The Big Picture

The Mapuche and the Myth of Chile

As Chile struggles to agree on a new constitution, The Big Picture examines whether old prejudices against Indigenous people still hold the key to its future.

In September 2022, following three years of widespread protests against crippling economic inequality, the people of Chile went to the polls to vote “Yes” or “No” for a new constitution. It would be the most progressive constitution ever proposed for any nation in history, recognising, among other things, the nationhood of the Mapuche – Chile’s largest Indigenous group.

But Chile voted “No”.

Various explanations have been put forward as to why a constitution that promised unparalleled rights, representation and protections for women, the LGBTQ+ community, the environment and long-marginalised Indigenous groups, failed to get the majority approval of the Chilean people. But at the dark heart of this refusal is a long-cultivated truth about the country’s relationship with the Mapuche, namely: Chile’s problem with race.

Using the fallout from the 2022 “No” vote, this film examines how race and racism have shaped the myths used to forge the nation of Chile from the early 19th century to the present day. It sets out the path for this racialised legacy and mythmaking to emerge as a primary driver in rejecting the proposed new constitution, and shows how unprecedented land rights suggested for the Mapuche, as well as defining Chile as a “plurinational” country made up of diverse nations, helped trigger a deeply embedded wariness of Indigenous peoples among Chile’s majority population. It is, as we discover, a wariness inculcated across four centuries of racial “othering”, marginalisation and criminalisation of the Mapuche.

As Chile revises the proposed new constitution and removes recognition of various Indigenous rights, The Big Picture: The Mapuche and the Myth of Chile asks if this moment is the inevitable culmination of the country’s history, congealed around the racist foundational myths that have denied and dispossessed the Indigenous people who first inhabited its land.

Filmmaker: Sanjiev Johal

Photos courtesy of:
Penn Museum
Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda
Television Nacional de Chile
Collección Museo Histórico Nacional