Conflict between the Rapa Nui Nation, on what is known as Easter Island, and the Chilean government has escalated over the past year, and earlier this month Métis leader Clement Chartier was part of a four-person observer team sent by two human rights groups to assess the situation.
The Rapa Nui, who are descended from Polynesian settlers, are known for their statuary, the humongous stone figures arrayed around the island. Ravaged by Peruvian slave traders and other marauders throughout the 1800s, the population dwindled until at one point it was down to just a few hundred people from a high of a few thousand. Today they once again number 4,600, but they are worried about those numbers being dwarfed by immigration as Chileans and others move onto the island.
Virtually imprisoned on their own land from the late 1880s through 1966, when they were declared Chilean citizens, the original inhabitants of this 63-square-mile Polynesian island 2,355 miles west of the mainland were prevented from fishing, conducting spiritual practices and other activities integral to their livelihoods and well-being. Nor did they receive medical care, the MNC said in a statement.
More recently the Rapa Nui have been contending with Chilean SWAT teams and police, who descended last September, the MNC said. The 36 Rapa Nui clans—about 4,500 citizens in all—have been retaking their ancestral lands in recent years, even as the Chilean government works to attract tourism. With 46 percent of the island designated as a national park, the Rapa Nui have been occupying various buildings constructed on their territory.
In December 2010 Chilean authorities forcefully evicted them, the MNC said, seriously wounding and even maiming many. International outcry drew the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS), which issued a Precautionary Measure on behalf of the Rapa Nui Parliament and 36 clans, which bought them a little time to resolve the issues.
“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,” said Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, in a statement after the July 31–August 7 mission to Rapa Nui and Santiago.
The trip was organized by the Indian Law Resource Center out of Washington, D.C., and Observatorio Ciudadano of Chile. Chartier was joined on the mission by Nin Tomas, a Maori Law Professor from New Zealand, Alberto Chirif, an anthropologist from Peru, and Forrest Young, a professor from Hawaii. The team was part of a larger delegation from the two organizations, which both have been advocating for the Rapa Nui Nation.
On the island the groups sponsored a land-rights and self-determination workshop with the leaders of the Rapa Nui Parliament, clan leaders and members, and the Makenu Re’o Rapa Nui women’s organization, the MNC said.
“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,” the MNC release said.
In previous years the Rapa Nui were thought to have ruined their verdant, palm-tree-swathed island by overcutting. But a new book out on August 9 says otherwise, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Statues that Walked (Free Press/Simon & Schuster) argues convincingly that it was the Polynesian rat, which ate the seeds and shoots, that prevented new growth and thus caused the trees’ destruction.
“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,” Chartier said. “It is their birthright.”