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Indigenous Mapuche Leader, Chief Juana Calfunao Carries a Torch of Hope for her Nation to the Heart of America

Press Release - Sunday 18th Oct 2015

Traditional Mapuche authority Chief Juana Calfunao Paillalef arrived in Washington DC, USA, the heart of America yesterday to present a case for her peoples legitimate claim to ancestral territorial land rights and to denounce the on going violence and repression levied against her family, community and all Mapuche communities by Chile, at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Having travelled from her home town, the ‘Juan Paillalef Community’ near Temuco, Chile to Washington DC, USA on Saturday the 17th of October 2015, the well known public figure and traditional indigenous Mapuche ancestral Leader Lonko (Chief) Juana Calfunao Paillalef, along with her lawyer Dr Juan Jorge Faundes, arrived in the US Capital yesterday morning. The Mapuche traditional authority or chief, had been invited by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, to Washington DC to hold a number of crucial meetings with the Commission.

The reason for the Chief’s mission to the USA is to present an international claim relating to the indigenous Mapuche people’s traditional ancestral territorial and human rights as established under the principles enshrined in various international instruments such as the ‘ILO Convention 169’ and to the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, as well as the ‘Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties’.

The Lonko (Chief) will present the case of her community and that of the Mapuche people to the IAHRC, with the first meeting having being held this morning, to be followed by two more consecutive meetings with the IAHRC on Mon 19th and Tues 20th Oct. The case is being presented as a direct result of the historic and persistent failure of the Chilean State to consult with indigenous Mapuche peoples and communities on all matters, which directly affect them. In the case of Lonko Calfunao’s community, this lack of consultation refers to the attempted construction of a road being built by the state through their land which is intended to be used to exploit the natural resources contained in the indigenous territory, without the free and informed prior consultation or negotiation with the indigenous community required, in order to obtain their consensus on the proposal.

This vital mission undertaken by the Mapuche Lonko and her lawyer was almost halted before they began due to the actions of the Chilean State prior to the delegations departure when the Chilean State appeared to attempt to prevent the two from leaving the country to carry out their objectives. Chilean police forces had arrested and detained the lawyer immediately prior to his flight departure, which resulted in the lawyer being unable to board the flight to the US Capital, however a short time later he was subsequently released from detention and was fortunately able to board a later flight. Whilst the Chilean authorities did their best to prevent the Mapuche Lonko’s trip by failing to process her passport application until the very last minute of her journey.

The community’s long standing peaceful democratic resistance to the construction of this road has culminated in Lonko Juana, her family and community members being regularly brutally assaulted by Chilean State police forces, with many of them being arbitrarily arrested, tortured and detained on a regular basis. The ‘Juan Paillalef community’ headed by Lonko Juana Calfunao and by her father before her, have explicitly expressed their unwavering opposition to this illicit act of government, which would serve only to divide the indigenous community and to destroy their sacred territory and way of life.

As an indigenous Mapuche traditional ancestral leader, mother, wife and grandmother, Chief Juana Calfunao been consistently abused throughout her lifetime by Chilean State authorities and has been, detained on a regular basis through her adult life; Chilean States authorities, the carabinero’s, have sought to repress, beat and to regularly humiliate her and have also carried out a strategy of violent repression and harassment in this same manner against generations of her entire family, her mother, father, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, sons and grandchildren to the present day. In fact on one particular occasion, the entire Calfunao family were incarcerated simultaneously, and with no family members remaining outside of prison, the Lonko was forced to send her youngest child Relmu, aged only 8 years old at the time, to live in sanctuary in Switzerland under the care of her aunt. Relmu has since returned to the home of her family in Chile but only afew weeks earlier was arrested an detained along with her baby and her mother for peacefully protesting against the construction of the road. The Chief has sadly been forced to suffer the most vicious inhumane attacks, abuses and violations of her person, whilst during one such beating following her arrest and detention; the Lonko subsequently lost her unborn child as a direct result of the brutal and unrestrained police assault.

This landmark case exposes the current untenable situation and vulnerability in which hundreds of Mapuche communities, individuals and families live throughout the traditional indigenous Mapuche ancestral territory, known as Wallmapu, a region of South America which stretches from the Bio-Bio river in Chile and the Colorado river in Argentina to the southern tip of the continent, which had been violently and illegally invaded and occupied in contravention of over thirty treaties signed between the Mapuche and the two newly formed republics at during the mid to late 19th Century, and previously signed between the Mapuche Nation and the Spanish Crown prior to the declaration of independence made by the aforementioned republic’s, immediately prior to their strategic invasion and annexation of Wallmapu (Mapuche ancestral Territory) by the States of Chile and Argentina following their independence.

In the years following these two strategic occupations of Mapuche land, Known infamously as the ‘Conquest of the Desert’ in Argentina and the ‘Pacification of Araucania’ in Chile, the Chilean and Argentinean States have maintained a steady yet ruthless Machiavellian policy of brutality and extermination both physically and culturally against the Mapuche Nation.

However, thanks to the great courage, tenacity, perseverance and to the largess of spirit demonstrated consistently in the face of this historic oppression and adversity, of not only herself and her family and immediate community, but also on behalf of the Mapuche Nation as a whole, Lonko Calfunao along with her faithful lawyer, Dr Juan Jorge Faundes, have proceeded to take this historic grievance to the IAHRC in order to achieve this vitally significant, if not historic step. The Lonko hopes that a successful outcome of this case will bring about peace and justice to her compatriot’s in the name of the ultimate welfare of Nuke Mapu (Mother Earth) and for justice for the Mapuche Nation.

This is indeed a timely action as the United Nations held the first World Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in July 2014, and in 2015 reaffirmed their commitment to call upon all member states to comply fully with the principles enshrined within the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ worldwide and to fulfil their obligation to practice free and informed, prior consent in compliance with such accepted democratic international standards.

(The Commission will broadcast all public hearings live on its website. The videos of these transmissions will be available shortly on the website of the Inter American Human Rights Commission. Details of the transmission service are available at the IAHRC web-page on guidelines for coverage of public hearings.)

For Further information on the historic Struggle of Lonko Juana Calfunao Paillalef and her community please visit the following Mapuche International Link webpage


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