Who is Machi Betiana Coljuan Nahuel, a Mapuche healer oppressed by the Argentine state – Agencia Presentes

“You wanted land. Eat Indian dirt! This is how the Corporal of the Naval Prefecture answered Betiana Coljuan Nahuel to Betiana Coljuan. He threw her on the ground to make her eat dirt. It was in the early morning of November 23, 2017, in the community of Lafken Vincul Mapu in the community of Villa Mascardi in the state of Rio Negro. Dozens of those security forces entered under an eviction order issued by federal judge Gustavo Villanueva.

As during the procedure on October 4, there were beatings, ill-treatment and burning of their belongings. According to Betiana’s mother, Maria Nahuel, she refused to kneel. He began to speak Mapuzungu, the Mapuche language, and received a harsh response from one of the uniformed men. This was taken as an insult to a machi who was in the process of “rising up” to become a healing, spiritual leader.

Almost five years ago, when Prefecture shot his cousin Rafael Nahuel in the back, the men of the community sought refuge on the mountain. The same thing happened this time. Betiana is now an adult and has a three-month-old baby whom she is breastfeeding.

At 5 o’clock on Wednesday evening, she was about to be transferred with another Mapuche mother, who is breastfeeding, to a federal prison in Buenos Aires.

The intervention of Laura Tafetani, a community lawyer, and Marissa Graham, a child and adolescent rights advocate, prevented this. They stayed in Bariloche. Four of her companions traveled and were lodged in Ezeiza Women’s Prison. None of them yet know what crime they are charged with because federal judge Silvina Dominguez has ordered the summary to be kept secret. In the transfer order, which Presentes agreed to, they include “arson, embezzlement and assault on authority.” Two of the arrested women came to see Betiana, they are not from the community.

The role of Makhi

The story of the persecution of Mapuche communities in Patagonia weaves together episodes over time, it never stops. In fact, in October 2014, the community of Coljuan-Nahuel was raided by the gendarmerie as part of an investigation into an attack on a shelter in the area. His family condemned the brutal attacks by that force. Betiana, a girl who had not yet begun her journey to becoming a machi, was the source of the local reporters. He said that the uniformed men dragged his brother Jose, who suffers from disability, along the ground.

Maci can heal ailments through traditional medicine, plants and ceremonies. In other indigenous peoples they are called shamans or shamans. You can have connections between the real world and the spiritual world, and even advise Lonko (political and community leaders). Before Betiana appeared, to consult one or the other you had to go to Chile, where they never ceased to exist, and even the official health system welcomed them in the 1990s with cross-cultural services in areas of the country where there was a Mapuche population;

During a press conference held at Komau University on Thursday 6th to deny the repression and demand the release of those arrested, Soraya Maikonyo announced:the only crime is being Mapuche, our Machi is important, it’s been many years since someone was born with that role. The Huincas (white invaders) know how important it is, that’s why they closed it, they want to weaken us. We don’t go to churches, but they enter our tabernacle.”

100 years of absence

The recovery of the area began with the rise of the rehu of Betiana, after a century of silence on this side of the Puel Mapui mountain range.

“The creed that we give to the entire ancestral territory of the Mapuche is the Mapu wall, Argentina and Chile, and When the Conquest of the Desert, named after the Argentine state, arrived, one of the tasks was to burn alive the women who were devoted to medicine. No one was born again in Argentina who had the opportunity to fulfill that community function,” explained Maite Canicul Quilaleo, a communicator and member of the Mapuche collective Txafkuleiñ (We are united) from Junín de los Andes (Lavaca).

Betiana went through a training process from a very young age. “It doesn’t just mean knowing medicine or law, we say speaking Mapuzugu, their mother tongue. Also many changes in the daily life of the city to fulfill this Mapuche role, days after the restoration of their territory, when his cousin Rafael Nahuel was killed in the back,” he adds.


With the assassination of Rafael Nahuel, Mauricio Macri’s national government raised the idea of ​​violent groups occupying territories illegally. Non-governmental organizations, human rights organizations, some left-wing parties and most of the Mapuche claimed that the young man’s death was caused by the historical repressive attitude of the state towards indigenous peoples.

Being a machi is not a calling or a choice. It emerges as an unstoppable force from signs that can be dreams or discover that it is able to heal with ancient methods.

Then come the years of preparation, which also imply a complete rejection of Western culture. In Betiana’s case, this happened when she was 16, shortly before the second repressive episode she would suffer in her short life.

Rafael Nahuel’s maternal family would not commit to the restoration of their ancestors and Mapuche traditions, unlike Coljuan Nahuel, who became one of the most militant groups in Bariloche.

There are people who try to vilify them, including other communities that are more aligned with the state, on the grounds that they are from the city.

They proudly explain that they left the slums where lack of opportunity, drugs and alcohol were the only options. In fact, young people in this loft do not drink or use substances because they say they need to be clear in their daily lives.

territorial conflict

Between the murder of Rafael Nahuel and the latest procedure of the same community, there were dialogue tables. The land claimed by Maria Nahuel and her family is also claimed by another Mapuche community, the Wiritray, which has had a presence in the area for several decades, has a camp and has ties to the National Parks authorities, the Macista government and the government. with that administration’s National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI). When Betiana was taken to one of these meetings, she wore her traditional attire of a turban and a loose, dark dress tied with a trapelacucha (metal brooch). With his 16 years and young face, he spoke little, but firmly.

On Wednesday 2 June 2021, a deliberate fire burnt down Betiana’s rukka (house) in the Lough Lafken Winkul Mapu reclaimed area. The family was in Bariloche, and when they returned, they had lost everything, including items they needed to fulfill their spiritual role, such as priceless silverware, clothing, and their ritual culture, which were consumed by fire. While reporting the incident, they said that unknown persons accompanied by members of the gendarmerie and national parks were walking around that place. However, it was never found out. And now he is in prison accused of the same crime.

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