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Mapuche Women Link Traditional Values to Take back their Economy

Indigenous women empowering themselves by re-connecting two dimensions - transferring cultural values while adopting new tools and opportunities- will create sustainable paths for their communities and territories, and for the planet.

Greetings from the Mapuche Ancestral Lands of Northern Patagonia, where our small MAPLE Chile team is based!

We work with Mapuche Native communities, renowned for their ceaseless struggle for justice and autonomy. Never conquered by the Spanish, nor fully assimilated to the Chilean dominant society, contemporary Native families and leaders confront the challenge of what it means to be Mapuche today: to what extent adopt global elements, and to what extent fight for what is rightfully theirs- their culture, their lands, their identity. Finding this balance is key for the cultural resilience of a Peoples.

MAPLE Microdevelopment is an Oregon-based nonprofit working in Mapuche-Lafkenche lands of Lake Budi in Southern Chile since 2013 to co-implement tools for indigenous self-management.

Today we are sharing one part of our work involving Mapuche women from Allipén Community’s Women Association, named “Kuzao Zomo” or “Women Entrepreneurs”. Together with the association, MAPLE Chile is developing a strong focus on women leadership in entrepreneurship- linking traditional knowledge and economy through culturally-relevant business plans, local value-chains, and financial mechanisms.

Traditionally, the Lafkenche (People of the Sea) of Lake Budi, situated by the Pacific Ocean, adopted complementary practices and skills to sustain their livelihoods, such as raising llamas and sheep, cultivating gardens with native foods such as quinoa and potatoes, and gathering medicines, foods, and fibers from the forests. Lafkenche women made it a priority to pass down through generations their exquisite textile tradition, including the knowledge of natural dyes from plants and lichens.

Women’s roles within the family economy has always been central in the Mapuche household, and we have found this to be true until this day, despite decades of cultural and environmental degradation that have caused hardship in their communities. Young Mapuche women and men are often pushed out due to loss of sustainable resource access, to find work as low-wage workers, fruit pickers, or nannies.

Many young women and mothers were not able to finish high-school, neither inherit their traditional language, ceremonies, and skills. Yet, these barriers have not stopped them from searching new paths as Mapuche women in the new global context. In fact, together with recovering their rights and identity, Kuzao Zomo’s women are eager to bring back old ways of weaving and dyeing, while adopting new tools and trends adding value to their work, empowering women in their communities, and in the broader regional economy. As Viviana Calfuqueo, the President of the Association says:

“Mapuche textiles are primarily the source of our economy as our own sustainability. And is it in itself a unique process: as it is all natural. It is something uniquely ours, because it comes from the bringing up of our own people, being linked to the raising of the sheep, the shearing of the wool, the washing and spinning of the wool, then to weaving. The work we complete is completely ours, and unique.”

Following this vision, MAPLE and our partners at Kuzao Zomo and the Allipén Community hope to enable sustainable growth of women-led cultural enterprises in Lake Budi, by working with them to design and implement tools for financing local value-chains, and enable mutual learning and quality control following culturally-appropriate protocols.

With continued support from The Bay and Paul Foundations, Keepers of the Earth Fund, and the Conant Family Foundation, among many others, Kuzao Zomo, together with MAPLE Chile, are currently completing the co-design stage of an innovative and uniquely Lafkenche set of cultural and financial management tools. These tools will enable the women to incorporate both their monetary and non-monetary assets, such as locally produced fiber and complementary skills, while teaching one another to raise quality standards and open new markets.

Lafkenche women are effectively revitalizing ways to contribute to their households and avoid outmigration- an enormous challenge confront by native communities worldwide. Most importantly, we are learning from the mothers, daughters and female leaders, that Mapuche women are key for future generations.

We have learned from them, that as People (Che) of the Earth (Mapu), the women of Kuzao Zomo are striving to hold on to and transmit the knowledge that all life belongs to Itrofillmonguen, a concept representing all interconnected diversity of life, to which their families belong.

Click on our Issuu link for additional photos!

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