They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Day of the American Aboriginal Peoples

Day of the American Aboriginal Peoples

By Edgardo Civallero

On April 19th, we celebrate the American Day of the Aboriginal Peoples. In this day, we commemorate the first meeting of the participants in the First Interamerican Indigenous Conference, held in 1940 in Pátzcuaro, (Michoacan, Mexico). During this Conference, the Interamerican Indigenous Institute was created. Even if the Resolution generated by this Meeting is considered a national law in Argentina since 1945, the high principles contained in the text are still forgotten on a daily basis.

In Argentina, the week including April 19th is called "Aboriginal Peoples' Week", and a lot of good events, conferences and festivals are carried out. For closing this "special" week, the Third Meeting of American Originary Peoples has been held in Formosa (northeastern Argentina, indigenous area) during this last weekend.

Last weekend, instead of being in this interesting meeting in Formosa, I was in the other side of my country, in northern Patagonia, also a very important point for Argentinean native cultures. I participated as a speaker in the First Meeting of History of Western Buenos Aires province, held in the beautiful city of Trenque Lauquen (an Araucanian name, meaning "round lake"). I have been there, invited by the local public library "Bernardino Rivadavia", to speak about oral tradition and its management. I enjoyed a very exciting and interesting meeting, with a lot of people participating there, coming from every corner of the big Buenos Aires province.

But, at the same time I enjoyed this event, I felt I was in a city founded during the famous "Desert Campaigns", a set of military campaigns launched by Argentinean national government during late 19th century, aimed at conquering the whole Patagonia, still kept as their territory by several indigenous nations. This war was terrible, especially because the aboriginal groups (belonging to the Araucanian and Tehuelche peoples) were fierce warriors, defending bloodily their lives and their lands.

Anyway, their long spears and their frightful knives were useless against the "Remington" rifles of the Argentinean soldiers, and the indigenous nations were totally defeated and exterminated. The few survivors were confined to poor and isolated lands, their culture was almost forbidden and they were relegated to the lowest layers of society.

This happened during the last years of 19th century. Today, nothing has changed.

The city of Trenque Lauquen exhibits a good number of monuments to the heroes of the "Desert Campaign": streets with their names, squares with their statues, museums with their weapons... The descendants of the aboriginal nations still walk these streets in shame, looking everywhere the names of their killers.

It happens in Trenque Lauquen, and it happens everywhere in Argentina and in the rest of this continent. It happened before, when Europeans arrived, and when national states became independent from Iberian powers and wanted to take control of their territories (some of them held by a lot of indigenous peoples). They were killed, they were forgotten, they were discriminated, they were used as slaves...

And it still happens here, in my own country, in front of my eyes. In NW Argentina, in Jujuy, children die because of the cold weather and the lack of clothes. In Misiones (NE Argentina) and Chaco, they die because of malnutrition and diarrhea. In Santiago del Estero (central Argentina), they are killed, and their lands are stolen by landowners. In Patagonia, they live in wilderness while "gringos" like Mr Bennetton enjoy their best lands, and extract oil from their sacred places, and burn the air and fill the waters with poison. In Chaco, Corrientes and Catamarca (northern Argentina), indigenous men, women and children (yes, children) work all day long for getting just a couple of cents for each kilogram of cotton or sugar cane they get. And in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, La Plata and Rosario, our biggest cities, the native girls are used as sexual slaves (yes, as you read it) and men and children are used as slaves in factories (last week, this situation was discovered when one of this illegal factories was burnt and a lot of Bolivian immigrants died).

And in the rest of Latin America, it's the same thing. Don't you believe it? You can check it everywhere.

What we can do as librarians? Well... There are thousands of native communities that need our help. If you feel that they are very far from your place, you can help the colleagues who are working with them, or you can work with those aboriginal people living in your place (e.g. immigrants). They need a lot of help. And, if you can't do anything like this, you can still spread the native cultures from your library. You can make their voice to be heard by everybody.

When I left Trenque Lauquen, travelling southwards for discovering other cities in southern Argentina –and for enjoying a couple of days in the cold and windy sea-coast– I said goodbye to a beautiful city and to a very nice group of people. But I was also saying goodbye to a land dyed with pain and blood, covered by years of tears and silence. I said goodbye to nice wide boulevards covered by lovely trees, but also to discriminating fingers pointing out the different people. And I thought that this is such a common reality in this world, in this beloved continent, that nobody seems to notice it, nobody seems to realize that it exists. And, while travelling southwards, I remembered the Mapuche voices of all the warriors who died in these "pampas" (prairies), and a poem came to my mind, a poem from the Chilean Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf, singing about the freedom of their people. With his words, I say goodbye by now...

Elel mu kechi malall, kalli amulepe ñi ko.
Elel mu kechi malall, wiño petu kuyfimogen,
Feypi Willi kürüf ñi vülü, mogenley ta ti
Inchiñ ñi kom pu che, ñi pu wenüy, mülfen ñi mogen.

[I don't want walls! Let my rivers run in freedom.
I don't want walls! Let the freedom come back, covered by flowers.
So speaks the spirit of the southern wind, who never dies
because it is my people, my friends, the dew of life].