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Guardians of the Argentinean forest: a rebirth for the territories of indigenous communities

In an incredible trip to the north of Argentina, we visited the indigenous communities that live in and from the forest. There we shared knowledge, learned about the different activities they carry out, how they are organized, what their needs are, what territorial resistance they suffer and what are the real opportunities to work together with Partner Forest Program Argentina. A collaboration that ensures the preservation of biodiversity in the forest and reaffirms local, regional and global climate commitments.

Route map

The indigenous communities of northern Argentina define themselves as Guardians of the Mountain - Kurupí in Guaraní. And their greatest concern is the poaching pressure from the invasion of private loggers. They know they depend on the forest and do everything in their power to protect it.

However, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the UN, states that it should be the indigenous peoples who manage the resources of "their" forests. Experts wonder what economic resources indigenous communities have to manage forests. This is where the Partner Forests Program appears as a hope, since it offers an opportunity to vindicate, support and help these communities to maintain native forests; and safeguarding the biological diversity in the landscape. This systemic collaboration model, aims to put the sustainable management of forest products back in the hands of the indigenous communities and empower them as authors of a new history for the Argentine forests.

Road to the Pichanal community

According to INDEC data (INDEC, 2010), 2.4% of Argentina's population considers itself to be descendants of indigenous peoples, located in areas where there are native forests.

It is in the ancestral lands of the Guaraní and Wichís that the dialogue for collaboration was fostered. These lands are within the Gran Chaco, the largest forested ecoregion on the continent after the Amazon and the largest dry forest in South America. It is also the site with the highest levels of deforestation in the world and the highest levels of degradation.

Left photo: Map of indigenous communities Right: Fidel Bauti in open classes.

The Guaraní perceive themselves as: dialogue-oriented, brotherly and respectful of others. For them the forest is the bush. To live in the bush is to have a commitment with nature, and to be prepared to live in the face of climatic adversities. The Guarani communities, La Bendición and Pichanal, located in the north of the Province of Salta, and the Tata Iyipy community, located in the north of the Province of Jujuy - welcomed the Partner Forests Program.

As one walks through the Gran Chaco bush to meet the Kurupí, scattered adobe and thatched-roof houses appear in a harmonious relationship with nature. Fidel Feliciano Bauti, President of the Assembly of the Guaraní People, expresses that "The knowledge of the aborigines is sensitive, we connect with nature, we try to understand and comprehend it. Without the territory we are not life.”

With the 140 families living in the communities, rounds of enriching encounters took place. Suddenly they came to a 200-year-old carob tree. Although the carob tree provides shade for resting, it has become the ritual of the Guaraní assemblies. From the symbolic: the tree enlightens them when they must make decisions for the common good, they transmit wisdom and respect. It is said that the larger the species, the more enlightened and wise you will be if you are under its shade.

Assembly under the carob tree. Guaraní Pichanal Community - Salta.

The benefits of the forest: The quebracho colorado is very good for export. They claim to look for alternatives for its sustainable production - The carob tree is the tree of the Guaraní community, it produces medicine (the carob leaf cures headaches and lowers fever), produces wood for furniture and handicrafts, produces charcoal for firewood, from the chaucha they obtain flour, they keep the fruits for the farm animals' food, and also with the fruit they make chicha: a typical food of the community - They obtain clay to make handicrafts - They produce hats with the leaves of palm trees.

Due to deforestation, the Guarani have a purpose: to reforest their sacred carob tree. With exclamation they ask for the sanction of the Nagoya Protocol, which proposes to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

The word Wichí means ‘true man’, alluding to the most human of the subjects. One of the communities visited is La Esperanza community in the province of Formosa.

Very skilled in the textile technique, they used simple looms - apparently of Andean origin - to make clothes. They wove the caraguatá fiber with which they made bags for harvesting. They worked with chaguar, caraguatá and palo santo, pottery, sheep wool and seeds. The Wichi ethnic group inhabits the western region of the Gran Chaco Americano. According to demographic estimates, there are 36,135 Wichi, distributed over an area of approximately 100,000 km2, although there are other estimates that speak of 50,000 people.

"We do not think of nature and the land as something that belongs to us, but rather that we belong to the land" Cacique F. Méndez.

The activity with the chaguar is one that identifies the Wichi culture. It is very much their own, and in the past it was practiced by both sexes. Currently, chaguar handicrafts are one of the main productive activities of women and one of the first in which an organization was formed in search of commercialization. The women artisans participate in provincial and national fairs in order to find more buyers.

Women collecting leaves for loom work.

The palo santo tree is a sacred tree for the community, but it is not used, only for the production of sahumo.

Men's work is often related to logging and woodworking activities.

The indigenous communities have a very precise knowledge of their territory, developing specific technologies to take advantage of their natural resources, satisfy their basic needs and solve their health problems. The Partner Forests Program promotes the carpentry trade by fostering a social and community economy, promoting sustainable products from a collective work. By working together on strategies for the production of products from the forest, it ensures non-invasion of land clearing and guarantees climate commitments.

Some examples: With the sustainable production of wood from quebracho colorado, algarrobo or palo santo, urban objects - indoor and outdoor - are obtained. With the production of clay, industrial objects for domestic use are obtained. With the production of fruits, healthy food is obtained. With the production of the bushes of the forest, we obtain fabrics for clothing, etc. Many are the products that come from the forest and that the communities have the possibility of managing them by associating them with the cities.

Without forgetting how important it is to articulate the ancestral knowledge of the indigenous communities with the urban areas, so that it is not a mere object of research, but rather to be makers that collaborate with the recognition of their work.

A forest/mountain managed by a community that lives in the most threatened region in the world, will undoubtedly be a rebirth that will show not only the origin of each product but also the historicity of the Guardians of the forest.

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