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NATIVE PEOPLE Indigenous People

Native people from Patagonia

Earliest indigenous communities

There is controversy about the authentic native peoples of Patagonia. Currently we tend to think that the Mapuches were, but actually the story is somewhat different.

The Araucanians, today called Mapuches arrived in Argentina back in 1830, when the Nation Argentina was already independent and sovereign.

The first group was about 100 Indians led by Yanquetruz came from Chile. They settled in Neuquen and from there they spread south and north. When installed in the territory of Neuquen, they annihilated the Tehuelches who were the real natives of northern Patagonia. Araucanian Indians were traditionally very warriors.

Aónikenk or Tehuelches


The Tehuelche people is the generic name given to a group of Amerindian tribes indigenous to Patagonia and the southern pampas regions of Argentina and Chile.

Tehuelche is a Mapudungun word meaning "Fierce People". They were also called Patagons (“big feet”) by Spanish explorers, who found large footprints made by the tribes on the Patagonian beaches. These large footprints were actually made by the guanaco leather boots that the Tehuelche used to cover their feet.

It is possible that the stories of the early European explorers about the Patagones, a race of giants in South America, are based on the Tehuelche, because the Tehuelche were typically tall, taller than the average European of the time. According to the 2001 census [INDEC], 4300 Tehuelche lived in the provinces of Chubut and Santa Cruz, and an additional 1637 in other parts of Argentina. Some Tehuelche were assimilated into Mapuche groups over the years.


The Tehuelche people have a history of over 14,500 years in the region, based on archeological findings. Their pre-Columbian history is divided in three main stages: a stage with highly-sized rock tools, a stage where the use of bolas prevailed over the peaked projectiles, and a third one of highly complex rock tools, each one with a specific purpose. The nomadic lifestyle of Tehuelches left scarce archeological evidence of their past.

They were hunter-gatherers living as nomads. During the winters they lived in the lowlands, catching fish and shellfish. During the spring they migrated to the central highlands of Patagonia and the Andes Mountains, where they spent the summer and early fall, and hunted game. Although they developed no original pottery, they are well known for their cave paintings.

The Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. On March 31, 1520, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed and made contact with the Tehuelche people. The Spanish never colonized their lands, with the exception of some coastal settlements and a few missions. It took more than 300 years before the Argentine government occupied the southern Patagonia


As nomads, the Tehuelche lived with limited possessions, as they had to move across long distances. Their rock tools were usually made of obsidian or basalt, as those rocks were malleable but not so soft that they broke too easily. Those rocks, however, could be found in only certain parts of Patagonia, so the Tehuelche had to make long journeys to renew their supplies.

The Tehuelche hunted many species in the Patagonia, including whales, sea mammals, small rodents and sea birds; their main prey was guanacos and Rheas. Both species were usually found at the same places, as the rheas eat the larvae that grow in the guanaco's manure. Everything from the guanaco was used by the Tehuelche: the meat and blood were used for food, the fat to grease their bodies during winter, and the hide to make clothing and canopies. The Tehuelches also gathered fruits that grew during the Patagonian summer. Those fruits were the only sweet foods in their diet



The Mapuche people were the first inhabitants of half of the area toda known as Chile and Argentina.

Before the Spanish arrived in 1541, the Mapuche occupied a vast territory in the A Southern Cone of the continent and the population numbered about two million.

At present they number approximately 1.5 million (constituting over 10% of the total population) in Chile, and two hundred thousand in Argentina.

The Mapuche nation now constitute the third largest indigenous society in South America.


A century after their arrival, the Spanish signed the Treaty of Quillin (1641) which defined frontiers with the Mapuche nation. With the defeat of the Spanish by the newly formed states of Argentina and Chile in 1810, the original treaties of 1641 were abrogated.

The new Republics instigated treaties leading to the gradual takeover of the Mapuche territory. Under the pretext of promoting civilization and Christianity, the Mapuche people suffered territorial conquest, military aggression and persecution resulting in the destruction of entire communities.

At the end of the 19th century Chilean and Argentinian armies seized the Mapuche territory, a dispossession recorded in Chilean history as the APacification of the Araucanian, and in Argentina as the ACampaign of the Desert.

The Mapuche nation was finally defeated by both armies in 1885 and many people were either killed or forced from their homes to live impoverished lives in small rural communities and in the cities. During this campaign many children were taken from their families and given to white people to be trained as servants.

Indigenous peoples and the United Nations

Indigenous peoples are not recognized as People under international laws, and the UN denies any participation in the decision making process concerning their lives.

However, in 1982 a Working Group on Indigenous Populations was created, with the main objective of elaborating a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and is today under review by the Member States at the Human Rights Commission of the UN.

The Mapuches in Europe

In May 1996 The Mapuche International Link (MIL) was launched in Bristol, U.K.. MIL was launched by a group of South American Indians and by Europeans concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. It aims to spread awareness of the indigenous people of Chile and Argentina and to emphasize the contribution they make to the rich cultural diversity of the world.

This will be achieved through exhibitions, publications, regular visits to European conferences and communications with other Mapuche organisations throughout Chile and Argentina - as well as other indigenous peoples of the world.

It will contribute to the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Peoples and work to enable and empower indigenous peoples to participate in their own development process. Whilst achieving greater levels of self-determination.

In response, a growing number of indigenous peoples organisations and chiefs of rural communities, have been formed throughout Chile and Argentina. Together with Mapuche living in Europe, they are seeking ways to express the anxieties and concerns of a nation, with its own cultural heritage, language, beliefs, history, way of life and world-vision, which is in danger of disappearing.


Beatriz Pichi Malen - Lullaby "Canción para dormir a un niño"

Tradional moving song from one of the original tribes of Patagonia the mapuche.


The Tehuelches lived in the region separating the Strait of Magellan and the Rio Negro. They used only dogs for hunting at first, and they began to hunt on horseback at the turn of the nineteenth century. They used the bow and arrow and the 'boleadores' as hunting implements and lived on guanaco and rhea meat. They also ate some plant food, though they didn't farm the land. Before the Spanish conquest, there were about four thousand Tehuelches in Patagonia. But they were defeated by the Spaniards and gradually assimilated into the culture of European settlers. By the mid-twentieth century, their number had fallen to fewer than a hundred, and only a few dozen continue to uphold their traditional way of life.

Aónikenk: tehuelches

The conquest of the "desert" and the extermination of most of tehuelche people. The creation of indigenous reserves and the impact on the daily lives of its inhabitants. Kamusu Aike, Tehuelche Reserve and its current situation. Forgetting society and the struggle of the people for the ownership of the land where they are from 100 years ago