TEMUCO – President Piñera is visiting the southern regions of Chile. The La Araucanía region, the stage of unrest for a long time now, is receiving special attention from the president. He promised several new bills, decrees, and measures to promote the Mapuche culture in the region.
“The La Araucanía region has a special place in the heart of our government,” President Sebastián Piñera said in a remarkably conciliatory speech in the southern region. “A good president has to be like a good father of a family: he has to love all his children, but take special care of those who have the most problems.”
And problems there are in La Araucanía: the ongoing rural conflict, involving landowners, lumber companies, heavily-armed police, and Mapuche has grown to new proportions in recent months – with shootings, arson attacks on lumber truck, machinery, and buildings and near daily road blockades.
We Tripantu and Ancestral Food
One of the first things the president announced was that there would be a coordinator appointed to the zone with direct lines to the presidency. In recent years, the Interior Ministry was in charge of the region. The coordinator will still be part of this ministry, but do his or her job directly from the region and not from the capital Santiago, nearly 700 km away.
Other announcements the president made relate to indigenous matters. We Tripantu, the Mapuche new year celebrated each year between June 21 and 24, will become a national holiday, meaning a day off for the entire country. Piñera also announced that the government will start to promote Mapuche culture in other ways.
For example, under the initiative “Ancestral Food for Better Living,” supermarkets must start promoting food and medicine that form part of the Mapuche diet. “Food such as piñón, changle, pehuén, merkén, maqui, murta, cochayuyo, algae, and medicinal herbs have to be on the table of all Chileans. And hopefully, we can be a country that exports ancestral and healthy foods to the rest of the world,” Piñera said.
Another pillar that seeks the promotion of Mapuche culture is the school subject, “Indigenous Languages and Culture,” which the government aims to add to the Chilean curriculum. Piñera also said that the government would start returning ancestral lands to indigenous communities and promote housing projects on these lands. The exploitation of ancestral lands by lumber companies and landowners or latifundistas is one of the reasons Mapuche communities occupy lands in protest in the southern region.