In the light of the current crisis concerning the Awás in Brazil, the Indy went out to get local opinions concerning the situation of indigenous people everywhere. We asked interested passersby to share with us their thoughts on the role that state governments play in protecting indigenous communities and their lands in South America.
In their comments, the locals we talked to seem to think that in Argentina and in general across the region state governments do address (or at least recognise) indigenous issues. However, most people added that they felt that governmental intervention too often falls short of providing any real form of protection for indigenous communities and that state meddling in indigenous affairs is often driven by broader political agendas and ulterior motives. Their answers seem to reflect the harsh reality of the status of indigenous people with respect to state protection in Brazil, a status that is often also lived in other parts of South America and all over the world.
Photos by Simon Guerra
I don’t think that the government is really concerned with indigenous people. They are not interested in the subject. The government doesn’t do much to protect them because that idea is not part of its political agenda. Furthermore, in general I think that the idea of the ‘Indian’ is changing -we live in a world that is changing. The image of those people today is not what it was in the past. They are now involved and integrated in schools, work, city life. So their issues are changing too.
From what I see in the papers, it seems like yes, the government is concerned with these issues and it does what it can to protect them; but in other papers, no, they don’t even report on that sort of thing. But yeah, I think they are doing at least some things to protect them in Argentina. And in Latin America, Evo Morales is doing a lot for the people. [Ecuadorian president Rafael] Correa as well, and with [Venezuelan president Nicolás] Maduro we’ll see what he does there in Venzuela. I don’t know too much about the issue but from what I see I don’t think that what the governments are doing is really sufficient [to protect indigenous people and their lands] but they at least do a little bit. Like here in Argentina they have land laws in place that help.
No, I don’t think what the governments are doing [in the region] is sufficient at all. Those people are basically ignored. I don’t know about in other countries but here it seems like the concern [the government] does give to those issues is superficial and it doesn’t give them a lot of importance. But what is it that they could or should do? I have no idea. That’s why I’m not involved in government. But I know that there are a lot of NGOs that work to do what they can for them, but in general, I mean you don’t see campaigns or anything that concern indigenous people -I believe they are ignored. I don’t know how it is in other provinces either, but here they are ignored.
Well, I’m really not an expert on the issue, you know? But I think a lot of things are happening -like with the Qom community here in Argentina for example. And I don’t know how it is like in other countries with relatively large reservations with state lands so that the people are protected enough to live and develop their lives; but here, they create parks and areas for really small groups that survive generally by means of exporting goods and artisan crafts that they make themselves, especially in the north and northeast of the country. I think sometimes the situations [of indigenous peoples] are pretty poorly attended to. And although it seems like nowadays indigenous people have no problem integrating into society in general, I don’t know if they necessarily want to integrate themselves in this way. What the governments are doing in terms of protection of indigenous peoples is not sufficient. At least from what I know, there is no sort of state plan or program coordinated with the provinces to help with protection of such groups or to help these communities develop. Here in Argentina the indigenous groups are pretty marginalised, but in Central America where their populations are bigger, there are tremendous efforts being done to protect their rights. And in these countries where the indigenous populations are bigger their issues are more visible and I think they receive much more attention and help.
I think that [the state protection of indigenous people] is false and unreal in a sense. The attention given to these issues is not truly for the sake of helping or of integration of these groups, but rather a question of control. Everything [the government] does is to look for ways to approach these groups and draw them near into a sort of enclosure. And furthermore, indigenous communities are not included in daily societal activities. What happens, for instance, here [in Argentina] in the countryside of Chaco, such groups receive funds from the government but also serve as instruments for governmental use. In general I don’t think that a form of state protection in this sense really exists, nor does a genuine motive for helping them.