Tag Archives: Indigenous People

Bolivia Withdraws from UN Treaty That Limits Chewing Coca Leaf

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced July 7 that he has withdrawn the Andean country from a United Nations treaty that bans chewing the coca leaf.

The coca leaf can be processed to produce cocaine, but it is also an important part of Andean culture. In Bolivia, South America’s most indigenous nation, the leaf has been chewed to relieve hunger and thirst and used in religious ceremonies for thousands of years. It has particular importance in western Bolivia’s Aymara and Quechua indigenous communities. A limited amount of coca leaf is legally planted in the country for traditional use, while leaf grown beyond Bolivia’s legal limit is often funneled to cocaine production.

Bolivia presented a denunciation which seals its resignation from the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on June 29, a move state media confirmed for the first time today.

The denunciation responds to “the need to guarantee respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples, and all who chew coca as a traditional cultural practice,” said Bolivia’s foreign minister David Choquehuanca of the country’s unprecedented resignation from the Convention.

The International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors government compliance with drug treaties, released a statement expressing regret at Bolivia’s denunciation of the Convention. The Control Board encouraged the international community to reject moves by any country to leave the Convention and return with reservations, saying this “would undermine the integrity of the global drug control system, undoing the good work of Governments over many years to achieve the aims and objectives of the drug control conventions, including the prevention of drug abuse which is devastating the lives of millions of people.”

Within Bolivia opinions are mixed on withdrawing from the convention. “We don’t see it as a positive in any way that we, Bolivians, who have so many problems because of drug trafficking, have left the Convention,” said opposition representative to congress Javier Leigue.

The move comes at a tense moment for anti-trafficking efforts in Bolivia, as a top Bolivian police official faces charges in the U.S. of cocaine trafficking following a U.S.-led sting in Panama. An internal investigation in Bolivia, the world’s third-largest producer of coca leaf after Peru and Colombia, implicated several more Bolivian police officials in trafficking.

Earlier this year The United Nations considered an amendment to the Single Convention sponsored by Bolivia that proposed sections of the Convention requiring an end to chewing the coca leaf be removed.

“Due to lack of information, in some countries they confuse the coca leaf with cocaine, coca leaf producers with drug-traffickers and people who use coca in its natural state with addicts,” Morales, Bolivia’s Aymara Indian President, said after the amendment was rejected by countries party to the convention.

The country’s resignation from the Convention becomes effective January 1, 2012, at which time Bolivian officials say the country will immediately apply to rejoin the Convention with the reservation that it does not recognize language that bans chewing the coca leaf. In order to rejoin, two thirds of the signatories to the convention will need to approve Bolivia’s reentry, according to United Nations sources in Bolivia. Government officials say Bolivia will continue to comply with all commitments to fight drug trafficking laid out in the Convention.

The outcome of Bolivia’s bold move to make chewing coca legal in the country under the Convention while continuing to fight drug trafficking remains to be seen, as does the international community’s response to the situation.

Faces of Ecuador Pt. 1

Click here to view the embedded video.

In part 1 of a 4 part series entitled “Ecuadorian People (Faces of Ecuador)” uploader Nomadic Samuel provides viewers with an exceptional slideshow of the many people living in the country.

According to Nomadic Samuel’s channel he is traveler from Canada who is a filmmaker, photographer and backpacker who enjoys sharing his experiences.

Costa Rican Families Removed from Land

In what appears to be the latest attack on Indigenous Peoples involving land claims issues, security guards of Italian businessman, Idolo Augustine Mastronei, violently removed a group of Bribri families in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica according to Intercontinental Cry.

The business man claims to have purchased the land in an auction, but the property is recognized by the Costa Rican government as part of the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve.

Read the full article here.

Activists in Peru Denounce Plans for Uncontacted Native Lands

With less than two weeks left in office, the administration of Peruvian President Alan Garcia faces a new controversy over its treatment of uncontacted Natives in the country’s Amazon region.

Representatives of Native, environmental and human rights organizations in Peru have criticized new regulations proposed by the Ministry of Culture for the supervision of exploratory and extractive activities inside the country’s indigenous and territorial reserves. In a press release, the Amazonian Native association AIDESEP claimed that the new regulations were drafted to facilitate drilling for gas in the Nahua Kugapakori and Nanti Territorial Reserve – created in 1999 to protect Natives living in voluntary isolation, or who have recently been contacted – and warned that this could endanger them.

“They want to do the oil industry a favor before they leave office,” said Carlos Soria, an environmental lawyer and expert on uncontacted peoples, referring to the fact that Garcia’s five-year term ends on July 28. He noted that even though the proposed regulations include a series of precautions that companies must take when operating in areas with uncontacted Natives, it would be very difficult for the government to ensure compliance with them.

Indian Country Today Media Network was unable to interview Ministry of Culture officials, but in a press release, they “completely rejected” claims that the ministry was “promoting regulations in favor of private interests.” The release states that the regulations are a draft that was distributed in order to get feedback from organizations that represent, or work with Natives.

According to Jimpson Davila, who monitors the oil and gas industry for the environmental organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), the controversy stems from a contradiction within the law for protection of uncontacted and recently contacted peoples, which says that the territorial reserves created to protect them are “intangible,” but then adds that the extraction of resources is permissible if deemed a “public necessity.”

Davila noted that the Culture Ministry’s attempt to clarify this discrepancy was released less than a month after the Argentine company Pluspetrol presented an environmental impact study to the Ministry of Energy and Mines as part of proposal to dig three wells inside the Nahua Kugapakori & Nanti Territorial Reserve as part of the Camisea Project. The Ministry has yet to respond to the study.

Pluspetrol is one of several companies in the Camisea consortium, which is exploiting one of South America’s largest natural gas reserves in the remote wilderness of southeast Peru. The consortium has the concession for Block 88, which was superimposed over the middle (approximately one third) of the Nahua Reserve. Davila explained that the consortium is already extracting gas inside the reserve, but whereas those wells are near the reserve’s eastern border, the new environmental impact study is for tapping the San Martín Este gas field, deep inside the Nahua Reserve’s more than 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of wilderness.

Davila predicted that the construction of oil wells that deep inside the reserve would disrupt the lives of Nahua groups living in voluntary isolation, who are nomadic, and thus require a large territory. He warned that oil workers could provoke contact, and spread diseases for which the Natives lack defenses, explaining that the Nahua were first contacted in the 1980s by workers doing exploration for Shell, and subsequent epidemics are believed to have killed half of their population.

Pluspetrol representatives failed to respond to ICTMN’s request for an interview.

“The prospect of forced contact would be a violation of the rights of people living in isolation to life, health, and self determination,” Davila said.  “The government should respect their right to decide whether or not to make contact.”

Nomadic Indigenous Groups Threatened in New Regulations

After protests from indigenous and human rights groups, the Peruvian government took a step back from proposed new regulations that critics say would threaten nomadic indigenous groups that live in remote areas of the country, shunning contact with the outside world.

Taking advantage of contradictions in Peruvian legislation for protection of Indigenous Peoples living in “voluntary isolation” or initial contact with other people, the new rules would govern oil drilling, mining and forestry operations in reserves designated for those peoples.

Critics say the move comes as the consortium of companies that operates the Camisea gas field in the southern Peruvian Amazon basin plans to expand its operations in Block 88, which overlaps the Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve. The reserve was set aside in 1990 to protect isolated peoples whose mortality rate jumped in the 1980s after initial oil exploration in the area.

“These regulations are designed to facilitate new exploratory and extractive activities” in the reserve, “violating the human rights of our autonomous brothers,” the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (Asociación Interétnica del Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana, AIDESEP), Peru’s largest Amazonian indigenous organization, said in a statement.

Calling the nomadic groups “autonomous,” rather than “isolated” or “uncontacted,” the statement said they “depend on their territory for their subsistence and are highly vulnerable to contact with outsiders, because they have no defenses” against common diseases that are easily transmitted.

AIDESEP demanded that the Culture Ministry and one of its agencies, the National Institute for Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo de Pueblos Andinos, Amazónicos y Afroperuano, INDEPA) “not let private interests prevail over constitutionally recognized rights.”

After protests from AIDESEP and human rights groups, the Culture Ministry denied that it was favoring private interests over the interests of the nomadic groups and said it would seek to build consensus on the new rules before they are approved.

The conflict stems from contradictory provisions of a 2006 law designed to protect “indigenous or original peoples in isolation or initial contact.” The law provides for the establishment of reserves to protect the territory used by such groups until they decide to settle in communities and seek legal title.

Peru has five such reserves and indigenous organizations have filed petitions for five more. Several – like the one near Camisea – are overlapped by oil or gas leases. AIDESEP has tried unsuccessfully to have the government redraw the leases to eliminate the overlap.

In many cases, the government’s “public position has been to deny that these people exist,” said Gregor MacLennan, Peru program director at Amazon Watch, a non-profit group that monitors indigenous and environmental issues in the Amazon basin.

If the government permits exploratory operations, such as seismic testing for petroleum deposits, in areas where nomadic people have been seen, the noise is usually enough to drive them away, bolstering the official argument that the area was uninhabited, MacLennan said.

But while Peruvian law declares the reserves “untouchable” and prohibits “any activity other than those of the uses and customs of the indigenous inhabitants,” it leaves a loophole for the extraction of natural resources in the “national interest.”

The proposed regulations, which were circulated by the state, that the “untouchable” nature of indigenous reserves “is not incompatible with extractive activities, as long as there is a real public need and the state guarantees that they will use methods that respect these peoples’ rights.”

The rules – which include separate sections for hydrocarbon, mining and forestry operations – would establish a “comprehensive protection committee” for each reserve, consisting of government officials, representatives of neighboring indigenous communities and an anthropologist. They also establish a coordinator for each reserve, and require a strategic plan and a series of monitoring mechanisms.

But critics say the government has proven unable to safeguard groups living in the reserves. On July 7, just before the draft regulations were circulated, Eduardo Vega Luna, acting head of the government Ombudsman’s Office, sent a letter to the Culture Minister Juan Ossio Acuña, saying the reserves “are not being protected effectively by the state.” He specifically mentioned failure to stop illegal logging in three reserves.

Even Vega stopped short of calling for a ban on extractive operations, however, recommending that the government “issue regulations to ensure that extractive activities do not jeopardize indigenous peoples in isolation or initial contact.”

The United Nations estimates that 64 isolated groups live in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. While precise data are hard to gather, anthropologists and indigenous leaders draw on accounts of sightings by neighboring indigenous communities, loggers or other outsiders to calculate the territory the groups inhabit.

Peru is estimated to have more than a dozen such groups, many of them in remote forests near the Brazilian border.

Indigenous Rights Programme in Southern Africa Announced to Mixed Reactions

A new Indigenous Rights Programme aimed at advancing the rights of indigenous and local people in Southern Africa has attracted mixed reaction from the very people it intends to represent.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) is meant to advocate for the rights and position of Indigenous Peoples and communities all over Southern Africa.

Established in 1997, OSISA works in 10 southern Africa countries: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

OSISA is part of a network of autonomous Open Society Foundations established by the philanthropist, George Soros, and its mandate is concerned with strengthening democracy, protecting human rights and enhancing good governance in the region.

Only few African countries have so far recognized the existence of Indigenous Peoples.

It is against this backdrop that the Indigenous Rights Programme wants to push for policymakers and First Peoples to talk to each other and to support civil society in taking up the cause of Indigenous Peoples, particularly where violations of their rights have occurred.

The Programme also includes capacity building and supporting research to make good on the broader ideal of achieving equal standing for Indigenous Peoples in southern African society, which has been largely intolerant of them.

According to the International Work group for indigenous Affairs; compared to other regions of the world, the indigenous movement – and civil society as such – is still weak in Africa, and indigenous organizations are still few and burdened with low capacity. The work group provides the small and comparatively weak San organizations in Southern Africa as an example of poor capacity.

Indigenous People’s Rights Programme Manager at OSISA, Delme Cupido said that the Indigenous Rights Programme is intended to bridge the “huge gap” between government and its affirmation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the region.

He said that Indigenous Peoples are typically left out of human rights programs.

“Given the history of the region and how first people’s are treated and continue to be treated, it was important that we are able to make this contribution (to their lives). It became clear to us in terms of documenting the lives of indigenous people that the capacity of Indigenous Peoples to deal with global threats that they face, is lacking.”

Cupido hopes that the Programme will help Indigenous Peoples discuss their futures for themselves together with policymakers.

Jethro Louw, Khoi-San poet and member of the pioneering Indigenous People’s band, the Khoi Konnexion received news of OSISA’s indigenous people’s program with caution and some hesitation.

“I am not seeing them working on the ground. I haven’t seen them in action. It is good that some sectors are organizing, but we have to put the program on the ground first.”

Louw explained that for such a program to be effective, it has to be spearheaded by indigenous people’s communities first.

“If something doesn’t grow from the roots, then how can it last?” he questioned.

However, Louw’s views were not shared by all Indigenous Peoples.

Pedro Dausab, one of the few remaining speakers of the Nama language (spoken by the indigenous people of Namibia and parts of South Africa) lauded the Indigenous People’s Progamme as something that was “long overdue”

Dausab who works with The Pan South African Language Board in South Africa said that indigenous people, particularly those communities residing in rural areas outside of the big cities, yearned for a vehicle where their voices could be heard and taken into serious account.

He explained that literacy levels among indigenous peoples were low and that funding for proposed upliftment projects for unemployed and unskilled Indigenous Peoples was scarce. For these reasons, he supports the Indigenous People’s Rights Programme and its advocacy objectives.

“The government must do more to promote the language, also the tradition and religion of Indigenous Peoples,” he explained.

In South Africa, where Dausab resides, Nama, or any of the indigenous Khoi-San languages, is not recognized as a language among the 11 official languages in multi-lingual South Africa.

What is clear is that Indigenous Peoples in Southern Africa are largely a faceless people and with the steady extinction of their languages, religion and dispossession of their ancestral land; a program such as the Indigenous People’s Programme may represent the hard-to-ignore catalyst in asserting their rights.

Asia Indigenous Hearing: McGovern Renews Call for More Active U.S. Embassies

Confronted with testimony of yet another vast continent’s atrocities against Indigenous Peoples, Rep. James McGovern again resorted to the potential role of U.S. Embassies in forging relationships with persecuted peoples.

The occasion was a July 26 hearing, held in Washington D.C, of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Indigenous Peoples of Asia—the third and final in a series on Indigenous Peoples. At previous hearings on Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and Africa, McGovern, D-Mass., the commission co-chair, had seized on the lack of U.S. Embassy relationships with marginalized Indigenous Peoples, and he found a similar pattern in Asian nations.

“I don’t think there is a strong relationship yet” with the U.S. Embassy in India, said Rashmi Ekka, executive director of Adivasi Development Network.

“At least it would take away the excuse that ‘no one has talked to us,’” McGovern said. But with U.S. Embassies in place the world over, and the plight of Indigenous Peoples overwhelming in their complexity and extent for any one agency of Congress, McGovern had identified a viable pathway for progress. He returned to the theme in closing. U.S. Embassy personnel should be “in the field” more with Indigenous Peoples, he said, and members of Congress who travel should “signal to governments” that they care about Indigenous peoples by meeting with them.

“Advocacy of peoples’ rights doesn’t always have to be confrontational,” he added, in a nod to the evidence of government violence against Indigenous Peoples.

There was plenty of that. “We are considered inhuman, barbarian” for living in the forest and consuming meat, Ekka said of the Adivasi. But nowadays as well, India’s economic development priorities also threaten them. “Because Indigenous Peoples see that they aren’t getting a good deal for their land that is being acquired,” Adivasi advocates building small fortresses to occupy taken land and refuse to let the police or military enter, “and then there’s an altercation.”

Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said U.S. citizens simply haven’t been exposed to the kind of nationalist military thinking in Asia that defines Indigenous Peoples as “almost inhuman,” and so knowingly denies them any protection.

Senge H. Sering, president of the Institute for Gilgit Baltistan, said that in Pakistan the Baltistan language itself, let alone the people who are subject to dispossession for energy pipelines and expressways and indeed the full gamut of development purposes – in Pakistan the very Baltistan language “is considered profane.”

In Burma, where energy pipelines, mega-dams and hydropower plants have led to the habitual confiscation of indigenous lands and the conscription of forced indigenous labor, the persecution of Rohingya, Karen and other Indigenous Peoples differs in degree. The Burmese military junta has been extreme in its persecutions, going back at least to 1978 and a military offensive against “foreigners.” Since then arrest, confiscation, torture, rape, murder, and the denial of basic services have been deployed against indigenous “foreigners,” according to Jennifer Quigley of U.S. Campaign for Burma. Of many “multi-ethnic” peoples in Burma (where indigenous is not a recognized concept), the Rohingya and Karen suffer most, she said in response to questioning.

Like McGovern, Quigley concluded that small steps matter against brutality. The Burmese government simply doesn’t care what grassroots communities think, but international opinion carries some weight. International partnerships with the Rohingya, Karen and others remain critical, therefore, in “inching” toward progress in Burma, Quigley said.

Protecting Identity and Art: 17 Years of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

That someone will copy or even steal an idea is something most artists have to contend with.  But with Indigenous artists, the risk may be even higher.

You don’t have to look far to see evidence of this theft; from tribal tattoos to west coast designs, it seems everyone is cashing in on indigenous artistry.

Everyone that is, except Indigenous Peoples themselves.

Fitting then that the theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9) is, “Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future.”

Created 17 years ago, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is meant to promote and protect the rights of the world’s Indigenous population and to recognize the achievements and contributions indigenous people have made to the world.

Part of this year’s observance will be a special event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, a discussion around affirming and reclaiming Indigenous artistry.

Roberto Mukaro Borrero is with the United Confederation of the Taino People (Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean) and chairperson of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

He says the discussion is long overdue.

“Indigenous Peoples’ designs, intellectual property and traditional knowledge have been appropriated,” says Borrero. “Our designs are linked to our cultures, it is a historic tradition that is tied with who we are as a people.”

Loretta Sarah Todd (Cree/Metis) knows that link well.

An internationally acclaimed filmmaker from Edmonton, Alberta, she says that the spirit of her ancestors continues to live through her work.

“When I think of my film work, I think of it as an extension of my grandmother, my ancestors. Design is not just something that exists. It is the way we look at the world and the way we experience it. It is how we observe the world and express it in the work that we do,” says Todd.

Todd is the force behind Tansi! Nehiyawetan, a television show on Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) aimed at teaching children the Cree language.

She recalls that during the 1990s, appropriation was alive and well in the film industry.

“There was this idea that anybody could tell an aboriginal story. It had been going on in Canada for years.”

But some have begun fighting back.

An expert in American Indian federal laws, Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) has dedicated the last four decades to helping protect and promote Native sovereignty, arts, culture and human rights.

“They’ve been raided and pillaged in the same way by invaders of our lands,” she says.

“We are fighting the same kind of mentality and people when we try to protect our traditions, culture, knowledge and cultural patrimony.”

Harjo helped develop the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978), the National Museum of the American Indian Act (1989), and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990), to name just a few.

According to Harjo, those pieces of legislation get the job done.

“There is nothing like the ability to have the United States hand someone a subpoena if they don’t abide by them.” But, she says, “there needs to be greater penalties imposed and fewer loopholes for people to escape them.”

Harjo recommends a few steps for Indigenous Peoples to take when protecting their traditional cultural properties.

“The first thing for every Native nation is to make a list and declare what is theirs. Look at other repatriation laws or other laws for that matter from another country and ask what it is you like and how you could make those better.”

Finally, send those notices to a patent and trademark office (for those living in the United States).

At the international level, The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the specialized agency of the United Nations which works to promote and protect intellectual property.

For 10 years now they’ve been creating rules surrounding intellectual property rights, including protection for things like traditional knowledge, folklore and cultural expressions.

While it sounds impressive, lacking is the legal enforcement behind its’ well-intentioned work.

“It (WIPO) presumes that there’s a formal legal system, enforcement is based on an existing code of law,” says Rama Rao, director of the New York based office.

But many countries simply don’t have laws around intellectual property rights, and Rao admits that this is a major challenge for WIPO.

But despite the lack of any real legal enforcement, Roberto Mukaro Borrero believes progress can still be seen at the U.N.

“While it seems like nothing, things are actually happening, and we are affecting the political will of these countries,” he says.

“At least the conversation is happening, whereas before we were a non-issue.”

Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing After Drug Traffickers Invade Area

The Brazilian government sent security forces to a remote area near the border with Peru after armed men attacked a guard post set up to protect indigenous people living in isolation in the western state of Acre.

Guard post personnel reported that about 40 armed men, whom Brazilian officials described as “paramilitaries” and who are believed to have been transporting drugs from Peru, overran the guard post on July 23, according to Brazilian news reports.

Members of an Asháninka community three hours away by river had reported seeing a group of armed men on July 11.

The Xinane guard post is on the Envira River about 20 miles from the Peruvian border, in an area inhabited by at least four indigenous groups that avoid contact with the outside world, according to Maria Emília Coelho, a Brazilian journalist in contact with members of the governmental National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) at the guard post.

Aerial photos of the area released in February showed adults and children, some with their bodies painted with red and black vegetable dyes, outside a thatch-roofed dwelling and in a garden of banana trees.

Initial reports about the attack on the guard post said the indigenous people had disappeared from the area and that there could have been a massacre, but Coelho said there were no indications of a confrontation and that officials who flew over the area saw intact thatch-roofed buildings, called malocas, in areas inhabited by the group.

foto gleilson miranda 12935547 cropped copy screen 270x169 Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing After Drug Traffickers Invade Area

Indigenous woman in Banana Fields

“We believe the Indians didn’t appear because they were afraid of the helicopters and planes that have been flying over the area in the past few days,” FUNAI president Márcio Meira told Brazilian media.

It took security forces nearly a week to reach the remote area, according to Brazilian news reports. On August 3, police detained Joaquim Antônio Custódio Fadista, a Portuguese citizen. Fadista, whom FUNAI officials described as a drug trafficker, had been caught in the area in March by a FUNAI official, turned over to police and deported to Peru, but apparently returned to retrieve a package of drugs, officials said.

Peru’s Foreign Ministry did not return a phone call requesting comment.

The area along the border of the western Brazilian state of Acre and the eastern Peruvian regions of Madre de Dios and Ucayali is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous Peoples in isolation in Amazonia.

“But there is practically no presence of the state in the area,” said Francisco Estremadoyro, executive director of Pro Purús, a non-profit organization that works with native communities in the area.

Some of the nomadic groups are probably descendants of indigenous people who fled enslavement by loggers and rubber tappers in the early and mid-1900s. Two reserves were established on the Peruvian side of the border to protect territories inhabited by isolated groups, but Estremadoyro called them “paper parks” that are unprotected against incursions by illegal loggers or drug traffickers.

foto gleilson miranda 12935579 screen 270x179 Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing After Drug Traffickers Invade Area

Indigenous people from an uncontacted tribe in Brazil appear outside their thatched house. The tribe has gone missing as of late due to drug traffickers invading the area.

The Envira River, where the attack occurred, “is a route known to be used by drug traffickers,” Estremadoyro said. “We have reports of similar situations not only along that river, but in neighboring areas.”

Drug traffickers often recruit people from indigenous communities to carry drugs, because they can travel more easily through the forest and other communities, he said.

“Indigenous people in that area have been completely abandoned by the state,” with little opportunity for health care, education or employment, he said. When drug traffickers offer to hire them, “some fall for it.”

Estremadoyro said there are at least three different isolated ethnic groups on the Peruvian side of the border, distinguished by their different styles of haircut, body paint and weapons.

The groups are “traditionally very territorial, and they defend themselves from each other,” he said. “When they are pressured by loggers or drug traffickers, they flee and invade the territory of other groups, resulting in conflicts and sometimes in deaths.”

Little is known about the groups, because there is no centralized database of sightings, he said. Loggers sometimes report having seen nomadic people, and there have been some aerial sightings as well.

Groups have been moving into areas along the Purús River where they have not been seen before, probably because of incursions into their traditional territories by loggers and drug traffickers, Estremadoyro said.

Mapuche Students Fight for an Indigenous University in Chile

Mapuche students in Chile have brought the issue of a Mapuche University with a focus on indigenous knowledge and history to the attention of the entire nation, and garnered support from certain Chilean leaders and government officials.

Activists from the Mapuche Federation of Students (FEMAE) occupied an abandoned school building in the city of Temuco on two occasions in mid-July and were removed by soldiers within a day of each occupation, but their publicized action led them to meetings with some of the top officials of the Chilean government.

The approximately 70 indigenous student activists were holding their protests for a nationally funded university while thousands of Chilean university students held strikes throughout the country against the privatization of higher education. The leaders of the larger strike, the national Federation of Students of Chile (CONFECH), have stated their support for the Mapuche University.

So far, however, the most concrete result is a mention of “promoting interculturalism in higher education” in the Chilean Governments Plan for Education, published on August 1st. By August 9, the FEMAE students had rejoined the larger national protest, after CONFECH leaders and their allies rejected the plan presented by the Chilean government.

The struggle for the Mapuche University however, did make headlines along with the national strike.

“We are maintaining our position for a Mapuche University,” said FEMAE leader Yonatan Cayulao on July 25th, a week after the second occupation, “and the recuperation of spaces for our Mapuche people.”

Cayulao was with both groups in mid-July, the first bunch of more than a dozen students on July 13th and then close to 50 students on July 16th that occupied the former Anibal Pinto Lyceum in the city of Temuco, located in the heart of Mapuche territory in southern Chile.

The FEMAE leader, during the two occupations, explained the history of the Mapuche University idea in various press statements.

“This will be developed in the context of a Mapuche curricula,” Cayulao said. “This is a very old project of Mapuche society, a demand that was born in 1910, with the Caupolican Society and was renewed in the 1940s with the Araucana Corporation, in the ’70s with the Federation of Indigenous Students, in the ’90s with Indigenous Homes and now with the Federation of Mapuche Students.”

“During 100 years,” he continued, “we have been ignored by the curriculum of Chilean education, we did not exist within it…this education, over 100 years, at least within the Mapuche community, has served as a homogenizing force, negating the possibility of a heterogeneous society. Here there is an intercultural post-war society, and that is the Arawakan society. Chilean education has ignored that and obliged us to forget that we are Mapuche, that we are a different people.”

While the FEMAE activists have yet not received the cooperation they were seeking from the Chilean government, there were national and local leaders who did support the Mapuche students in public forums.

One of these sympathetic officials is Representative Gonzalo Arena, the federal congressperson from that region who met with the FEMAE activists during their occupation of the Pinto Lyceum. Rep. Arena wrote an op-ed piece on his meeting with the student activists which was published in various newspapers.

“These Mapuche students have a very interesting proposal about the necessity of a truly intercultural education and the idea of forming an institutional dialogue between the Mapuche world and the State,” wrote Arena. “These Mapuche youth have “discovered,” at its roots, one of the major problems with public policies that emanate from the State towards the Mapuche, this is, the absence of institutional channels of dialogue that may be recognized by the majority of Mapuche communities and also the leaders that serve as technical counterparts in public policy.”

“…they are showing that their demands are not for land or subsidies, but intellectual discussion, cultural recognition, recuperation of their language, which will help on top of everything else to have the topic of Mapuches to go beyond the topic of poverty (which is a big mistake in public policy) and involves the complexity of Mapuche issues in all their dimensions,” Arena asserted.

In the last week of July Cayalao and Pablo Millalen (another FEMAE activist) wrote that they were going to meet with Chile’s Minister of Education, Felipe Bulnes, along with student leaders involved in the national strike. After the meeting FEMAE announced their support of the continued national strike but did not comment on any further developments involving a Mapuche University.

The national student strike was slated to continue through mid-August.