MAPLE Field Update: A Turning Point

By: Alison Guzman and Ignacio Krell

Graciela, Vicky and Pedro, the three members who received the first loans to support their initiatives.

Graciela, Vicky and Pedro, the three members who received the first loans to support their initiatives.

These are extraordinary times. 

They are also times when new models can have considerable impact. The rainy first moon of this Mapuche Year (which begins with each Winter Solstice) has been the foundational moment for the first Mapuche savings and loans association - or better, as defined by its founding members, the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo Llaguepulli. This institution, with the support of MAPLE’s mission of catering to communities through microdevelopment, is in the last phase of being fully managed by the community themselves.

Alas, this is no ordinary savings and loans group. This Mapuche community bank is deeply rooted in mutual support, pooling together assets to build access to resources and to overcome financial barriers to Mapuche self-development.  For the Lafkenche Lof of Llaguepulli, the search for culturally appropriate institutions is the culmination of an entire Mapuche generation’s struggle for their rights as indigenous peoples; a struggle that also encompasses creating the nation’s first Mapuche-managed school in 2005, not to mention the recovery of some of their lands in the region. 

A little over a year now has passed since MAPLE stepped into these lands, eager to take upon the challenge of co-creating a Mapuche managed savings and groups association with cultural and environmental benchmarks. Thanks to The Bay and Paul Foundations, The International Foundation, First Peoples Worldwide, and individual donors like yourselves, we have been able to make this happen.

Through 6-months field research and broad community outreach and dialogues in 2013, and discussing by-laws and reaching commitments  during the 4 months pre- implementation in 2014, our team has ensured that Lafkenche priorities are incorporated and monitored:

1) The strengthening of Az Mapu: Mapuche Traditional Authorities, into the governing principles.

2) Inclusiveness to all individuals, including those that cannot enter with monetary assets but can enter with animals, labor, and handicrafts. 

3) Supporting initiatives and instances respectful to Mapuche families, their Kimun (knowledge) and Itrofilmonguen (environment). 

4) Honoring the process of Mapuche self-determination, autonomy, and self-development.

On July 11th, the Grupo Apoyo Mutuo Llaguepulli gave out their first loans. By then, the group had saved together over 1,000,000 pesos, an amount that was divided up into loans for initiatives, and loans for emergency loans.

It was a happening moment really. Nearly all 24 members showed up, many of them brought their family members and children with them. The team’s Mapuche managers (Fresia, Nadia, Silvia, and Viviana) each made traditional Mapuche bread in the ashes of a ruka fire. Fruits, jams, and cheese were shared. And, such as in traditional homes and meetings, the typical practice of the mate drink was passed counterclockwise, ensuring that no one was left out. The fireplace was fully lit, keeping the room warm during the windy and rainy winter evening. A space of comfort, intimacy, and inclusion indeed.

Headed by the Longko (traditional chief), the Group’s Resolution Council, provided reassertion of the ever-more-important role of Mapuche norms (Az Mapu) and self-determination, paving the way towards the signing of the agreed-upon by-laws by all members present. Soon afterwards the evaluation of proposals for this year’s Initiative Support Loans could proceed.

The evaluation process was designed to incorporate Mapuche ways: through oral expressions both in Mapudungun and Spanish. But to ensure thorough and transparent evaluation, MAPLE’s management team also prepared a list of questions that was available to the members prior to this meeting. In this way, not only was the member able to make a proposal based on his or her personal and family needs, but also able to touch upon issues relevant to the community as a whole. 

The 3 proposals brought forth by members were carefully thought out and relevant to the community: Two Araucania chicken hen houses- the famous chickens that originate in the region and are known for their blue eggs; and a greenhouse where organic vegetables could be grown and sold locally or given through trafkintu (gift exchange). After reaching final consensus, the group decided to make the Initiative Support Loans available to all three proposals, dedicating more funds to the person who had prepared and provided the best proposal. The evaluation process also proved to be inclusive of diversity: two women and a young man, all three from different generations including a Papay or elder.

A key result of a participatory institutional design was that, guided by the Longko and the management team, the assembly was able to ask beneficiaries to commit to environmental and cultural safeguards: i.e. using organic feed; not using pesticides, and reusing organic waste. Thus, the henhouses will breed rare native Araucano chickens, and produce eggs and meat, not only for local market and tourism supply, but also for Trafkin, or “giftexchange” within the Llaguepulli community, a key mechanism for biodiversity and economic resilience.

After a moment of gratitude, speeches, and job-well-done, community leaders and members expressed the importance of the project and how relevant it is for their vision of their community. Through the solemn presence of Az Mapu, this project is already strengthening the local economy and creating new linkages while asserting Mapuche self-determination.

After all, this is perhaps the first time in a long time the community has had the power to choose together where to invest their financial resources.

A Look Into The Future

We have reached a turning point and a lot of work is yet to be done.  Weekly meetings with the Llaguepulli team continue to take place, as we transition into a very important component of the project: communications and strategic planning.

The Llaguepulli team envisions a future where thier voices will become ever stronger in telling the story of thier Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo Llaguepulli.  They are planning a Trafkintu event in the community inviting friends, family and neighboring communities.  In this way, they can share more information about the project to close family and friends in neighboring communities.  We are also discussing ideas on how to develop strategic communications more broadly through a micro-documentary.  

We feel honored as part of MAPLE by the responsibility to ensure they garner the support needed.