Ottawa, ON – (August 8, 2011) Métis National Council President, Clément Chartier, returned to Canada today from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) where the Indigenous people are locked in a land rights and self-determination conflict with the government of Chile. In the past few months, the small island in the Pacific, about 2,355 miles west of mainland Chile, has seen violent conflict between the Rapa Nui Nation and Chilean police forces and SWAT teams that began arriving from the mainland last September.
Clan members, their leaders and representatives of their organization, as well as the Rapa Nui Parliament have faced violent evictions from several sites in their ancestral territories, which they have began re-occupying on July 31, 2010.
“The bravery of the Rapa Nui people and the Clan leaders in face of the repressive armed forces and police of Chile is truly a testament to their determination to secure their rights to land and self-government” stated President Chartier who was part of a four person Observer Mission to Rapa Nui and the Chilean capital of Santiago from July 31 to August 7.
In 1888, the Rapa Nui Nation entered into a Treaty with Chile and its territory was annexed. Several years later its citizens were rounded up and interred in a concentration-like camp surrounded by barbed wire fencing, reducing their living space to a small fraction of their small 63 square mile island. Hardship ensued as the Rapa Nui were not allowed to fish or use the rest of the island for harvesting and spiritual practices, and no medical services were provided.
In 1933 Chile registered Rapa Nui (Easter Island) as part of Chile, and did not allow the Rapa Nui people to leave their enclosure until 1966, the year legislation was enacted making them citizens of Chile. Since that year the traditional territory of the Rapa N ui was under the control of the Chilean State. In recent years, the 36 Clans of Rapa Nui have been reclaiming their ancestral lands, including property taken by the government to house its officials or for hotels. The government of Chile has been promoting the Island as a tourist destination and has designated 46% of the Island as a national park. There are currently about 4,500 Rapa Nui citizens.
In December 2010 violent evictions took place, and while no one was killed, many Rapa Nui received serious gunshot wounds, left two deep-sea divers blinded, and others severely maimed. With worldwide attention on the conflict, and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) issuing a Precautionary Measure on behalf of the Rapa Nui Parliament and 36 Clans, the situation has stabilized somewhat while the issues are being addressed.
Joining Chartier in the Observer Mission were Nin Tomas, a Maori Law Professor from New Zealand, Alberto Chirif, an anthropologist from Peru and Forrest Young, a professor from Hawaii. They were part of a larger delegation from the Washington, DC-based Indian Law Resource Center and Observatorio Ciudadano of Chile, both of which have been acting as advocates for the Rapa Nui Nation. While on the island, the two organizations sponsored a two-day workshop on land rights and self-determination with the leaders of the Rapa Nui Parliament, Clan leaders and members and the Makenu Re’o Rapa Nui women’s organization.
Those participating in the workshop were clear in their aspirations for land rights, self-government, and the need to curb migration of Chileans to the island, as the Rapa Nui people will become a minority in their homeland if migration is left unchecked. Meetings between the Observer Mission and government and judicial officials also took place at Rapa Nui.
Two days of meetings then took place in Santiago on the mainland with elected and staff representatives of the government and congress, as well as the National Institute for Human Rights. The mission concluded with a well-attended meeting at the University of Chile where the delegation had an opportunity to provide information on the legal and political developments being pursued to deal with the conflict.
“The Métis Nation stands in solidarity with the Rapa Nui Nation’s struggle to achieve their right to their traditional territory, and to the exercise of their right of self-determination in whatever form they so choose to exercise it” stated Chartier. “It is their birthright”.