One of the songs by the group Vlkatun Mapu ("Song of the Earth" in the Mapuzungun language) was about Guacolda, wife of Lautaro, the heroic "toqui" or military chief of the Mapuche nation in the 16th century.
As a child, Lautaro was a labourer for the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. From him he learned the war tactics and strategies that he used as a young man when he led his people’s fight against colonial domination.
Guacolda, too, was a warrior, and continued the resistance against Spanish oppression after Lautaro was slain. She remains in the collective memory of the Mapuches who, five centuries later, are still fighting -- with different weapons -- for autonomy and respect for their culture.
Araucania is home to 23.5 percent of the more than 600,000 people who identify themselves as belonging to the Mapuche nation, the main group of original people in Chile, accounting for nearly 90 percent of indigenous people in the country.
The Mapuches are an important part of the first social forum in this region, which opened Thursday and runs through Saturday in Temuco, the capital of Araucania. Nearly 40 civil society organisations are participating in the forum, which is sponsored by the Avina Foundation, the Chilean edition of the French publication Le Monde Diplomatique, and the University of the Frontier (Universidad de la Frontera).
Several Mapuche communities participated in organising the forum, and four panel discussions to make their situation better known are on the programme: Mapuche people, environment and biodiversity, democracy and participation, and economy and employment.
Also taking part are research and study centres, and organisations of environmentalists, women, workers, students and consumers, including Araucania Regional Agenda (AgRA), Native Forest Owners’ Network, Environmental Rights Action Network (RADA) and the Observatory of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.
"The Araucania region has the worst poverty and the lowest human development index in the country," Max Thomet, one of the coordinators of the forum, told IPS.
The purpose of the Araucania Social Forum is to provide an opportunity for the people of the region to meet and share their knowledge, thoughts and visions about their reality and experiences, the regional situation, and proposals and projects, the forum organisers said. Creating networks of social organisations is facilitated by these events.
According to the 2003 National Socioeconomic Survey (CASEN), 29 percent of Araucania’s 900,000 people live below the poverty line and 8.9 percent are extremely poor. "The free market development model that has been implemented in this country and in Araucania has not been successful," Thomet explained. He called on the Michelle Bachelet administration to put her promises about equality, decentralisation and institutional democratisation into practice.
"Our over-riding goal is to create a civil society agenda, a people’s agenda, and that implies meeting together in forums like this one," he said. In his opinion, the government’s agenda is set in coordination with the business sector, to the exclusion of most of the people.
"We want an agenda that is not centred solely on economic considerations," Thomet said, pointing out that present land use ordinances and development directives for the Araucania region are determined basically by tourism and financial interests. Araucania has a large forestry industry.
"The Araucania Social Forum is very important, because the region is both relevant and symbolic from every point of view, particularly because of its poverty and the Mapuche people," V?ctor Hugo de la Fuente, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique and one of the national Chile Social Forum organisers, told IPS. He was an invited speaker at the opening of the event on Thursday.
De la Fuente challenged participants to "think globally and a