We are indigenous people, please listen

“Good afternoon. I am Felix Diaz, and I am a member of the Qom community, an indigenous community from the northern part of the country. We live 170 kilometers away from the capital of the Formosa province, and 1340 kilometers away from Buenos Aires, very far from here. We have been here in the 9 de Julio Avenue for more than 9 months. We set up this camp, because of the injustice we’ve had to endure in our region. The conflict with the government started when the government of Formosa began despoiling our land in 2007. Without consulting the community, they decided to include a lake in a national park. It is very important to our people. It’s a historic lake, a mirror made of water, a white lake that is sacred to us, because of its origin according to the stories of our ancestors.

The story says that the valley was a very low place, with scant water. The Qom had to move to that place, and there was a terrible drought in the area. So, the indigenous people would get water out of the ‘cardones’ that are in the area, a plant that’s not a cactus but is similar. This plant, when it rains, can hold the water for years. So the indigenous people would pick this plant, and make a sort of bucket out of animal leather. Then they would start to purify the water through another plant that sticks to trees. That’s how you purify it. They were running out of cordons, because the animals were going to the mountain, and using them to drink as well. So the ancient man said they should leave him alone in the camp, he was sick. And while he was alone in camp, that old man remembered that there was a water well nearby that was more or less 2.30 meters deep, calculated in a measurement that our elders use. And he dragged himself over to it, and saw that there was a little water, but he didn’t have a rope or anything to get it out, so he threw himself in. And they searched for him for several days, they searched for him, and couldn’t find him. When they couldn’t find him, they assumed that an animal had dragged him down to the well. But from that moment on, the well filled with water. Water started coming out of that place, and flooded a large area, about 3000 hectares, and that’s how the Laguna Blanca was born.

From that moment, Indigenous began to treat the lake as a sacred place because that ancient man gave his life so that the people would have water, according to what his grandchildren said. It seems that the man had a vision, a message to give his life so that the people wouldn’t die of thirst. So then, they named this lake ‘agua blanca’ or white water, because the water is sweet and white. It isn’t clear. And from then on, people from different communities started to gather around the lake.

Over the years, animals of all sorts came, and the lions, pumas, tigers, ant-eaters of all types moved closer. So this lake started to produce diversity, a richness because things started to grow on the hill around this lake, including a very fleshy plant with an edible flower. So this lake began to give life. That story was transmitted orally from generation to generation. For the us indigenous people, our school is the campfire. At night, in the morning, our elder people teach us the myths, the legends, the anecdotes, the history, how to hunt, how to fish…everything has a symbolic meaning, and that meaning is transmitted orally through these stories. There is no written register. When an old indigenous dies, we cry for the loss of his knowledge. But we have to understand what we have learned from him, we have to maintain this teaching. I have to transmit it to my children, and my children to their children, so that this history is not lost, so that we don’t forget what has been lived. I grew up in that place near the lake. My parents are buried only 50 meters away in the hills. For us it is a special place. There are crocodiles, snakes, pests… all sorts of animals. When we indigenous go, and commune with the jungle, there is a being that we call the ‘huera decla’, a spirit (like a human being but smaller) that lives nearby. When we want to communicate with him, one of our spiritual leaders goes to receive the message that for us comes from the god of the water, and he then explains how to connect with nature. And there’s another being that lives in the hills, whom we call ‘guachole’. He’s another spirit who looks after the animals that live in the hills. Then we have a god that has to do with the air, and the god of earth. There are various supernatural spirits, and the indigenous people communicate with these spirits.

Felix Diaz — WE ARE SUPERHEROES https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wearesuperheroes/we-are-superheroes

In past times, civilization was advancing, and the destruction of nature was advancing separately. In the year 1940, a few of our indigenous leaders had to travel to Buenos Aires by boat. They had to walk from our territory to the capital of Formosa, which took six months. They hunted, and fished, and collected food on the way, and they gave the skins of the animals they killed to a Spanish man named Ocecancio. He is one of the men who founded the city of Florinda, and in that moment, he was living in the capital of Formosa.

There was no road, there was only paths and hills. And the indigenous people lived in peace in this place, that is how the population grew. Our father said ‘We have to make sure that our future generation has its own territory, because that territory will guarantee their well-being. It needs to have hills, water, the natural resources that will allow our descendants to continue to develop culturally.’ Because that territory will provide everything for them, the medicine, the spirituality, food, fishing, water… These are things that nature provides to the indigenous. You have to take care of the land so that it gives you health, and also stays healthy. That’s why co-existence is much more than just a question of economics. When you take a community away from its land you produce a disequilibrium. The indigenous people start to get sick, we can get infected of tuberculosis or become malnourished… These illnesses happen, because in cities we don’t have access to the medicine that is available in the hills. That medicine doesn’t have an expiration date; neither does the food. Everything is fresh.

So taking away our territory forces the indigenous people to be dependent, and beg from the state. And the state takes advantage of this. If we are poor, the state gives us food, water, health, education… Everything is served on a platter. And without anyone realizing it, they are slowly killing us with free handouts. We receive handouts thanks to the governor, ‘a great man who loves us very much’, and thanks to the legacy of General Perón, who loved the indigenous people very much without realizing that he was killing us. Nobody understands our way of life because it is a way of life that doesn’t have anything to do with economics. We are defending our territory because we are defending life: our life, the life of our future generations, so that those future generation can grow up in a place without pollution, with pure water, with clean air, to give us the same physical energy that the medicine that cures people does.

If we don’t have these things, we start to leave our land, and look for work. But when we go to a city we don’t have titles as builders or an electricians, we don’t have degrees. So the people send us to the street, and give you a hat to beg with. If we want to do something good, what do we know how to do? If we want to work for the state, we need to have a degree. All of these things work against indigenous people. For that reason, our community has kept its mother tongue 100%. Our cultural values are maintained, and transmitted from generation to generation so that we can continue following our way of life.

The governments are the ones that are destroying us our health. It is because of them that we don’t have light or electricity, that we don’t have a hospital… The indigenous people were forced to go to urban areas, to live with urban society, and lose their identity because we don’t have a physical place to be that guarantees our freedom.

Our protest here isn’t about a political party or a religion. We want to get back our life, and have the hope that we can raise our children. And the current government has done many things. They have written laws, but these laws are just papers with no use. They have made conventions and treaties, but none of them have been put into practice. They have created organizations that are supposed to make sure that the rights of indigenous people are respected. We have the laws 24071, 27060… which have recognized the ethnic and cultural precedence of the indigenous. The Argentine state says that we were the first inhabitants. Before the country became Argentina, we were already here. But when the government says these things, it isn’t talking about the present. When it says, ‘we recognize the indigenous peoples’ rights and guarantee their rights to the lands that they traditionally occupy’, they use the word ‘occupy’, which has no legal standing. We have no judicial support. ‘Occupy’ means that the government is lending us a place, and that it can remove us because we don’t have the documents to say the land belongs to us.

After suffering from all of these deceptions, we have started to realize what was happening. We have studied and consulted experts, and have empowered ourselves with the tools that were created to defend indigenous life. And the state doesn’t want the indigenous people to portray themselves as an Indigenous group; they want us to be Peronists, they want us to be part of such, and such political party, in order to be sponsored, to receive subsidies, so that they give us work.

This is not what we want. We want to be Indigenous; we do not want to be anyone’s pet. We do not want to be subordinated to anyone because we are able to look after ourselves. This whole learning process has been very helpful to understand the value of life.

What we want to transmit to our future generations, and what the world needs to realize is that the indigenous struggle is fundamental, because what the indigenous people want is to save mother earth. Mother earth is for everyone, it has so much richness to offer. If people destroy the environment, we will leave our future generations a world without hope, a contaminated world.

Selfishness ruins everything. ‘I want this, no one can touch what is mine…’ People let others die of hunger, of illness, but it doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t happen to them. They lose their generosity, the human ability to feel. Ambition is an illness, a cancer that grows in our hearts, and makes us blind. Selfishness, envy, ambition are in all of us.

A lot of people have opinions about what we are trying to do; they say what they want to because they don’t listen to us. They think that their fancy degrees from elite schools or their jobs as scientists will save them. But that’s not how it works. Life is in all of us, in the soul of the earth, in the air. You go outside here in Buenos Aires, the air is contaminated. But you go to the countryside, and you find a different life. That’s why the indigenous community works as a reserve for humanity. We don’t have a book to show what we know, because most of us don’t know how to read or write. But we understand nature, and that is a wisdom that we have. It’s in my power to transmit this, for example, what you are recording so that you can replicate it for other people to hear. So that people don’t think of us as the stereotype of the indigent. People call us indigents, because we come from poverty. But we aren’t poor. We aren’t Indians because we don’t come from India. We are not aborigines because we predate the state. We are the indigenous of this land.

When I was a child, I grew up in nature. I didn’t know the white man. I lived only with my own people. We played, we had fun in the hills, we entertained ourselves making arrows. The arrow isn’t an element of war; it’s an element of life, of sustenance. The indigenous people know how to harm others but they choose not to. The indigenous man is not going to rob his neighbour when he is hungry. That’s why many of our indigenous children died of hunger, because their father weren’t a thief. So when people say: they died because their father didn’t work, because their mother is a tramp, it’s not true, a lot of the facts are missing. The real truth is: we don’t have our own land, we don’t have access to our own medicine, and we don’t have water or access to health. It isn’t our fault; we aren’t to blame for the deaths of our children. I lost two children for this reason. And it hurts me that even as time goes on, children still die from illness, from malnutritions…that’s why I have an obligation to negotiate for indigenous rights. Because this isn’t how life should be valued. We are not products or objects. We are human beings. We have life to fulfill our mission of caring for our lives, and caring for mother earth. We don’t want to sell-out for money, that monster that destroys life. Money is the source of evil. People believe that having a good life is accumulating wealth. Life isn’t worth a cent.

Why do governments buy us? Because we allow them to. They give us social policies, they give us money from the state. And then we say to the state: I thank the state for giving me a house, water, health. But the state has the obligation to guarantee the respect of your human rights and dignity. It is the state’s duty. That’s why we choose our leaders to improve our lives. But what they want is for us to join their parties, to share their opinions, and say that they are the best, that they are the only ones who care about the poor. Poverty is a business for the state. When an indigenous person dies, the state has one less problem to deal with. Because curing an illness like cancer is expensive; curing a man with heart disease is expensive. It’s better to let him die; it costs less to buy a coffin. When an indigenous person dies, they take him away in an ambulance. When the ambulance returns, it means that brother died. But they don’t treat illnesses that can be prevented in time. The doctors don’t take care of it. They put on a sad face, and write that the cause of death was natural. When a brother dies of tuberculosis or of malnutrition, they put ‘low weight’. How do you argue with a professional? When the cause of death has been signed by a doctor, a judge. They all agree to hide the real cause of death. Since we have started this legal process to challenge the government, we have realized many things, and I think the best way to move forward now, is to open a dialogue. Because those who teach us indigenous always say, ‘I have a lot of strength, if I fight someone I am sure I will beat them; but I can only win once.’ So it is better not to fight. The evil that one does, generates more evil. Because life isn’t created to harm others, life was created to take care of each other.

In society, when an indigenous person speaks up, they call him savage, useless, a man who doesn’t know how to work, who doesn’t want to work, a drug addict, a drunk, not worth paying attention to. That is not who we are. They believe that we are useless, and that we grab onto what we can, because we are poor. It is a joke. But how can we argue with people? They have in their minds that the indigenous need help, and they give us things that have no use to them anymore. So what do you see? Soiled clothes, infected with many illness. We wear them, and we get sick, and we die. It is a hard life that we must live. But we don’t mean to say that it is impossible to change this. If we struggle we can change this. Not by fighting or by defying the government. Things can be resolved through dialogue. That’s why we are trying to open a dialogue with the government. But we haven’t been lucky, because they know that we are right. This story has been dragged out for more than 500 years. This camp is a historic camp that we started in 2011, and we’ve repeated this year. And still they ignore us. We are at the intersection of the three government power: the executive, the legislative and the judicial poer. These are the organisms that are supposed to guarantee the respect of human rights. But where are they? It is because we are indigenous, and they do not see us. Because we do not have money to pay for a lawyer. We live through terrible adversity. So having people listen to us, and share our story is very important, so that people can realize what we are trying to do here. This is a campaign, but a campaign that no one is listening to. Because we are indigenous. And what can the indigenous people teach you? What can that poor man dying of hunger teach you? Civilization is a contradiction. It destroys peoples’ lives. Here we cohabitate with many people who don’t have homes. Sometimes they thank us, sometimes they insult us. Poor people who don’t know what they’re doing, because they are victims of the system. But we didn’t come here to confront, we came to demand that the state return our territory to us, because it is full of life. We protect life, and the life of other species too. A lion needs a large territory. Because even if the government says it protects endangered animals, a caged lion has to be fed, and watered, and given medicines. He’s a prisoner, and he’s going to die locked up, and he cannot reproduce. It is over, he dies locked up. An indigenous person without territory is like a caged lion. All of the species that are the balance of nature are dying. The fish are contaminated by the water. The air is contaminated. We are in trouble. We cannot stop this technological advance. And if we don’t take care of mother earth… I am old, but I am worried about what will happen after I am gone. I don’t want my children, and my grandchildren to suffer the consequences of my silence, because I love my family, I love my people, and I don’t want to ask for money in exchange for life. I don’t want that.”

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