Articulating Indigenous Rights Amidst Territorial Fragmentation: Small Hydropower Conflicts in the Puelwillimapu, Southern Chile
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation examines the recognition of Indigenous territorial rights amidst the development of small hydropower in the Puelwillimapu Territory, which traditionally spans the Ríos and Lagos regions of southern Chile. Around the world, small hydropower (internationally defined as generating between 1-10 megawatts, in Chile defined as generating 20 megawatts or less) is embraced as a more sustainable alternative to large reservoir hydropower in the transition to renewable energy. However, growing scholarship recognizes that small hydropower can create significant social and ecological impacts. This ethnographic and institutional research collaboratively examines small hydropower impacts in the Puelwillimapu, providing a process-oriented analysis of how Indigenous rights are recognized, and small hydropower is developed. A collaborative research approach with the Alianza Territorial Puelwillimapu, a Mapuche-Williche ancestral alliance, examines rights, conflicts, and small hydropower impacts. Research traces how small hydropower affects Puelwillimapu physical and spiritual territory. This approach emphasizes how to blend participatory mapmaking among other methods with Trawun, a traditional form of meeting of the Mapuche Pueblo. Ultimately, analysis centers on encounters between the two clashing logics in small hydropower conflicts: Chilean institutions and Mapuche-Williche cosmovision. As the five case studies analyzed here demonstrate, regulating small hydropower by megawatt is inadequate for preventing the repercussions experienced in Mapuche territory. Small hydropower’s careless boom also signals that, paradoxically, small hydropower has too much regulation to be easily developed, but not enough to safeguard Indigenous rights or environmental protection. The regulatory design of the Environmental Impact Assessment process is incapable of upholding ILO Convention 169 standards, an international treaty for Indigenous rights ratified by Chile in 2008. Contrary to the official tendency to explain environmental management as a technical process, this dissertation explains recurring politics involved in small hydropower development and conflict. In scoping for the Environmental Assessment process, private consultancy companies enact a divisive politics of recognition, which furthers a historical pattern of territorial fragmentation in Mapuche territory. Second, a politics of knowledge is evident in how knowledge is recognized and produced in the Environmental Assessment process. Private consultancy groups are granted an interpretive role in the assessment process, underestimating environmental impacts while creating enduring social divisions in Mapuche-Williche communities. Inaccurate and limited scientific data is privileged over ancestral knowledge that suggests small hydropower exacerbates climate vulnerabilities such as seasonal drought. In response, the Alianza Territorial Puelwillimapu articulates a politics of scale through combining territorial mobilization and formal administrative and legal action. They seek justice in Chilean institutions in part by demanding that they be consulted at the scale of territory. As attempts for conflict resolution and dialogue continue to fall short of protecting territorial rights, the international realm becomes a more viable alternative for rights recognition. Broadly, this work contributes to geographic questions involving critical cartography, collaborative methodologies, water governance, and the transition to renewable energy. It aims to inform international scholarship on small hydropower regulation and impacts, and Indigenous rights recognition.
Degree ProgramGraduate College