“Walking and defending life” is the slogan of the Trawn Itinerant that will travel along the Chubut River, from the Andean source to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean between 1 and 10 February. The Mapuche Tehuelche people of Patagonia-Wall Mapu stress that their history is intimately linked to the river, which can now be polluted by mining companies and large multinationals that have been appropriating large areas of the region. “We exist as a society, and as diverse societies, according to the links and alliances we establish with its waters”, says the text that convenes the trawn.

By Raúl Zibechi

To understand the motives and characteristics of this Great Forum-Trawn, in which those who live along the banks of the river, whether Mapuche or peasants, will participate, we spoke at length with Lonko Mauro Millán. We met him months ago in his lof Pillán Mahuiza, in the heart of the Andean mountain range, where the waters already flow into the non-violent. We met him again in Bariloche this January and now he offers us details of his worldview and spirituality, of the necessary resistance to predatory capitalism, and the paths to Mapuche autonomy.

Mauro introduces himself: “I am a Mapuche lonko. It is a role that one does not choose voluntarily. In the Mapuche world, we say that one becomes a lonko or a machi, it is the spirit of an ancestor that demands that you rise as such. This is the historic way that the Mapuche people have of putting their ancestral authorities into operation. I decided to heed this request from my ancestors and I am a lonko of the Pillán Mahuiza community. Lonko is someone who also guides in political and spiritual, philosophical, and ideological terms. Throughout your life you learn and you have to be very permeable to the culture of your people to have the capacity to guide future generations”.

How does the arrival of Milei’s ultra-right-wing government feel in your town?

What I try to read, as if it were futurology, is how long it will take this sinister plan that this ultra-right, racist, and supremacist government of Milei’s to privatize the territories of this country called Argentina and fundamentally of Patagonia and what we call Puelmapu. But this situation of vulnerability in terms of rights, judicialization, and permanent criminalization of the Mapuche people is not new, nor are the murders of young Mapuche brothers and sisters.

But also, the perpetuity of some officials such as Patricia Bullrich¹, which is aligned with the story of the history of this country. The Bullrichs, the Pueyrredóns, are the real caste that is at the genesis of Argentina, who have become millionaires with this state, as the new rich are doing, and have installed the idea that the main evil in this country is the poor and the indigenous people.

But the point is that Peronism has been contributing to this situation until this terrible scenario has come to pass. We must not forget what it meant for the Mapuche people, and especially for those of us who built an autonomous life project outside the state from the heart of the Tehuelche Mapuche people. For us, it meant being discriminated from political life because we did not belong to a party. The repression of the previous government of Alberto Fernández, which created the Unified Command, and of Kirchnerism, which maintained the anti-terrorist law, created the conditions for characters like Milei to grow.

  • -In this context, they will be proposing a Trawn Itinerant. What is this mobilization going to consist of?
  • -A trawn is a parliament, as it was called by the chroniclers who arrived in Patagonia around 1500, in a territory populated and controlled by indigenous peoples, including the Mapuche. The chroniclers were amazed at how thousands of indigenous people debated until they reached agreements, and they called these meetings parliaments. All commercial and economic strategies, as well as resistance and warfare, were discussed collectively in the trawn and they also became itinerant because many lonkos came from other communities, because to build a single thought it was necessary to travel a long way.

Today we are going to recreate this to defend a river that is one of the main arteries of the province of Chubut and Puelmapu². The river originates from the melting glaciers of the Andean mountain range and is fed by more than 20 rivers and streams that nourish this artery for 800 kilometers. The history of my people developed as a product of this goodness of nature. Today it is in danger because the springs have been privatized and a large part of the course of the Chubut River is in the hands of the Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, and the Benetton company, with the complicity of all the governments, violating agreements and the Constitution itself, which provides for certain protection of Patagonia.

That is why we are setting out on this great caravan to connect twelve or thirteen Mapuche communities that will be the hosts of others that will arrive, as well as towns and cities. We will travel from the source to the mouth of the river, connecting and discussing how we will continue resisting and being custodians of these waters. The first line of defense of the river is the people who live along its banks.

  • -Besides governments, who are you resisting?
  • -This defense of the waters involves identifying the main enemy, which is mining, which has been resisted by many towns and cities, who have massively rejected it. The province of Río Negro, where the Chubut River originates, has repealed the laws that protected the environment and water in favor of these mining companies. Milei’s government is going to destroy the scaffolding that protects glaciers, water, and the land itself. A few kilometers from the source of the river, a lead mine is to be opened.

The Mapuche people have a multiplicity of expressions but we have consolidated a decision that characterizes us as a people, which is to defend nature and the territory. This defense has an ideological and philosophical scaffolding and a political expression that is antagonistic to extractivist capitalism. These governments, the previous one and the current one, promoted these processes of foreignisation and destruction of the resources in the territory that are life for us.

  • -What difficulties and advances are you having as autonomous groups?
  • -There is a legacy that we have received from our people: the ability to sustain a principle of horizontal society that is regulated by the authorities and elders, but also by young people and children, in a perfect balance and harmony so that society can prosper. This is the legacy of our ancestors. The Spaniards could not defeat the Mapuche people because they had no sun god, no king or monarch and they brought military strategies based on waging war against pyramidal societies like the European ones. The defeats of the Spanish made it possible for the Mapuche people to live more than 300 years in freedom.

This is a heritage that we can transfer to our times, despite the complexity of moving as autonomous, more horizontal groups. Here in Chubut we have sustained the form of trawn and parliament without “small tables” or leadership. We are autonomous communities that come together when the situation requires it. Sometimes articulation over distances as great as those of Patagonia is very difficult. The brothers who come from Ngulumapu (Chile) say to us, “Being Mapuche in Patagonia is very difficult”. This trawn is self-financed with a lot of difficulties.

  • -What does the recent celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising say to you?
  • -Zapatismo inspired me. I was very young at the time of the uprising and I am always very attentive to what is happening in the Zapatista world.
  • -I would like to finish by listening to you about Mapuche spirituality.
  • -It is good for them to know that there are societies that are neither monotheistic nor polytheistic, but societies that have interacted intensely with nature, that have known how to decode the message of nature as our ancestors did. They decoded the way to communicate with each of the elements of nature, where our language was born. We are just another part of this infinite world of spirits. Nature does not intervene in human moralities, it gives us food and water but it demands full reciprocity and that is why we have to defend and honor it because it is our Mapu (native land) and that is where our ancestors are.

That is why we fight against depredation, against mega-mining and dams, against extractivism. This perverse system has characterized us as terrorists for defending life.

  1. The current minister of its interior belongs to a family that participated in the Conquest of the Desert (1878-1885) when the original Pampas, Ranquel, Mapuche and Tehuelche peoples were dispossessed of their territories.
  2. Mapuche territory east of the Andes, i.e. in present-day Argentina.