Sofia Painiqueo, a singer, leader, and rights advocate of the Mapuche people in Chile, came to talk to the Santa Cruz community this Monday here at the Resource Center for Nonviolence. The talk was graciously hosted and translated by the Center’s own Bernardita García-Jiménez and fellow activist Yolanda Provoste-Fuentes. Sofia started and ended the gathering with chants in Mapudungun to praise the earth and our place on it. She sung beautifully of a harmony between man and nature. This harmony, or rather the lack of it, was a main motif in Sofia’s stories: time and time again the Mapuche have had their land taken and their relationship to the earth disturbed by government sanctioned corporate takeover. Especially damaging are the invasive species of Pine and Eucalyptus which drains all water in the region and supports none of the local ecosystem.
This, Sofia stated, is were the real problems of the Mapuche and indigenous people all over the world lie: Not with one government, or with the majority populous of a country, but with a systematic endorsement of greed and destruction. She spoke with kindness but certainty about the issue: while there are some Chilean’s who are working with the Mapuche for a future in harmony with all living beings, there are still many in Chile and around the world who see this world as territory to be conquered. She explained that the Mapuche language was not simply invented by man as a way to label the world, but developed from their ancestors listening to each being and forming a word as close to that sound as they could. This is the way for the Mapuche: they do not ask for the earth to grant them more than it is willing to give.
Unfortunately those in power have had their own tradition with the Mapuche people: every president since Sofia remembered promised them greater rights written in the constitution, and every one turned out to be a liar. And for those Mapuche that keep demanding that this promise be fulfilled? Well Sofia had a keen statement to say about the situation: ‘those that want to fight for our land they call terrorists, and those who sing like me they label the good Mapuche.’ Being labeled a terrorist, she says, is much worse than a resistor: right now many Mapuche leaders are being targeted and killed by squads specially trained in Columbia for “domestic conflict control”. This, along with a systematic seizing of Mapuche land for mono crop plantations that make the largest profit possible with little regard of what land it would leave behind, paints a picture many will recognize. Indeed many indigenous communities fight this same battle: one to be recognized as not just the original owners, but protectors, of their land.
Despite her story’s tale of struggle and strife, Sofia holds hope a new generation can build what she saw lost: a harmony with the world around us. And while her story echoes hauntingly with America’s own long inner conflicts, there is a growing sentiment both in Chile and here in America that the environment is not here simply for profit. In Dakota there is a vital fight for indigenous rights both to control their own land and to oppose a pipeline which would further environmental destruction. There is no doubt that the system of exploitation Sofia explained in Chile holds great power here too– but so do people willing to fight not for ownership of the system, but against its practices of domination altogether. How and where that fight will take shape is up to all of us who stand in opposition. -Cassandra Coraggio, Intern
For information on how to combat issues like this with nonviolent action and more please visit the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and to support talks like these please donate to keep the Center going.