People of the land without land: A Socio-demographic study of Mapuche Poverty

Open Access
Ader, David Russell
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 06, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Leif Jensen, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Leland Luther Glenna, Committee Member
  • Anouk Patel, Committee Member
  • Stephen Matthews, Committee Member
  • Mapuche
  • Indigenous Poverty
  • Indigeneity
  • Chile
  • Ethnic Identity
In recent decades the international community has become more interested in the plight of the world’s indigenous peoples. Defined simply in the Latin American context as people who are descendent from those who lived in the Americas prior to colonization, past research shows disproportionately high levels of poverty within indigenous communities. Latin America is home to scores of different indigenous groups, and prevailing research confirms high poverty levels, and their origin in limited access to education and employment, discrimination, and legacies of spatial segregation and marginalization. This research provides an in-depth exploration of poverty among the Mapuche people in Chile. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group in Chile, numbering some 1.5 million, and yet the literature lacks a full appraisal of poverty among them. Historically, they have been relatively isolated in agricultural communities and reservations, and evince a high prevalence of economic deprivation. This becomes problematic for a nation state known for an impressive pace of economic development. Indeed, Chile has experienced significant economic growth in the past few decades since the introduction of neoliberal economic policies. The claim is that poverty has been decreasing over that period for everyone including indigenous people. The continuing existence of Mapuche poverty calls into question the prevailing economic policy. It also suggests some groups may require special support to benefit from economic growth. However, some politicians in Chile deny the existence of indigenous people, suggesting a homogenous Chilean population, and discount the need for special attention to indigenous poverty. This dissertation seeks to shed light on the problem of Mapuche poverty within the larger context of indigenous inequality. It uses a mixed-method approach. First, descriptive and multivariate statistical techniques are used to analyze nationally representative household survey data from the 2006 National Survey of Socioeconomic Characteristics, in order to provide a comparative understanding of the prevalence and etiology of poverty. Second, over fifty qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with Mapuche individuals as well as key informants who work for national agencies mandated to address indigenous problems, so as to probe more deeply into the nature of poverty and changes in indigenous identity. The quantitative results confirm higher poverty prevalence among the Mapuche when compared to Chileans who do not identify as indigenous, a disadvantage that holds regardless of whether poverty is measured in absolute or relative terms. Multivariate analysis suggests this disadvantage is accounted for in part by human capital deficits, greater levels of employment hardship, rural residence and other factors. When poverty is defined in relative terms, the detrimental impact of being Mapuche obtains even with all covariates controlled. The quantitative results offer a generalizable portrait of poverty among the Mapuche, but necessarily relies on pre-determined conceptualizations and operationalizations of concepts as basic as “poverty” and “indigeneity.” In-depth interviewing was used to interrogate these ideas more deeply, to assess their relevance for the Mapuche people, and to hold the quantitative results up against their lived realities in both rural and urban areas. The qualitative results show that people understand poverty both in absolute and relative terms. Poverty is conceptualized by respondents as a lack of income and ability to participate in the consumer-based culture. Although lifestyles vary between urban and rural areas, respondents also associate poverty with not being able to afford the lifestyle they feel they should have relative to those around them. Discussions of poverty led to broader discussions of values and well-being showing an increasing worry among Mapuche respondents about economic growth and the loss of community and Mapuche lifeways.