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4. Appeals and News from Endangered Communities

Situation of the Indigenous Languages of Colombia, especially Chimila

Frank Seifart of Freie Universität Berlin (fseifart(at) and also at Ratiborstr.12, D-10999 Berlin, Germany, tel. +49-30-6123429 ) sends this report from his trip last year to CCELA in Bogotá.

Although more than 60 indigenous languages are still spoken in Colombia their existence is hardly recognized in public life. This is an astonishing variety compared to other Latin American countries, and in view of the indígenas’ low share of the overall population, only 3%. Many of these languages are threatened with extinction, as the number of their speakers has dramatically decreased after a long period of suppression. But today a growing indigenous self-confidence and a tolerant political climate give rise to new hope.

However, this new tolerance comes too late for a substantial number of languages. About thirty languages are known which have ceased to be spoken since the arrival of the Spanish, among them the languages of the Muiscas, once the largest people of high cultural diversification living in the Andean Highland north of Bogotá, and the language of the Taironas in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose culture left us an impressive archaeological monument, the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida).

The reason for the extinction of the indigenous languages of Colombia lies in the different varieties of aggression towards the indígenas themselves. In the past this aggression took different forms. In the worst case it meant physical extinction of the indígenas in military conflicts or excessive economic exploitation, e.g. slave labour for rubber production on the Amazon at the beginning of this century. Another important factor for language death is the – often forced – migration of the indígenas from their predominantly rural settlement areas to the cities, where they gave up their language together with their traditional cultural background. Today the biggest danger for the indígenas is to be accused and persecuted as collaborators, as they often live in remote regions of the country that become the battleground for the military, paramilitaries and the guerrilla forces. The various guerrilla groups that operate in Colombia, most prominently the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), do not pursue a uniform policy with regard to the indigenous cultures. The paramilitaries, on the other hand, who are paid to protect the property of the settlers, have a hostile attitude towards the indígenas.

In recent decades, a strong indigenous self-confidence has developed which is expressed in the regional and national organizations. The cabildos (councils) of the native groups are organized nationwide in the ONIC (Organización Nacional de Indígenas de Colombia). The ONIC represents the interest of the indígenas vis-ŕ-vis governmental organisations. An initial success of this long-lasting struggle is the fact that the Constitution of 1991 provides for the first time for an official status for the indigenous languages. It states (article 10):

“The languages and dialects of the ethnic groups have official character in their territories. The education in territories of groups that have their own language tradition shall be bilingual.”

These benevolent principles still have to be applied to a reality which looks very different in many cases. For many of the languages of Colombia no teaching materials are available, as the larger part of these languages has not yet been studied linguistically, apart from scarce and un-systematic work carried out mostly by missionaries over the last centuries.

To speed up the study of the indigenous languages, the Colombian government invited the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) in the 1950s, because Colombian linguists were hardly available at the time. The SIL gladly accepted the invitation and in short time built up an extensive infrastructure with their headquarters in the plains adjacent to the Andes. From here they flew directly to the indígenas areas. In the 1960s the SIL had to answer an investigating committee of the government, as they were suspected to have used their infrastructure, which was better than that of the Colombian army, for intelligence activities. Although it could never be proved, rumours of cooperation by the SIL with the CIA never ceased completely. Undoubtedly the efforts of the SIL, who – as everywhere – not only did Bible translations but in practice fostered the transmission of Western cultural values, paved the way for economic endeavours in the areas of the indígenas, most prominently for oil production.

In the 1970s the government dissociated itself from the SIL as they still failed to train Colombian linguists as the government had expected. Finally, in the 1980s, the majority of the SIL workers were violently driven out of the indígena areas by the guerrilla forces. As a result, the SIL has had to restrict itself to work in the relatively safe large cities, with informants taken from the reservations (resguardos). But to this day the SIL retains offices in a Colombian government building (Ministerio del Gobierno).

Nowadays the CCELA (Centro Colombiano de Estudios de Lenguas Aborígenes) has become the most important institution for the study of the languages of Colombia. This centre, part of Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, is financed by French and Colombian funds. Colombian linguists are trained here on a regular basis, among them indígenas who are then able to study and describe their own languages. The results of the linguistic investigations of the native languages are used for the edition of grammars, dictionaries and teaching materials. In those cases, where the speakers are not interested in preserving their languages, the work of the CCELA is limited to linguistic stocktaking in order to provide the descendants with the possibility to revitalize their ancestors‘ language.

Generally speaking, the peoples of the mountainous regions seem to preserve their languages better than those of the lowlands and the rain-forest. By way of their highly organized and hierarchical social systems and through their century-old experience in dealing with Western cultures they are far better prepared to defend their interests. Apart from the cabildo there are spiritual and traditional authorities to which the cabildos are subordinated. The cultures of the indigenous people of the lowlands, who live - or lived - as nomads in loose family groups, seem to be less resistant to the aggression and temptations of Western culture. They often lose their culture and language very quickly.

In recent years the indígenas of Colombia - both the large peoples of the mountainous regions as well as the smaller ones of the lowlands - have fought hard for their right to speak their language and live their culture. The different kinds of motivation for this struggle are of various nature. Many indígenas fear to lose not only their language and culture, but with it their identity as indígenas. Therefore they demand governmental support for projects that serve to protect their language, knowing that survival of their language is the first step towards the maintenance of their culture. For language carries in its myths, songs, etc. the contents of traditional culture. And the world-view of a culture reveals itself in the structure of the vocabulary and grammatical system.

But in the previous experience of indigenous languages in Colombia it has become clear that linguistic analysis, alphabetization and finally bilingual education entail radical interference with originally illiterate indigenous cultures. The alphabetization of the language and the recording of traditional texts change the cultural dynamics of the oral tradition: from the moment these texts are recorded they lose their variable character. Therefore many cultures decide to take this step only after much deliberation.

The concept of school education that we know, on the other hand, is not comparable with the traditional education of the indígena cultures. Therefore a special program of “etnoeducación” for the indígenas was set up by the ministry of education. Guidelines for curricula are developed, which try to take into account the diversity of the indígena cultures. In cooperation with ONIC, a programme for intercultural education is developed, which is to transmit both the values and world view of their own culture as well as those of the Colombian national culture. Another central purpose of intercultural education is bilingualism (indigenous language-Spanish): a good command of Spanish is necessary to benefit from higher education and university training, but also to safeguard the indígenas’ standing as Colombian citizens. For the universities a special programme for them is in preparation.

In Colombia preservation and revitalisation of languages serve in some cases also to procure and secure a claim to status as indigenous people, which includes many advantages, most prominently the right for a reservation, which in turn means exemption from taxes and free energy supply. Although one’s own language is not a necessary condition for the recognition of a group as an indígena people, it can be a strong support for this purpose.

The fate of the Chimilas is a good example of the many adverse conditions which the indígenas of Colombia have had to suffer and which in extreme cases lead to language death. The Chimilas live in the Departamento Magdalena in Northern Colombia. In the times of the Conquista they were a large and much feared people, who not only defended themselves against the Spanish, but also attacked them. As they lived on the banks of the River Magdalena, on the only route to the heart of the country where legendary El Dorado was assumed to lie, their existence meant a special nuisance for the Spanish. By the beginning of this century this people, once so large in number, had been reduced to a few hundred who had to make their living as landless labourers on the fincas of the settlers of the former land of the Chimilas. Fearing to be discriminated against as indígenas, they hid their language and culture, so that Gustaf Bolinder, a Swedish ethnologist, was already speaking the “last Chimilas” in 1920. When a linguist from CCELA (María Trillos Amaya) visited the Chimilas eight years ago, she was able to find some speakers who were prepared to speak their language. In 1991 the Chimilas were given their own reservation. The Government and the UNESCO are funding a re-afforestation programme, for the woodlands have been turned into prairie through cattle breeding. Within the limits of their reservation the Chimilas are more or less protected against the attacks of the paramilitaries who roam the area, and the language and culture of the Chimilas is slowly developing again. It turns out now that it had been passed on secretly over the centuries to a much greater extent than it had been suspected. The SIL employees who worked with the Chimilas had to leave the territory, but now accommodate Chimilas on their premises at Santa Marta. In the reservation the Lauritas order of nuns is running a school in which the Chimilas experiment with bilingual education. Today the Chimilas have found new hope and face a future in which they can speak their language and live their culture publicly, although they badly need an enlargement of their reservation.

Prospects for fair treatment in Colombia of indigenous languages and their speakers are now better than ever before, even if the debate in Colombia is not always on a high level: a senior officer in the army recently claimed that the Embera, a people living on the Pacific coast, simply make up their language so as to confuse the white people! Nevertheless, there are major tasks ahead. Above all, the new requirments enshrined in the Constitution of 1991 have still to be put into action.

Maria Trillos Amaya (1996): "Categorias Gramaticales Del Ette Taara - Lengua de los Chimilas". Bogotá. (= Lenguas Aborígenes de Colombia. Descripciones #10.)
Available from CCELA, Universidad de los Andes, A.A. 4976, Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia jlandabu(at)
The Director of CCELA, Jon Landaburu, has considerable experience of the implications of the new consititution for indigenous languages in Colombia.

Recent Fieldwork in Nigeria: Report on Horom and Tapshin
Roger Blench r.blench(at)
Overseas Development Institute, London

In March this year I was able to visit two communities in Nigeria, the status of whose languages has been uncertain until now. In the case of Tapshin, no data seems ever to have been recorded, while in the case of Horom, some 50 words, often inaccurate, have been published.


The Horom language is spoken in Horom village in Bokkos district of Plateau State, Nigeria. The main village of the Horom is some 10 km. (40 minutes drive) east of Richa over an extremely bad road. Richa is at the edge of the Jos Plateau some 2 hours drive SE of Jos and is the principal market-town for the area. All the other villages in this area speak varieties of Kulere, a Chadic language, with the exception of Mabo and Barkul. The Horom also have a small hamlet, Kura ‘down’, i.e. on the plain below the escarpment, where they live among the Rindre.

The Rom people (sg. Rom pl. BaRom) have been called ‘Horom’ in almost all the literature. Horom is the name of their language, but in view of the ubiquity of this root for ‘person’ or ‘man’, Horom is a good reference name. Some early sources have the name ‘Kaleri’, apparently a distortion of ‘Kulere’, which appears in earlier classifications, but this is highly inappropriate.

The only published data on Horom are the sporadic citations in the Benue-Congo comparative word-list (Williamson and Shimizu 1968; Williamson 1973) although Daniel Nettle has in press in Afrika und Übersee a list of some 100 words which he has kindly forwarded to me. I collected a word-list of some 600 words with the assistance of Selbut Longtau from Abiya Ishaku Musa and a group of villagers in Horom on the 30th of March 1998.

The Horom language is spoken by perhaps 1500 speakers at a maximum. Surprisingly, the language does not seem unduly threatened; during the language elicitation session it seemed that many of the children present were able to produce the required lexical items simultaneously with the adults. This situation may be explained partly by the remoteness of Horom, although remoteness has not prevented the Chadic languages in the Bauchi area from disappearing. The Horom people are extremely multilingual; they reported fluency in Kulere, Rindre (a Plateau language spoken at the bottom of the escarpment), Hausa and several speakers of English also live in the village. Horom culture is still very much alive and presumably this has acted to preserve the language as well. Nonetheless, this is only a first impression and the small number of speakers suggests the urgency of undertaking a more comprehensive survey.

The Horom are regarded by their neighbours as culturally part of the Ron-speaking group. The only source for information on Horom culture is CAPRO (in press)_.

The people of Horom are expert in traditional pottery. Other handicrafts are weaving of traditional sacks, smithing and carving. Almost every householder rears chickens, goats, sheep or cows. According to tradition, cows were kept for ceremonies and sacrifices.

It can also be said that traditional religion remains very lively in this area. The Horom have lively musical traditions including, rather surprisingly, the use of the xylophone.

Horom is said to belong to a group of languages classified as Southeast Plateau (formerly Plateau 6) along with Fyem and Mabo. Analysis of the wordlist has tended to confirm this view although there are unexplained linkages with the Tarokoid languages spoken south-east of this region. Nettle (in press) appears to argue against the inclusion of Mabo in this group.


The Nsur language is spoken in Tapshin village in Plateau State, Nigeria. Tapshin is some 25 km. north of the Pankshin-Amper road and reached by a track leading off the main road some 5 km. east of Pankshin. The road can only be traversed by a four-wheel drive and may well be cut off completely in the rainy season. Despite this, the area is densely populated with elaborate terracing systems. _

The only published reference to this language is in Hansford et al. (1976) apparently based on some unpublished observations of Kiyoshi Shimizu, who apparently made the claim that Tapshin was related to Eloyi, a language spoken much further South. The name ‘Tapshin’ is locally considered to be Hausa, although it does not look like Hausa. At any rate, this is the name of the only village, a large dispersed settlement with numerous wards. The Tapshin call themselves Ns'r plural ‡Ns'r and their language kĎs'r and the reference name could be either Nsur or Sur. The Ngas people call the Nsur ‘Dishili’. The name ‘Myet’ found in some earlier references is one version of the name Met, a settlement some distance west of Tapshin. The people of Tapshin claim that the people of Met speak ‘the same’ language as them, but this has yet to be directly confirmed.

A wordlist of some 600 words was collected by Roger Blench with the assistance of Selbut Longtau from a group on elders in Tapshin on the 21st of March 1998. We would like to thank the chief, Sale Sambo, for calling the meeting and John Tula Rabu for help with translation as well as all those who attended for their good-natured participation.



On the face of it, Nsur should be a prime candidate for language loss. All adults appear to be fluent in Ngas and Hausa and Tapshin is an enclave within the Ngas, a numerous population speaking a Chadic language, by whom they are culturally dominated. The number of speakers cannot be more than 3-4000, depending on the status of Met. The figure of 18,000 given in CAPRO (1995) would appear to be a serious over-estimate. However, it was apparent during the interviews that even young children are learning the language and there is no evidence of a decline in competence. Even more surprisingly, but no doubt related, the language is by no means full of loanwords from Hausa and Ngas, as is sometimes the case. The only source for information on Nsur culture is CAPRO (1995:323-327).

A comparative analysis of Nsur vocabulary has been undertaken. Tentatively summarising these results:

a) Nsur is a Plateau language
b) Nsur is part of the Tarokoid group and is probably most closely related to YaNkam.
c) There has been substantial mutual influence with the Ngas language, and Ngas is in some cases clearly the receptor language, despite its present-day numerical importance
d) Despite virtual bilingualism in Hausa there has been very limited influence except for recent items of material culture.


CAPRO 1995. Unmask the giant: an ethnic survey of Bauchi State. Jos: CAPRO Research Office.
CAPRO ined. An ethnic survey of Plateau State. Jos: CAPRO Research Office.
Williamson, K., and K. Shimizu. 1968. Benue-Congo comparative wordlist, Vol. 1. Ibadan: West African Linguistic Society. Williamson, Kay 1973. Benue-Congo comparative wordlist: Vol.2. Ibadan: West African Linguistic Society.

Thanks to Patience Ahmed for supplying me with an advance electronic file of this document.

What Future for the Berber Language?

Abdenour Kilou , an Algerian Berber working as a North Africa specialist and French-language monitor at the BBC, has contributed this analysis of current events.

A law institutionalizing the general use of the Arabic language in all fields of public life came into force in Algeria on 5 July 1998. The law was voted in 1996 by the then unelected National Transitional Council. This acted as a provisional parliament, set up to fill in the vacuum in political institutions resulting from the military coup d’état that cancelled the 1992 general elections which the Islamic party had been poised to win. The council was dominated by members of the FLN, the National Liberation Front, the former single-party whose nationalist-cum-pan-Arabist ideology has always regarded Algeria as an Arab country that French colonialism disfigured culturally and linguistically. The re-establishment of the “Arab” charcater of Algeria had thus become a must, excluding all reference to the pre-Arab Berber past of the country – and indeed of the whole Maghreb. In spite of the existence of a significant minority of Berber-speakers (20-25% of the population) any attempt at rehabilitating the Berber language and culture has been denied. Yet the remainder of the Algerian people, Arab-speakers though they may be, cannot be described as Arabs. Algeria is a Berber country more or less Arabized.

Neither the current plight of the Berber language, nor the factors that have contributed to it, are a recent phenomenon. The Berbers and their language have been on the margin of history for thousands of years, or since historical records began. They refused to die and, for reasons that still puzzle historians and linguists, they have resisted and survived.

The Berbers or Amazigh (which means “free men” in Berber, or more properly the Tamazight language) of Numidia (as the modern Tunisia and Northern Algeria were known in antiquity) have rarely lived under a unified and independent state. An exception was the reigns of Massinissa and his successor and nephew Jugurtha. First known as small, often autonomous, vassal kingdoms under Carthaginian (ethnically Phoenician) domination, they were placed under direct Roman rule in 40 BC. They were conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century AD. In 1832 they became part of the French colonial empire.

Throughout this period Tamazight remained largely spoken by the local people, a vehicle of local culture, but was never elevated to the status of public and official language. The Punic language, Latin, Arabic and in modern times French became the lingua franca, instrument of official communication, the Berber élite and the local royal courts.

Although Tamazight is mostly an oral language, evidence of the use of a written form in the Phoenician era has been established. According to Chaker Salem , the script that developed for ancient Libyco-Berber is “certainly of Phoenician origin in its essence and structure”. He also reports (p. 31) that the modern name given by the Tuareg to the Tamazight alphabet is Tifinagh, derived from the root fnq/fngh “Punic”. But the Phoenician influence withered away as the Roman occupation progressed to full annexation. The Christian Church strengthened the position of Latin, thus achieving through the word of God what the Roman sword had started. Eminent “Roman” Christian scholars of Berber origin, such as St Augustine, St Cyprian, Apuleius and Arnobius wrote in Latin. As Roman penetration deepened, the cultural and linguistic space of Tamazight shrank. This process developed faster under the Arabs and French. The result is that today Tamazight is spoken in various dialects in pockets of more or less large minorities scattered across North Africa. Their survival is owed largeely to protection provided by the geographical elements. They are found either in the Atlas Mountains, such as the Kabyle, the Shawiya and Shinwa in Algeria, or the Shluh in Morocco, or in the Sahara such as the Tuareg and the Mozabit in southern Algeria and the Rguibat in western Sahara, to mention just a few. Statistically speaking, although no comprehensive survey has ever been carried out, Tamazight-speakers form about 25% of the Algerian population, and over 50% of the Moroccan population.

Is there a Berber or Amazigh identity? The answer is Yes, if identity is defined as a group of ppeople aware of their common heritage, be it cultural, linguistic or political, and willing to continue sharing it in the future. To put it simply, it is an awareness of common past and future destiny. Historically, as we have seen, Berbers lacked continuity in structural political development that would have led to the establishment of a modern form of polity, political culture and statehood. Instead, they seem to have gone through a process of successive periods of political hiatus that never allowed for the emergenece of nation-state with Tamazight at its base: contrast the experience of the major European languages, Persian or even Hebrew. Tamazight thus remained “a concept of an essentially linguistic nature that does not correspeond to a homogeneous social-linguistic reality in the conscience of its speakers” , as Chaker Salem describes it. Hence the difficulties encounterted by Berber revivalists, be they academic or political activists, particularly in Algeria: the problem is to muster enough political will and unity among the different Amazigh communities to make a case for the authorities to recognize Tamazight as a national language. To this is added the unfounded argument of the authorities that any Berber demand is a threat to national unity, and the assertion that there is no need for a “dead” language when Arabic, the language of the Koran, is already there to cement national unity.

Apart from extremists, Berber revivalists accept Arabic as a national language, to be encouraged and developed, but not to the exclusion of Tamazight. It must be stressed that the the attitude and response of the authorities to the Tamazight question display the opacity of the political régime in Algeria. After a nine-month strike in Kabylie, a Tamazight-speaking region, the government agreed to set up a High Commission for Tamazight, charged with the task of overseeing the teaching of Tamazight in schools and introucing it into the media and wider artistic creation. This was at the height of the political crisis in the country. Concerned with its own survival and needing the support of Kabylie to fight Islamist terrorism, the then government gave in. But once the authorities gained the hand over the Islamists, they froze the work of the High Commission of Tamazight, broke their promises, and proceeded with the generalization of the use of the Arabic language in all public spheres, including political rallies and meetings by political parties in 1998.

In spite of this setback, Tamazight is alive even in the hearts of the Algerian Arab-speakers who have realized its importance and its place in the future of the country. Despite the pan-Arabist ideology of the Algerian régime, many Algerians have great enthusiasm for learning Tamazight: they have become aware that there is no real democracy if one basic dimension of one’s identity is denied.

Is Tamazight in danger today? The answer, more than ever, is Yes, for two reasons.

The first is the duplicity of the authorities. On the one hand they pay lip service to the demands of Berber supporters by repeatedly recalling the constitutional “recognition” of Amazaghity as one of the components of national identity; but they leave the matter there, doing nothing serious or concrete to implement genuine rehabilitation of this heritage; instead, they give in continually to the rising “moderate Islamic” parties in the ruling coalition who are known for their inherent prejudice against Tamazight.

The second reason is the division in the Berber Cultural Movement, spearhead of the Tamazight revivalists: it is split between supporters of two rival Berber-based political parties, the Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy. The authories are well aware of this internal conflict in the movement, a split which tends to make the official line look much better.

Nevertheless, Tamazight enthusiasts continue their work, teaching and researching despite poor conditions, deprived of funds and necessary infrastructure. Makeshift independent schools are sprouting in villages and towns, run by voluntary teachers and associations. Their idealism and work cannot be written off by a simple piece of legislation. For a language whose recorded history alone tells of survival through thousands of years of foreign invasions and domination, the prospect must be good.

Mapuche Rights Threatened in Chile

This is a follow-up to the statement of Mr Mariqueo to the UN Commission on Human Rights which appeared in the last Ogmios.

Document presented by Mr Mariqueo on behalf of
Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
16th Period of Sessions 27-31 July 1998
Item 4 of the Agenda

Review of developments pertaining to the promotion and protection of humanrights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

Madam Chair, firstly, allow me to congratulate you, in the name of my organisation, on yourre-election as chair of the Working Group. Your broad experience andcommitment to the cause of human rights guarantees us, as always, a successfulconference in this 16th Period of Sessions. We welcome this opportunity toaddress the distinguished members of the Working Group and all of attending this important assembly.

Madam Chair, the annexation, through the use of force, of the Mapuche nation'sterritory by the states of Chile and Argentina caused all kinds of conflictamongst our people. Now in Chile the repercussions of this annexation areevident and the present-day Chilean government still fails to provide a legalsolution or historic compensation. Many Mapuche communities in the so calledRegion of Araucania demand the return of those territories appropriatedillegally by latifundistas (big land owners), which are now in the hands offorestry companies; territories which the Mapuche have never renounced and theMapuche, today fully aware of their rights, ask for a fair and equitablesolution. Mapuche communties and timber companies are locked in legal battlesover the ownership of more than 80,000 hectares of land in the VIII and IXregions and many of these cases have gone to court, but the courts have neverruled in favour of the affected communities.

The lack of protection for the property rights of the ancestral lands and thelack of justice has forced the Mapuche to protest actively, although non-violently. These protests have been violently suppressed by the Chileanauthorities. At the end of 1997 and the beginning of the current year, theauthorities introduced the Law of Internal Security of the State and Antiterrorist Law in five communes of the Mapuche region; a repressive law of themilitary regime which the authorities had previously condemned but now do nothesitate to apply with all the rigour of the law against the Mapuche. Thepolice together with antiterrorist forces mounted an impressive policeoperation, spreading terror in the peaceful and vulnerable communities of theregion. During October 1997 and into this year 87 people have been arrestedamong them women and children from the cities of Temuco, Malleco, Arauco,Angol and Santiago.

On the 16th of December, a peaceful demonstration in Santiago was violentlydisbanded by the Chilean police who attacked the demonstrators both physicallyand verbally through racist insults. Five Mapuches were injured and 16arrested.

According to the testimony of the young Mapuche Juan Carlos Reinao he was heldunder arrest for 7 days incomunicado (in spite of the Chilean law whichstipulates that people can be held for no more than five days) during whichtime he suffered inhuman and degrading treatment.

Madam Chair, in 1994 our sister Florinda Cheuquepan (who sadly died in 1997)informed the Working Group with optimism of the advances that Chile had madewith regards to the indigenous legislation through the publication of the law19,253 of 1993, in which norms of protection, promotion and development of theindigenous peoples were established. At the same time she warned that thereneeded to be a real commitment on the part of the government for theapplication and execution of the law and added because we know that howeverattractive the letter of the law is, if it does not come into being the wordsare meaningless. This is exactly what has happened in Chile with theindigenous law, norms such as those relating to the introduction ofmulticultural and bilingual education, the protection of the ownership oflands and waters, the prohibition of racial discrimination, among others, havenot only not been implemented but systematically violated by the governmentitself.

The development and infrastructure projects, such as the privatisation ofwater, the construction of highways and hydroelectric projects are carried outwithout the consent of the affected communities. This in clear contraventionof the indigenous law which states in article 13 that indigenous lands, by thedemands of national interest, enjoy the protection of this law and cannot bealienated, seized, taxed nor acquired by force except amongst indigenouscommunities or persons of the same ethnic group. It is important to note theirreversible effects that the construction of Ralco Dam will have for both theMapuche-Pewenche communities and for the environment of the whole region ofthe Alto Bio Bio.

We wish to make it absolutely clear that we the Mapuche do not opposedevelopment but we want equitable, sustainable and harmonious development withrespect for our rights and ancestral cultural values and development fromwhich we are not excluded.

Finally we demand the constitutional recognition of the Mapuche people and theratification of ILO Convention 169 by the Chilean government.

Thank you,

Reynaldo Mariqueo
International Relations Coordinator
Mapuche Inter-regional Council

Mapuche International Link
6 Lodge Street, Bristol BS1 5LR, England.
Tel/Fax: +44-117-9279391
E-mail: Mapulink(at)