The Reche-Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of present-day south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious, and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Their influence once extended from Aconcagua Valley to Chiloé Archipelago and spread later eastward to the Argentine pampa, at one point ruling most of Patagonia. Today the collective group makes up over 80% of the indigenous peoples in Chile, and about 9% of the total Chilean population. The Mapuche are particularly concentrated in the Araucanía region. Many have migrated from rural areas to the cities of Santiago and Buenos Aires for economic opportunities.
The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organization consists of extended families, under the direction of a lonko or chief. In times of war, the Mapuche would unite in larger groupings and elect a toki (meaning "axe, axe-bearer") to lead them. Mapuche are known for the textiles woven by women, which have been goods for trade for centuries, since before the arrival of European explorers and colonists.
At the time of Spanish arrival, the Araucanian Mapuche inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Toltén rivers. South of there, the Huilliche and the Cunco lived as far south as the Chiloé Archipelago. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mapuche groups migrated eastward into the Andes and pampas, fusing and establishing relationships with the Poya and Pehuenche. At about the same time, ethnic groups of the pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranquel and northern Aonikenk, made contact with Mapuche groups. The Tehuelche adopted the Mapuche language and some of their culture, in what came to be called Araucanization, during which Patagonia came under effective Mapuche suzerainty.
Mapuche in the Spanish-ruled areas, specially the Picunche, mingled with Spanish during the colonial period, forming a mestizo population and losing their indigenous identity. But Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent until the late nineteenth century, when Chile occupied Araucanía and western Patagonia and Argentina conquered Puelmapu. Since then the Mapuche have become subjects, and then nationals and citizens of the respective states. Today, many Mapuche and Mapuche communities are engaged in the so-called Mapuche conflict over land and indigenous rights in both Argentina and in Chile.
Contemporary attitudes towards Mapuches on the part of non-indigenous people in Chile are highly individual and heterogeneous. Nevertheless, a considerable part of the non-indigenous people in Chile have a prejudiced and discriminatory attitude towards Mapuche. In a 2003 study it was found tha
Contemporary attitudes towards Mapuches on the part of non-indigenous people in Chile are highly individual and heterogeneous. Nevertheless, a considerable part of the non-indigenous people in Chile have a prejudiced and discriminatory attitude towards Mapuche. In a 2003 study it was found that among the sample 41% of people over 60 years old, 35% of people of low socio-economic standing, 35% of the supporters of right-wing parties, 36% of Protestants and 26% of Catholics were prejudiced against indigenous peoples in Chile. In contrast, only 8% of those who attended university, 16% of supporters of left-wing parties and 19% of people aged 18–29 were prejudiced. Specific prejudices about the Mapuche is that the Mapuches are slack and alcoholic, to some lesser degree Mapuche are sometimes judged antiquated and dirty.
In the 20th century many Mapuche women migrated to large cities to work as domestic workers (domestic workers (Spanish: nanas mapuches). In Santiago many of these women settled in Cerro Navia and La Pintana. Sociologist Éric Fassin has called the occurrence of Mapuche domestic workers a continuation of colonial relations of servitude.
Historian Gonzalo Vial claimed that the Republic of Chile owes a "historical debt" to the Mapuche. The Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco claims to have the goal of a "national liberation" of Mapuche, with their regaining sovereignty over their own lands. Reportedly there is a tendency among female Mapuche activists to reject feminism as they consider their struggle to go beyond gender.