Moira Millán has suffered years of persecution, threats and the pain of seeing her people massacred, but this Argentine Mapuche forged ahead with the claims of the indigenous peoples.
At 50, this weychafe (activist), one of the leaders of the Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas por el Buen Vivir (Indigenous Women for Living Well), has travelled to every corner of Argentina, fighting for her sisters – victims of the constant “terracide” and femicide still perpetuated, through abhorrent practices, in the 21st century.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, Millán continues the offensive, and on 14 March, International Day of Action Against Dams and For Rivers, she set off with her sisters, marching from the north to the south of the country to speak out against terracide as a crime against humanity and nature.
It all started, she says in an exclusive interview with Prensa Latina, in 2013, when she took a trip to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina, to gain in depth knowledge of what was happening to women belonging to the Mapuche and other nations.
“When I arrived in each area, women from diverse communities approached me, wanting to tell me their problems. In 2015 we had the first march of the Indigenous Women for Living Well, we presented a draft bill to the nation and we organized as a movement. Today, there are 500 of us from 36 nations,” she says.
Millán says that when she started to travel around Argentina, uniting all her compatriots was just a dream, and she never imagined the movement would grow so large.
And so, on these marches, she learned of heartbreaking experiences, some of which she had suffered herself. One issue in particular, which the women are now all fighting against, is the terrible practice of “chineo” – attacks on indigenous girls and adolescents, referred to as “chinas” (Chinese) by non-indigenous men due to their facial features.
It is detestable. Millán says that non-indigenous men of powerful social and economic standing choose girls of between 8 and 10 years old to rape. They suffer this as rite of passage and often die as a result of these rapes, which are sometimes committed by groups of men. On other occasions girls have taken their own lives. The situation is even more painful when these young girls end up pregnant.
“Unfortunately, there is complicit community consent, they keep quiet. Often, the rapists are politicians, businessmen and notable men in the town, and they compensate the victim’s family with a cow or with food. There have even been cases where the girl’s father has been given a job,” Millán says.
She is referring to the case of a 12-year-old girl from the Chaco Salteño region in the north-west of Argentina who was raped by a group of men. They made her drink beer with ground glass. “There are cases of rape with objects, cruel attacks on their bodies, mutilated breasts, what happens is terrible.”
“It happens because of the prevailing racism, social indifference and apathy from an entire society that perceives the bodies of indigenous girls and women as disposable, that assumes indigenous life has no value, it is devalued,” she explains.
No more terracide
In addition to this battle, the women also tackle terracide – a concept that, Millán says, has been gaining momentum and is now accepted by the indigenous women’s movement. She says they have succeeded in having it considered as a concept that contributes to the establishment of a criminal category: terracide as a crime against nature and against humanity. “It is the action of killing the three systems of life that we as indigenous peoples recognise: the tangible world, the perceptible world and the world of the peoples.”
“Destruction of the ecosystem is tangible. The perceptible world would include the sacred places, where a spiritual ecosystem regenerates the circle of life. So, for example, the division of the land into large estates is a form of terracide,” she says.
The owners of large estates position wire fences in sacred places, where the indigenous peoples used to converse with nature to strengthen their connection with life. Today, this is impossible, Millán says, because the lands are controlled by the big landowners.
She says that transnational companies have stationed themselves throughout the country, hoarding thousands of hectares of land. One such example is Italian businessman Luciano Benetton, who has around one million hectares of mineral rich land in Patagonia.
Part of this land encroaches on hydrocarbon basins of interest, and the majority of landowners settle in places abundant in fresh water, minerals and oil. “The transnational companies enjoy total impunity, they clear the lands of life, they violate the rights of the indigenous peoples, all with the complicity of successive national governments,” she says.
Emphasising the extreme complexity of demanding rights from a historically racist State, Millán, as a representative of the movement that she and her countrywomen lead, asks for recognition of the self-determination of the native peoples, their territories and the plurinationalism of the territories.
“[We want] the State [to] accept a categorical truth: that there is no citizen hegemony, but many nations surviving in one territory. We are subjected to the norms and homogenisation envisaged by a model of the country that we disagree with, which is extractionist, polluting, predatory and that does not respect life,” she says.
Millán says that the indigenous peoples have the right to define policies “in line with our own vision as a people, policies for health, communication, transport, food production and education.”
And they also want their linguistic rights to be respected so that they can be understood.
When asked what it is like to live between fear and strength while defending a people massacred for centuries, she points out that both feelings feed off each other. “Fear is conquered by the desire to guarantee life, to dream of a better world and build a new system – one of solidarity, equity and fairness, where we can feed the dreams of the people for self-determination.”
For Millán, it is important not to stay silent, but to denounce, to try to build and develop proposals. She says that they need to be very brave to set out what they want and where they want to go. This is not an easy task because these women are unknown, persecuted and up against “the patriarchal silencing of the harmful sectors of society, but also sometimes of their husbands and community authorities.” (PL)