal a subject as the act of forming a communal bond, or an identity, without understanding where that person comes from. Use of words should be informed by knowledge of the subjectivities that produced them. Part III of this work sets these subjectivities in dialogue, taking as its principal subject matter the inter-discourse that exists today, as diverse parties begin to focus on the Mapuche reality.

This paper takes as its subject matter people more than topics. The decision to focus on each of five individuals as sources of great meaning is an attempt to communicate the profound importance of listening to their voices as members of a marginalized indigenous group, as emerging social actors at the national level, but most importantly as human beings. Human beings who have experienced great pain, and are in the process of discovering – and applying – new strength.


Latin American Studies | Place and Environment


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