This paper explores the complex, dynamic relationship that developed between the Mapuche and Chilean state authorities in the first decades following independence from Spain. It shows that the lands south of the Bio Bio River remained under the control of the Mapuche (despite constitutions and maps claiming the contrary), and that successive governments were obliged to take this people seriously. We know from existing scholarship that many Mapuche supported royalist forces during the wars of independence, but that there were also several important Mapuche leaders who allied themselves with the patriot side and, after the latter’s victory, entered into negotiations with the fledgling Chilean republic. Drawing on British and Chilean newspapers, diplomatic correspondence, official government reports, the memoirs of British travellers, and letters sent by Mapuche chiefs to Chilean military officers, my paper investigates further the intricacies of these negotiations – how they were carried out, the processes involved and the vocabularies used. It focuses particularly on the parlamentos and written communications, and suggests that during this period of political experiments a number of Chileans and Mapuche envisaged and promoted a very different state-building project to that (centralised, exclusionary model) which was adopted by the Portalian regime and subsequent administrations.