SANTIAGO, Chile – President Michelle Bachelet on Friday asked for forgiveness from Chile's largest indigenous group for what she said were "errors and horrors" committed by the Chilean state over the years.
Bachelet also announced plans to provide more resources to the Mapuche community, including financing for infrastructure projects. She said she also would send a bill to Congress calling for creation of a Cabinet ministry for Chile's indigenous peoples.
"I want to ask for forgiveness of the Mapuche people for the errors and horrors that have been committed or tolerated by the state in our relationship with them," Bachelet said in announcing her plans at the presidential palace.
"Since the beginning of our republic, the identity, culture, territory and livelihood of the Mapuche were not safeguarded as they should have," Bachelet said.
She said for more than 150 years, Chile's indigenous peoples have been scorned and discriminated against.
Mapuche means "people of the land" in their native Mapudungun tongue. They resisted the Spanish conquest for 300 years, until military defeats in the late 19th century forced them into Araucania, south of the Bio Bio river, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of the capital.
The government then encouraged European immigrants to colonize the area. Most of the 700,000 Mapuche are poor and often have no access to education, many of them living on the fringes of timber companies or ranches owned by the Europeans' descendants. But their desire for autonomy remains strong.
A radical faction of the Mapuche have occupied and burned forestry sites, farms, churches and lumber trucks to demand the return of ancestral territories.
Police in riot gear have also been accused of violent abuses, including storming into Mapuche homes during raids and shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at women and children.