Argentina indigenous chieftain leads fight to reclaim ancestral land

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

Being ignored by the president will not stop Qom activist Félix Díaz from camping out in Buenos Aires with demands for government officials

Félix Díaz stands before a line of colourful plastic tents on one of the broad strips of land running down the centre of the Avenida 9 de Julio – one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Argentinian capital.

“We have many gods,” he says. “The god of nature, the god of water, the god of air, but we no longer have the land we shared with them. They’ve taken our gods and now they’re taking what little is left of our land.”

Díaz, the chieftain of the Qom indigenous tribe, is leading the fight for the return of his people’s ancestral lands in the distant northern province of Formosa. Together with representatives of the Pilagá, Wichi and Nivaclé indigenous communities, the Qom activists have for the past five months camped out in central Buenos Aires to demand the return of their traditional territories.

But his words are drowned out by the thunderous din of traffic – and his message has been actively ignored by government officials.

Argentina is often thought of as a country of immigrants: most of the current population consider themselves to be descendants of southern Europeans who arrived between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

Díaz is attempting to change that narrative by making visible the displaced indigenous minority and reaffirming their rights – and their claims to lost territory.

“Argentina’s indigenous people suffer racism, discrimination and violence,” says Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who survived 14 months of torture and incarceration during the country’s 1976-83 military dictatorship and is now leading a campaign for official recognition of indigenous leaders such as Díaz.

Continue reading