KDNK's Raleigh Burleigh Accompanies Indigenous Women's Movement in Argentina

Apr 11, 2019

Heartsong is an amalgamation of thought and audio: a poetic experiment with anthro-apologetic tendencies. In previous episodes, archived here, KDNK's Raleigh Burleigh recounted his journey South, renewing established connections in Chile and Argentina. The primary goal of this latest adventure was to learn about the Mapuche, a proud indigenous nation of the Southern Cone of South America. The word Mapuche translates literally as “People of the Earth.”

Pillañ Mahuiza
Credit Raleigh Burleigh

Often, since returning to my hometown of Carbondale, Colorado, I am asked, “how was it?” “Where did you go?”

 

How to describe the love that I feel for a distant culture and language, mostly unknown to the people of my home-valley? There is a noble fight to defend the life-sustaining forces of this planet. Beyond politics and new technology, it is grounded in an ancestral reverence that considers the interconnectedness of all life and the reciprocal exchanges thereof, fundamental to being human.

 

My self-assigned mission to Wallmapu, ancestral lands of the Mapuche, had brought me from the sweet and soft hamlet of La Ligua, Chile to the vibrant shadows of El Bolsón, Argentina. There, thanks to KDNK's generosity, I was able to deliver an aged, yet valued piece of equipment to community radio FM Alas.

 

For me, the gift was an act of reciprocity. It was Radio FM Alas that ignited within my soul the desire to be involved with community radio. With so many shady occurrences in and around El Bolsón, the vigilant voices of FM Alas have played a vital role in defense of the surrounding land and water for over three decades. The radio had also taken a serious hit when their landlord put their building on the market last year.

 

One day, while visiting the newly constructed, temporary station, a volunteer and DJ asked if I was receiving all that I had set out to achieve. I shared of my intention to connect with the Mapuche, this derived from my desire to take a glimpse outside of Western perception.. It so happens that Kio had been married to a Mapuche woman and a mother-figure of hers was organizing a Trawün, a gathering, calling for international observers and media to accompany her community. Moira Millán, a spiritual warrior, claimed political persecution and invited the sensitive of heart to learn of her fight.

 

Days later, I boarded an early and infrequent bus, hours from El Bolsón. Although I had written to Moira and received no response, I was determined to follow this lead. Nonetheless, I grew more anxious as the bus continued to roll along dusty roads, further and further into the unknown countryside. I reassured my self that I had a tent and would adventure my way back to El Bolsón, if necessary.

 

The bus stopped suddenly and the driver motioned to me the way. Alone, I stepped off and began to walk along the river, gathering littered cans and chewing rosehip. Soon, I came to the sign:

 

“Comunidad Mapuche - Pillañ Mahuiza”

 

Pillañ Mahuiza translates roughly as “Sacred Mountain,” also, “Forested Hills of Volcanic Energy,” and, according to Mapuche linguist and philosopher Ziley Mora, the word Pillañ implies a strength that arises from the marriage of spirit and soul, the subtle body and the animal self*.

 

Stepping through the gate, allied with a full moon, I felt perfectly present with my heart. This was the undeniable purpose of my journey, the place I had been called to inhabit. And, to my relief, I was immediately met with gracious hospitality. I was treated as a friend among the family of Moira and the volunteers who had spent the past few months living on this land.

 

Among us, there were other journalists, a documentarian and several international observers. In a few days, we would travel together to Comodoro Rivaldavia, where Moira had to present herself before the appeal of her previously declared absolution.

 

The supposed crime had occurred more than a year before, in the wake of Santiago Maldonado's disappearance. Santiago was 28 years old, an anarchist, a traveling tattoo-artist, and adamant vegetarian who resonated with Mapuche claims to ancestral lands. These, held in massive quantity by wealthy foreigners like Italian Luciano Benetton of United Colors of Benetton. In solidarity with Mapuche Community Pu Lof en Resistencia Departamento Cushamen, during a demonstration that was met by Argentina's national police, Santiago disappeared.

 

His lifeless body would reappear, upstream from the clash, 77 days later.

 

In the time in between, federal Judge Guido Otranto ordered several raids on nearby Mapuche Communities Lof Cushamen and Lof Vuelta del Río under the presumption that Santiago might be hiding out. On September 18, 2017, the national police arrived by helicopter, before daybreak, to search Lof Vuelta del Río. In the heart of winter, families were forced outside to wait for hours while their homes were ravaged. Members of the community reported being beaten, tortured and detained.

 

Days later, Moira Millán joined dozens to protest this judge's order, demanding that he renounce his position. During business hours, they gathered inside the courthouse of Esquel where Guido Otranto worked. It was hours before he spoke to them, deciding himself to close the courthouse for the day.

 

Moira, and only Moira, was accused of “double aggravated coercion” for that action.

 

Gathered in her home, Moira wished to make clear that her potential imprisonment for up to 4 years, depending on the chamber of appeal's decision, would be less related to this accusation and more directly a political action to remove her from her community, Pillañ Mahuiza. It is here that Moira hopes to build a pluriversidad for indigenous women. “Pluri-versity,” rather than “uni-versity,” in recognition of the diverse origins of knowledge and wisdom.

 

Meanwhile, Moira's son dreams of gradually replanting native forest where invasive pine trees have acidified the soil and spread their flammable needles.

 

Mapuche Community Pillañ Mahuiza, however, is not alone with aspirations for this land. Rolling through this valley is the Carrenleufu, whose name in Mapuzungun translates as “Green River.” This thick and rushing source of life, also called Río Corcovado by locals, has for years been coveted by the profit-minded for a hydro-electric project. First proposed in 1994, it would drown an estimated 27,000 acres of native forest, along with Moira's home and the land designated for the pluriversidad.

 

Moira recognizes herself as a principal opponent of this project, claiming that not only would it mutilate the river, a sacred, living entity in Mapuche cosmology, but also that the energy generated would most likely be used primarily for extraction of nearby minerals and oil.

 

I was informed by Moira's son Juan that it is customary to address the river four times when visiting, first recognizing it as ancient and feminine, then ancient and masculine, then young and feminine and finally young and masculine.

 

On my second day, I joined a sunrise ceremony to honor the Carrenleufu and ask the newen, nature spirits, for protection. The following day we would travel 9 hours for Moira to present herself in Comodoro Rivaldavia.

 

We spent the night in celebration; feasting, conversing and singing. It was the volunteers' final night in Pillañ Mahuiza and Moira braced for her potential arrest.

 

True to her title, “weychafe” meaning warrior, I witnessed Moira use the occasion to rally support for and awareness of her cause. Moira founded the organization Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas por el Buen Vivir, “Movement of Indigenous Women for Good Living,” in Argentina.

 

Her connections landed us boarding in a church where more than 40 friends from surrounding areas converged in her defense. The day of her trial, an open-air radio was erected in the plaza facing the courthouse. There, earth defenders and human rights advocates stood to share their truths.

 

When the time came for Moira to present herself, she was escorted by a wave of chanting support.

 

In the courthouse, I registered as a journalist, rather than international witness, and was told that my audio equipment would interfere with the microphones inside. They assured me that upon request, I would be provided a copy of their audio. In faith, I left my recorder off during the trial. Moira's accuser spoke for only a few minutes. Moira's lawyer, in contrast, spoke for at least 20 minutes, insisting that the jury review footage of the incident for which Moira was being accused.

 

Despite having requested that audio immediately following the presentation and weeks later, I have received no response from the Federal Chamber of Appeals in Comodoro Rivadavia .

 

The audio that I did freely capture was Moira's address in the plaza following her presentation. Her speech moved me to tears from my the center of my heart.

 

“Solidarity is not a crime, it is love. It is love of a way of living, in reciprocity. It is love of true justice, it is love of a humanity that may rise up, that may break with the estates and premises of property and capitalism. It is a new humanity that can arise from reciprocity between nature and people. So, we will not allow, and we will never allow, that solidarity becomes a crime. We wear our solidarity and from there we break from indifference, indolence, and individualism. The individualism and arrogance of a system that objectifies everything , our spirit, our pu puyo, our Mapuche being. Our being people of the earth, that is not to be commodified, it can not be sold, it is impossible to embargo, to rule over. Our being is pure, whole and full of newen because from that being, that place and that memory of our land, we will change the world.”

 

Soonafter, we began to disperse. Friendships forged in a few short days, we would each assimilate the journey on our own. I was left with Moira and her sister, Evis traveling overnight by bus to Esquel. The next morning, I boarded a bus to El Bolsón, my contact made, I returned homeward … renewed.

 

My takeaway? A poem? Some wisdom?

 

In 1885, following Argentina's violent usurpation of Mapuche territory, more than 11.7 million acres were distributed between 541 people**. I was often reminded while traveling that all of the Americas are united with a common history, including the United States. This journey has moved me to recognize the parallels in my own natal land, these Shining Mountains taken in 1880, only a few generations ago, from the Nuche, native name for the Utes. Notice the suffix che, a word that in the Ute language also means“people.” According to Roland McCook, descendant of Chief Ouray, the full meaning is “People of Substance.”

 

There is a word in Mapuzungun, the Mapuche language, which is Winka. The term means literally “new Inka” – referencing the empire from which the Mapuche defended their territory before the arrival of the Spanish. Moira's brother Mauro described the term as representative of an ideology, rather than a race. Winka is not any non-Mapuche, Winka is the imperialist mindset, greedy, consumptive and disconnected.

 

And the genocide continues on a global scale, do we remain complicit? Or do we choose consensus … in favor of life?

 

On April 3rd, it was announced that the court of appeals will maintain the absolution of Moira Millán. If you are interested in learning more about Pillañ Mahuiza and how to support Moira's fight in defense of the Carrenleufu, if you'd like to help found the pluriversidad for indigenous women...

 

… I invite you to contact me, Raleigh Burleigh at raleighjburleigh@gmail.com.

 

I'd like to express my sincerest gratitude to Ana Escudero and Pauly Bes for their singing voices throughout this episode. My appreciation is profound beyond measure for Moira Millán and all of her family for welcoming me to Pillañ Mahuiza. A special thanks to Nancy Johnson for voicing Moira's speech and to KDNK for publishing this series. To listen to past episodes, search “Heartsong,” all one word, on KDNK's website or in Apple iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher.

 

Thank you for listening.

 

* El Arte de Sanar de la medecina mapuche, Ziley Mora.Santiago de Chile: Uqbar Editores, 2012.

 

** Historia Secreta Mapuche, Pedro Cayuqueo. Santiago de Chile: Catalonia, 2017.