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indigenous peoples

indigenous peoples

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INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, land and territory
José Bengoa
Academy of Christian Humanism Universidad de Chile

For many centuries the Latin American Indians lived in isolation from urban cent ers, and even the capitals of state power. They talked about the American heartl and. There in the vastness of the forests, coasts, unexplored mountains of the h ills and mountains, inhabited by descendants of the ancient indigenous cultures of the Americas. In the 1940s, the Mexican anthropologist Manuel Aguirre Beltran called these places "refuge areas" of the Indians. They lived there for centuri es, sometimes in a kind of "self-enforced" without too many contacts with the We stern world.

For much of the twentieth century the demands of indigenous people and the state
action were aimed at achieving greater "integration" of communities and indigen
ous societies. Many times these policies were more assimilationist than cutting
respectful integration of Indians into the global society. Still, the Indians cl
aimed ways to communicate with cities and communities in this way, it was said,
to get their produce to markets. It demanded schools, police, courts, in short,
the active state presence in these remote places.


In many Latin American countries these "areas of refuge" were kept isolated unti l well into the 1960s, that is, when the country lived in relative modernity. Th is is the case of the slope of the Amazon, where many indigenous people lived in a totally isolated until

José Bengoa

sixties begin XX.1 century Although the best known case is not unique. For examp le, in northern Chile's first road that was opened to the altiplano Aymara commu nities where they live was built in 1967. Until that time, these communities liv ed in a very isolated, they communicated almost exclusively in their language, a nd survived produced in accordance with their traditional and celebrated their r ituals and festivities. The situation was repeated in many parts of Latin Americ a. The impact of the opening of these marginal and isolated areas for action by the state and business was very strong, especially on indigenous peoples. Within a decade there Amazonian areas whose resources were destroyed, and the native p opulations were drawn into extremely difficult situations. It was very vulnerabl e populations, it had no cross-cultural resources to handle the new situation. O ften this vulnerability was also biologically, since individuals were not immuni zed against diseases of the majority society. In this context, opening new front iers and extreme vulnerability of indigenous peoples led to the first ideas on a utonomy, self-governing territories, guards, in short, territorial spaces capabl e of protecting these populations from the voracity of the adventurers, settlers , extractive industries and other forms of expression of the expansive force of capitalist development in that period. Therefore, in many cases, these territori es were declared, first, national parks, in order to protect the flora and fauna , "passing", the people who lived there. These policies in the Amazon and on the slopes leading to the great river, and in some coastal areas, as the Colorados in Ecuador, were quickly criticized, not only by environmentalists and environme ntalists but also by pointing to Indian treated human beings as part of nature.


From those experiences came the first territories failed with some degree of ter
ritorial autonomy and internal organization, and
1 A comprehensive study on the status of the territories of the Amazon is the bo
ok indigenous land rights and ecology in the rainforests of America (Bogotá: Fun
dación Gaia, 1992). This study analyzes the situation of land tenure, the demarc
ation of indigenous territories and environmental situation of the indigenous co
mmunities at the beginning of the 1990s. The study is the result of the meeting
in Villa de Leyva, Colombia, attended by experts and indigenous leaders from Bra
zil, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and other countries. Unfortunately, a decad
e after diagnosis, concern remains valid.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, land and territory

were then converted to a large extent, models for what was to come later in the region.€In Panama, the existence of communities Kuna, Embera and Guaymi in extre me isolation led to the Government, in the late 1960s, to establish a regional s ystem known as "regions." This is a very isolated area of America, the only one in which there is no road communication with the neighboring country, Colombia. In the islands called San Blas Archipelago of Kuna is organized. There he perfor med one of the first experiences of indigenous self-government, facilitated larg ely by the remoteness and inaccessibility of the place, the strong tradition of participation of the Kuna and, in some way by the structural weakness of the Cen tral Government of Panama, which delegates Indians in the control and management of these regions. Many international NGOs such as Cultural Survival, and other well-known ", supported with training resources and experience that will be deta iled later. In Ecuador, the Salesian Fathers had developed for many decades a mi ssion on the banks of the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon, the Indians Shu ars, formerly known and misnamed "feral." In this region began to develop a proj ect based on a radio station that broadcast its messages in the native language and was run by themselves or Shuaras Shuars. When the lands of the east were ove rrun by the state oil companies, settlers and adventurers, we attempted to form a federation of communities that serve as defense and protection of these lands not only the Indians but also of their cultures and resources. The federation, s upported by the missionaries, negotiated with the State and the Government of th e time for which I will deliver title to the Indians, but not private but collec tive, that is, to be set a lot of territory Shuara . Although not every responde nt was achieved, the Shuar Federation, and called the organization "was transfor med into a kind of self-government system in the territories of the Shuar commun ities. These two successful examples of indigenous policy led to appreciate the issue of territorial autonomy in the 1970s and early 1980s. Thus, compared to th e situation raised in the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where the Miskito Indians and other local groups opposed the policy of annexation of the new Sandinista go vernment, declared the autonomy of the territory of the Nicaraguan Atlantic coas t, and so this is became the first territory with domestic legal systems and est ablished in the Constitution of that country. A few years later (1990), when the reform of its Constitution, Colombia developed a system of territorial autonomy called "indigenous reservations." This was an institution and a name from the S panish colony, which was granted a new

José Bengoa
dimension. The colonial structure was similar to the concept of "reservation" or

"reservations" indigenous applied in the United States and other countries. A s

ystem of protection of indigenous peoples and, in turn, apart from the rest of s ociety. The 1990 Constitution established modernized this concept guarded territ ories in which indigenous people can develop their policies, govern themselves a nd play their cultures. They have a certain independence from the rest of the co untry's administrative organization, as we shall see.


In the late 1980s, and in particular in the 1990s, occurred in Latin America, a native effervescence-mobilization, organization and demands, to which we have ca lled "the Indian Emergency in Latin America reached 0.2 This massive mobilizatio n its peak around the holidays and commemorations of the fifth centenary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to America. For Europeans it was a celebration o f discovery, and for the Indians became five hundred years of resistance. There were therefore very strong mobilizations in Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, Bolivia, and in 1994 broke the Indian insurgency in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Whe n discussing indigenous programs, the concept of autonomy reappeared in the cent er of the lawsuits. This autonomy appears to indigenous movements as the culmina tion of the recognition by the wider society and the state of their collective r ights, the specificity of their own culture, the ability to exercise self-determ ination. Emerges as a target down the road of building a personality. The messag e and the demands have changed: the Indians are not asking and to be integrated, but on the contrary, protected from the harmful effects of integration.€When as ked for ways to bring their products did not imagine that in the opposite direct ion come tens of spontaneous settlers, traders, provocative and usurpers extract them much of their resources, if not all. For most integration became destructi on and destruction not only in culture but also of resources and, often, even ph ysical and biological.

2See Bengoa, José: The emergence indigenous in Latin America. Santiago / Mexico:
Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2000. This book looks at what has been this process

of building a new indigenous consciousness in Latin America.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, land and territory

Since the 1950s there was a strong migration of peasants and indigenous people t o the cities. There many of them were able to study, prepare, even learn other e xperiences. Therefore, in the late 1980s began to emerge a kind of Indian leader totally different from the past: one with knowledge of Western culture and ofte n in college. A person who handled admirably between his rural community and the capital, establishing relations with foreign countries. It was a very broad sec tion of leaders who carried out the "emergency indigenous" in the region. They k now what is happening in other parts of the world. The international experience of autonomy of indigenous peoples, including Greenland, had also influenced the indigenous elites. Many of these leaders traveled to conferences and meetings in which they met those experiences. Very important was the opening of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples United Nations, which meets annually in Geneva and brings together people from around the world. In these discussions was especiall y relevant the concept of autonomy, which became an everyday term for the indige nous leadership. The massive presence of Indians in cities has led to the emerge nce of a new ethnic identity in many Latin American countries. Speaking of the n ew identities back to the field of migration back and forth. In these new connec tions with other indigenous cultures, their main demand is emerging: that of aut onomy.

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