A Mapuche Indian leader who became the face of Chile’s environmental movement was found floating in a reservoir she spent a decade trying to prevent from being created.
Authorities said on Wednesday that they were awaiting autopsy results, although the death appeared accidental.
While there was no official cause of death for Nicolesa Quintreman, a 73-year-old who was nearly blind, prosecutor Carlos Diaz said that “she apparently slipped, fell into the lake and died.”
“Police informed me that from first glance and based on their expertise, the cadaver showed no signs of injury attributable to third persons,” Diaz told Radio Bio Bio.
Quintreman was found on Tuesday, a day after she went missing. Forensic pathologists returned the body to her family the following day in preparation for a funeral, which is to be held todat. A day of mourning was declared in the community of Alto Biobio.
Along with her sister, Berta, Quintreman became a national figure in Chile during protests against the construction of a hydroelectric dam on tribal land in the forested mountains of the country’s south.
They led a public fight against the European power company Endesa at a time when Chile’s environmental enforcement was lax and its indigenous protection law was not closely followed.
“I’m going to tell it like it is. My sister fell into the lake, she won’t ever come back,” Berta Quintreman said, her voice breaking, in a radio interview.
Hundreds of other families supported the women initially, but gradually gave in to the pressure and traded their land for other properties beyond the flood zone. Finally, Nicolesa Quintreman also traded her small plot in 2002 for an undisclosed sum and a larger property 15km away.
The project authorized by the center-left government of Chilean President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagble then flooded the Mapuches’ valley, generating more of the electricity Chile needs to power a growing economy.