For centuries, the Mapuche people successfully defended their territory and culture against incursions first by the Spanish Empire and later by the Republics of Chile and Argentina. Highly successful on the battlefield, the Mapuche are the only native people in the Americas to have forced the Spanish Crown to sign treaties with them, recognizing the inviolability of their historic territories. Through the centuries, many treaties between the Mapuche people and the foreign invaders recognized the sovereign rights of the Mapuche people to live as they chose in the lands their people had occupied since time immemorial.
In the 19th century, facing a new challenge from the young and expanding Republics of Chile and Argentina, the Mapuche people -- upon the advice of Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, a French lawyer living among them -- decided to federate their various tribes into a modern western-style state. Their hope was the same as it had been for centuries -- to continue to govern themselves and control their lands as a free people, unmolested by foreign invaders. Using traditional Mapuche councils, the chieftains decided in favor of a forming a liberal constitutional monarchy, modeled on the Empire of France under Napoleon III. On November 17, 1860, the Kingdom of Araucania was declared and Orelie-Antoine de Tounens was elected as king by a parliament of chieftains meeting in Araucania. Three days later, in a council with Mapuche chieftains from Patagonia, the entire expanse of Mapuche territory, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, was incorporated into the newborn Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia.
The dream, though it was earnest, was short-lived. Military intervention by the Republic of Chile resulted in the capture of King Orelie-Antoine I. Later, military intervention by the Republic of Argentina prevented the king from returning to the kingdom.
Though it is poorly-known and often misunderstood or misrepresented, the story of the Mapuche people and Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia is marked by tremendous heroism and courage against all odds. The kingdom no longer exists, and the control of Mapuche territory by the Republics of Chile and Argentina is undisputed, yet the story is worth remembering and celebrating because it encapsulates the desire of a free people to remain free. The history of the Americas -- both North and South -- has been the tragic tale of native people in retreat in the face of the onslaught of European invasion. The hands of time will never turn back to those days when Mapuche warriors rode proud and free across their own territories. But no one with any human feeling in their heart could fail to be stirred by the historic memory of these remarkable people.
For a brief introduction to the history of the kingdom, two articles written by Chilean writers -- one white and one Mapuche -- are very helpful.