Lesson Plan for People of Chile (1947)
Amy S. Fatzinger, Ph.D.
Message to Chileans by Elicura Chihuailaf Naheulpá (2009)
People of Chile dir. Clifford J. Kamen (1947)
Introduction to the Sources
The short film People of Chile, directed by Clifford J. Kamen in 1947 and the text Message to Chileans, published by Elicura Chihuailaf Naheulpá in 2009 share a common goal: introducing the relatively little-known Chilean peoples, customs, and lands to the outside world. In Message to Chileans, however, Chihuailaf includes non-Indigenous Chileans among those in the “outside world” who know little or nothing about the role of Indigenous peoples in Chile’s history or contemporary life. Although the film and text were created in different eras and are not directly in conversation with one another, examining the points of view they each represent reveals the ongoing cultural divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Chile that Chihuailaf seeks to bridge through his message to the Chilean people.
The Mapuche (“People of the Earth”) are the largest indigenous community in Chile. Mapuche identity is specifically and intimately connected to their traditional lands which now span both sides of the Chile-Argentina border. As Chihuailaf reveals in Message to Chileans, the “greatest wealth” of Mapuche people is in the Word—the Mapuzugun language (“Language of the Earth”)—and the ancient knowledge, sophisticated forms of expression, and relationships to the physical landscape that it embodies. Although Mapuche lands were invaded by the Incas during the 15th century and the Spanish in the 16th century, the Mapuche resisted the invasions and retained possession of a significant portion of their homelands, with the boundaries recognized in the Treaty of Quillin signed with the Spanish in 1641. Assaults against the Mapuche and their lands persisted, nevertheless, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and accelerated following Chile’s independence from Spain in 1810. The Mapuche presence was problematic for Chile’s development as a nation, as the Mapuche landholdings were not only desirable for agriculture, but essentially divided the long, narrow country into two sections. Mapuche lands had to be circumvented by sea, or crossed with special permission from the Mapuche. During the mid-19th century, the Chilean State resolved to take possession of Mapuche land holdings and did so by declaring their authority in Mapuche territory, stereotypically vilifying the Mapuche in public discourse, and systematically and violently invading Mapuche lands.
The Chilean State, however, did not acknowledge its role in the violent displacement of the Mapuche from their lands. In 1883, President Domingo Santa Maria informed the Chilean Congress that “the occupation of Araucanía had been achieved without ‘inflicting any harm upon the bellicose but now pacified inhabitants of those territories.’ According to Santa Maria ‘once aware that they would receive fair treatment’ the Mapuche were ‘persuaded of the futility of their struggle and gave themselves up, quietly trusting in the civilizing protection afforded by our laws.’” This deceptive version of Chilean history prevailed in schools and textbooks for more than a century, dispossessing the Mapuche from their lands as well as their political voice and role in Chilean history.
In 1990 newly elected President Patrico Aylwin established the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, a project dedicated to helping the country heal from the trauma of General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990). The Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and the Special Commission on Indigenous Peoples which followed, collected oral and written accounts of the atrocities suffered by Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and families throughout Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. The storytelling project aimed to help Chileans negotiate the fragile space between appropriately “remembering” and “forgetting” the harassment, repression, torture—and those who were disappeared. This process of assessing Chile’s recent history, or negotiating the “politics of memory,” was in itself fraught with complications regarding the Mapuche’s participation. The narratives collected from the Mapuche, nevertheless, revealed truths about human rights violations committed against the Mapuche people long before the Pinochet regime assumed power. As Chihuailaf points out, the stories following the Pinochet regime also document aspects of a shared experience between the Mapuche and other Chileans: the Mapuche endured “Pacification” through the Chilean State in 1873, and the rest of Chile experienced a similar “Pacification” through the Chilean military dictatorship beginning in 1973.
The Truth and Reconciliation project helped to reveal misinformation about Chile’s historic treatment of Mapuche people, and also opened dialogue about the role of the Mapuche in Chile’s present and future. The Chilean government responded to the revelation of truths about its past by acknowledging a debt to the Mapuche people, and subsequently passed laws to help protect Indigenous rights and lands. Mapuche activists, however, demonstrate how the government has failed to uphold its own laws regarding Indigenous rights, and has even criminalized Mapuche people who continue to fight for their land and rights. In 2001, the Commission for Historical Truth and New Treatment of Indigenous Peoples was established to continue to explore issues of the Mapuche’s role in the past and future in Chile. In the following year, Chile passed anti-terrorist laws that make it a crime for the Mapuche to use violence to protect their lands—a situation all too common as State-sponsored projects conflict with Mapuche land interests, and Chile’s own laws for protecting Indigenous lands are ignored. Contemporary Mapuche people often face the limited options of functioning as an “indio permitido” (one who has a small voice as an Indigenous person, but cannot challenge the State) or an “undeserving, dysfunctional, Other” who fights for indigenous rights but is punished by the State for doing so. Some Mapuche people have artfully created a third space in which they maintain an appearance of working within State-sanctioned spaces while actually empowering the Mapuche or facilitating opportunities for other activists.
The film People of Chile was made in 1947, during the century-long period in which Chile did not acknowledge the State’s role in the violent displacement of the Mapuche people. People of Chile, accordingly, celebrates the achievements of Chile’s immigrant population, highlighting the founding of Santiago, and Chile’s architecture, transportation, industry, and commerce. The Mapuche people—and the landscape which is integral to their language and identity—are only marginally mentioned. Chihuailaf’s Message to Chileans, however, was written in 1999, and published in English in 2009—after the 1990 Truth and Reconciliation project. Message to Chileans approaches Chilean history from a Mapuche point of view and respectfully and persuasively invites Chileans to stand in solidarity with the Mapuche in contemporary environmental issues that ultimately impact both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations of Chile.
- To introduce students to Mapuche cosmology, history, and contemporary issues from a Mapuche point of view.
- To introduce students to the Peoplehood Matrix, a model for understanding identity for Indigenous peoples at the community level.
- To expose students to the rhetoric used to oppress the Mapuche’s voice in Chilean history.
- To engage students in dialogue about the impact of geographic displacement on Indigenous community identity.
- To challenge students to propose solutions or compromises to ongoing environmental and Indigenous Human Rights issues in Chile.
Assign students to read Chihuailaf’s Message to Chileans outside of class. As the text seeks to systematically dispel misinformation about Chilean history and the Mapuche people, it would be helpful to introduce students to the Chile’s efforts to suppress Mapuche history until 1990 before they read Message to Chileans. If Chilean history is not already included in course content, the background information provided above, supplemented with additional history found at Mapuche International Link (http://www.mapuche-nation.org/english/main/feature/m_nation.htm ) is a starting place for providing the necessary context for students.
The film People of Chile (http://aifg.arizona.edu/film/people-chile) has a runtime of 0:20:48. Students may watch it in class, or as an assignment outside of class, as time permits.
In the article “Peoplehood: A Model for the Extension of Sovereignty in American Indian Studies,” Holm, et al. argue that there are four components essential to understanding identity in Indigenous Communities (language, place, sacred history, and ceremonial cycle). When diagrammed as follows, the interrelatedness of the four aspects of identity is evident:
In pairs, small groups, or as a class, have students organize information from Message to Chileans according to the four elements in the Peoplehood Matrix. The students should be able to find numerous examples from the text to support each category. After using the Peoplehood Matrix to map the content, students will have a visual diagram that emphasizes the interconnected relationships between language, place, sacred history, and ceremony in Mapuche cosmology.
Then, have students attempt to create a second Peoplehood Matrix, based on information revealed about Chilean national identity in the film People of Chile. This second matrix will be more difficult for students to complete because the film does not specifically address all aspects of the matrix. The incomplete information pertaining to Chilean identity, however, visibly emphasizes the different value systems of the two cultures.
Use the Peoplehood Matrixes (individually or in combination) as the basis for a discussion about issues raised in Message to Chileans and People of Chile.
Discussion Questions Related to Peoplehood Matrixes
1. How does the first Matrix emphasize the relationships between Mapuche traditional homelands and other aspects of Mapuche identity represented in the Matrix?
2. What does the information presented in the Matrix suggest about Mapuche values for issues concerning the community as a whole?
3. Discuss the potential effect on Mapuche identity when any one element of the Matrix is removed or disrupted. For example, how could other aspects of identity be impacted if a community is displaced from its homeland? How might a Mapuche community be impacted if it is no longer able to participate in ceremonies?
4. Which aspects of Chilean national identity are reflected in the second Matrix?
5. Which aspects of Chilean national identity are missing from the second Matrix? How might some blanks be filled in with information Chihuailaf includes in Message to Chileans?
6. How do the two Peoplehood Matrixes illustrate the disparate worldviews between the Mapuche and mainstream Chilean communities?
7. Are there any areas of common ground between the two Matrixes?
Additional Discussion Questions
1. Discuss how the landscape itself is portrayed in both the text and the film. What images of the land are evoked through each medium?
2. How would you describe the tone of the narrator in the film? Chihuailaf’s tone? How does the tone impact viewer/reader response to content?
3. In 1883, President Santa Maria informed the Chilean congress that the Mapuche people had cooperated in their own Pacification, and this false view of history prevailed for the next century. How does the film reinforce or perpetuate this misinformation? How does Chihuailaf challenge it?
4. The film title People of Chile suggests that the film will introduce the world to Chile’s citizens. How much screen time do “people” actually have in the film? Of the amount of time dedicated to people, how much is dedicated to Indigenous people?
5. How, specifically, are Chile’s Indigenous people portrayed in People of Chile? (Ex. Are they portrayed as victims? Romanticized warriors? Exotic spectacles? Do you see individuals or families? How are Indigenous people occupied?) Be as descriptive as you can.
6. Using your answer for Question #5 to support your answer, what message(s) about Chile’s Indigenous people do you think viewers would take away from this educational film? How do these messages about Indigenous people fit with Chile’s practice of oppressing Mapuche history for more than a century?
7. As Mapuche and other Chilean peoples move forward and work toward a new, inclusive national identity, should films such as People of Chile be “forgotten” or “remembered”? Why?
8. Charles Hale has suggested that Mapuche people are confined to two roles: the “indio permitido” or the “undeserving, dysfunctional, Other.” Which role do you think best describes Chihuailaf? Why do you think so?
9. How does Chihuailaf demonstrate that Mapuche cosmology is the basis of their resistance and demands for justice?
10. Based on evidence in Chihuailaf’s text, does it seem that contemporary Chileans have moved beyond the vision of their nation as seen in People of Chile? Discuss the evidence used to support your answer.
Choose one of the Mapuche environmental or human rights issues raised by Chihuailaf, and propose a compromise or solution, which respects Mapuche cosmology.
Write a screenplay for a new instructional film entitled People of Chile that includes the Mapuche in Chile’s national identity for the past, present, and future.
Chihuailaf Nahuelpán, Elicura. Message to Chileans. Victoria: Trafford, 2009.
Crow, Joanna. The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History. Gainesville: University of
Holm, Tom, J. Diane Pearson, and Ben Chavis. “Peoplehood: A Model for the Extension of
Sovereignty in American Indian Studies.” Wicazo Sa Review 18.1 (2003): 7-24.
Ray, Leslie. Language of the Land: The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile. Copenhagen:
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2007.
Rector, John L. The History of Chile. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003.
 Mapuche Region in Chile.
 Crow, Joanna. The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History. Gainesville: University of Forida, 2013. Pg 26.
 Charles Hale qtd. in Crow 186.
 Crow 186-7.