Millaray Huichalaf Pradines

ORA Latin America / Chile

Project: Title: Reconstruction of the Mapuche social and spiritual fabric

The project presents two facets related to the daily life of the Millaray Huichalaf machi and the Mapuche Williche communities of southern Chile:

  • The protection of the Pilmaiquén river and the Mapuche ceremonial complex of Ngen Mapu Kintuante (at risk due to the construction of two hydroelectric dams that affect biodiversity) and the Mapuche worldview and way of life.
  • The recovery of ancestral knowledge regarding “lawen” and Mapuche ancestral medicine. The recognition and care of native plants that the Mapuche people have used since time immemorial to care for their health. These plants are at risk due to the progress of this extractive hydroelectric dam project. This project is interested in the ceremonial reconstruction of the ancestral Mapuche social fabric, which, for decades, could not be carried out due to state violence. The work aims to uplift ancestral authorities and community training of the Mapuche worldview.

The project involves deepening awareness, regarding the risk of the construction of the dams (via interviews, a documentary, talks, judicial presentations), as well as the community-building and spiritual recovery of the knowledge of the Mapuche people, particularly knowledge of health and ancestral medicine. The project includes a plan to publish a book with more than 100 photographs on “lawen,” medicinal plants that abound in the territory and that are not widely known by the members of the communities. The book will increase awareness of the sacred plants to support the harvesting and preparation of medicine.

The machi Millaray Huichalaf has been leading the defense of the Pilmailquén River for more than 13 years. Her activist work has led to imprisonment and the persecution of various members of her family and her community.

The machi is a defender of water and Mapuche ancestral medicine. This is an ancestral authority — according to the Mapuche worldview, the ancestral authorities arrive when there is a need to recover a lost balance. The machi, together with a group of young people from different Mapuche communities, collects lawen and teaches how to prepare medicine. As more and more people do not find solutions in hospitals or pharmaceuticals, they  come to this knowledge.

After being guided by her ancestors and the spirits of nature, she began to speak out about the risks that the hydroelectric plant would bring to the river and biodiversity, for the Mapuche social fabric and ancestral customs. This led to a fierce smear campaign against her, legally and in the media.

The machi is consulted by intercultural facilitators from Puyehue, in the Entre Lagos Region, and from the Unión area, in the Los Ríos Region. She is also a facilitator at the Osorno base hospital and the Valdivia base hospital. Due to public policies regarding intercultural health, she is able to attend deliveries and visits babies, children, and pregnant women.