12/02/08: 14 February 2008 marks a year since the Santa Rosa land in Leleque, Chubut, was reclaimed.
"This is the path our Mother Earth has chosen for us..."
The aforementioned land has been the subject of conflict since 2002 when the Curñanco-Nahuelquir family reclaimed 550 hectares. Months later the family was evicted from the land after an official complaint was made by the legal representatives of Compañía de Tierras Sud Argentino SA (CTSA), owned by multimillionaire, Luciano Benetton.
With the passage of time, the estate became a symbol of the struggle to reclaim both the land and the identity of the Mapuche people.
Conversations with Rosa Nahuelquir and Atilio Curriñanco a year after their return to the ancestral land.
“It has been a difficult year, added to the rest of the time we have been engaged in this struggle, but despite the enormous difficulties, we have managed to spend a year here. In this way we are showing our people that we are facing a noble struggle and that our aspirations are neither accidental nor uncertain. We would also like to mention the support and friendliness we have received from the general population for whom we feel a great deal of affection. Therefore we are inviting everyone to come on 14 February to share this historic moment, and I say historic because this has had great reprecussions and has become a very important case, not because of our involvement in it, but because we are in confrontation with a multimillionaire, often considered an empire…”
“But we are never going to forget that we also have our own power, the power that our forefathers spoke of. They were not speaking of economic power but the power of nature. It is this very nature that has awoken us and we feel that we must speak of our force and energy (newenes) which are with us day by day…
We have to defend what we really are - the blood of that primitive inhabitant, the blood of the Indian is what we have to defend, and our aspirations will always follow this path, the path that we are destined to take.
As well as those things we have already discovered, we have to continue to discover new things so that we can have more knowledge.…
This is the path that our Mother Earth has chosen for us and we feel so happy to have returned to the land.”
“We continue, despite the fact that the justice system continues to mistreat us- and this is how we feel - because on the one hand they recognise that we are a legal entity, we are a community, we are Mapuche, yet on the other hand the justice system says we are not from here but are visitors who have come from Chile, and it does not want to admit that we are the ones who live here. This struggle with the justice system has been going on since the beginning and we are still waiting to be recognised by the national government.…
We want our rights to be recognised. This is what we have been waiting for all this time but we have still not received an answer. On celebrating a year since this, the second reclamation, we feel happy because not only have many Mapuche joined us but also non-Mapuche people and the public in general. We are aware of this every day and we are learning the meaning of this struggle in this particular place. From the moment we awake to the moment we sleep we are learning that the real struggle is putting your shoulder to the wheel, putting your body to the wheel, and hopefully this struggle in which we are involved will be for the good of many, and will be a prized example to those who are also involved in other kinds of conflict so that day by day we find much more strength to defeat the common enemy.
Every day we can think and reflect on just how much we have done with the reclamation of Santa Rosa despite the obstacles of the justice system. It seems that they want us to just sit here and do nothing, but we did not come to do nothing but to show our dignity, to work on the land, to maintain ourselves financially and to prove to the justice system and governments that it is possible to maintain yourself by your own work. That is what we have come for. We have planted potatoes, beans, peas, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and many other things. We have made irrigation channels, we have some animals, we built our house and we are in the process of building a community centre. This is a big ambition that we have to achieve. One of our greatest desires is to finish building a community centre so that we can continue to manifest our culture and I believe that we are going to do this, and all those who make their own handicrafts or their own fabrics, will be able to exhibit them in the Santa Rosa Mapuche community centre This is something I believe they are also going to emphasise.
What has been the most difficult this year?
Winter has been the hardest. It was really cold with lots of snow.
When people passing by stop, do you feel that they transmit lots of energy?
Yes. People frequently pass by and tell us that they would like to do what we are doing here but they lack the courage. There are also many people who tell us that they feel proud of what we are doing. This conflict is very difficult but we we continue to persevere.
They wish us luck. They hope we have enough strength and this encourages us to carry on.
You are in the process of a second reclamation and I imagine that nothing is ever the same?
Even today we still have the same idea that we had the first time we reclaimed this place. More than anything we had the intention of coming to reclaim the land, to work and keep ourselves without having to depend either on the government, or on a plan of work which they frequently offered us. We did not want that. We wanted to come here and succeed through our own efforts. This was what we thought then and it is what we think now, but this time we feel we have the support of the general public and some of the media who kindly transmit this news. This is marvellous because it lets people know just what we are doing.
As spirituality plays a large part in the lives of indigenous people, are you also working along these lines?
The 14th marks a year and we are going to say a prayer. At first we had thought of just doing this amongst ourselves, but as we know that lots of people will be coming, we think that everyone who wants to can take part. To celebrate this year, we were not going to organise a dance or arrange a barbecue because we are also fighting for our culture, struggling to learn more. Therefore on 20, 21 and 22 March we are going to do a ritual Mapuche ceremony (camaruco), which is part of our culture and perhaps is the main reason for us to carry on. For me, it is really important and it is going to give us more strength to persevere.
The fact that we have reclaimed the land also has a lot to do with what we wanted. We wanted to be with our own people to hold our own ceremonies. Thanks to the reclamation we can now carry out all those activities which constitute the Mapuche culture of our forefathers and our land (mapu) is also going to be happy and content. We believe that we are repaying something we have been given. Perhaps we are not so well prepared, but we are full of good intentions. We should not have any doubts about doing something when we want to do it. We always say that although it seems as if we are alone, it is not true, and the will of the land (mapu) and the force and energy (newenes) are making us see things clearly and are helping us to speak of so many things.