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The Forgotten People of the Other America

If you are an American, born and raised, reading this article, than you were most likely told the same Thanksgiving fairytale story growing up. We all went through a similar rude awakening later in life when we were retaught that the Natives of this land actually endured dreadful circumstances after being colonized by the ever so “giving” pilgrims, who either butchered or took them as slaves if they weren’t already exterminated by the diseases the Europeans had brought with them on their first journey over. As we already know, the ones who were left were forced onto reservations as they watched the white men take over their land. However, this is not an original story, for it was repeated throughout the Americas as well as other continents during the era of colonialism.

Though it is merely a theory, it is said that the earliest ancestors of the people of the Americas came from Eurasia over a Bering Strait, which connected the two continents during a period of glaciation. These settlers soon spread over this new land they had founded and diversified into hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. The Europeans came into the picture thousands of years later to claim the land as their own since to them, Native Americans were merely barbarians running wild with no formal legal tie to their ancestral lands.

When asked where I was from while traveling through South America, I was repeatedly reminded that they too are, “Americans”. I tried to explain that we use the word in our country’s name as well, not just the continent, but it was hard for them to understand when they call this the Unites States, leaving out the “of America” part, and they consider us “estadounidenses” (Like United Statians), not “Americans”. Having South American parents has helped me see their point of view in many circumstances, especially since I consider myself more Latina than anything else. This has helped me come to the conclusion that it is not our selfish use of the name that bothers them as much as it is the lack of attention they receive from us, and the “third world” perspective we have of them that drives them up the walls. Which is why it is no surprise that not much information is found regarding the South American Indigenous people. Not in English anyway.

As I write this, I remember the adorable dark skinned, bright-eyed, small faces of the children who would extend their tiny hands offering gifts made out of Alpaca wool in exchange for food or money as I walked the streets of Humahuaca, Jujuy in Argentina. Like the Native Americans, these people were the original settlers of the land, yet they are constantly ignored by the Argentine government and are subjected to violence, hunger, discrimination and extortion. They suffer from a lack of education, poverty, health issues and shortage of housing to name a few.

A reform had actually taken place in 1994, guaranteeing all legal titles over the land to the aboriginal people. This is actually stated in the Constitution of Argentina, still these people face a lack of implementation of such laws and of overall attention from their government. Despite what the law states, these people are completely ignored, treated like exiles in their own land.

One of the first things I learned living in Argentina was that there are no rules! This goes for most countries in South America. You see, all though there are laws that should be followed, corruption and a lack of control has people doing whatever they want, and creating there own rules as they go along. Besides, if you ever do get caught doing something illegal, you can just pay them off. No big deal. On an everyday scale, this may seem fun and adventurous for people like me, who come from a place where you can’t even hold a beer outside of a bar while having a cigarette. But on a larger scale, this has many consequences.

After the Spanish conquest, the land ownership system that was established did not account for indigenous people, which left them without legal protection and their territory in the hands of local expropriators and authorities. The destruction of their traditional lands and food source was a way to push them out and into remote and isolated areas or into cities.

It is quite complex when two legal systems exist in one country. While the pre-existing society believes in an informal oral tradition system built on culture and practices recorded in historic memory, the conquerors practice a much more formal written process enforced by bureaucratic governments. The indigenous people believe the land was destined for their development through a deep spiritual relationship and that it is nontransferable. Europeans, on the other hand, see land ownership as wealth and profit in the real estate market, and the ownership is certainly transferable. Even though the country supposedly recognized the presence of indigenous Customary Law in the reform passed in 1994, the country would never recognize its multi-ethnicity since there is no room for that in their Western mentality.


So it was said, 20 years after the reform, that the constitutional law did not derive in clear legal guarantees. In order to halt evictions related to territorial rights, the law was extended until 2013. A survey took place with the Territorial Survey of Indigenous Communities, which included; land reconnaissance, registration of real estate property for the title of ancestral lands and land surveying. Unfortunately, this only caused more agitation due to a lack of indigenous participation and conflicts of interest, so the chamber decided to extend the law again until 2017. Basically, they keep prolonging, or better yet, ignoring the problem.

- "Los pueblos indígenas no miramos la tierra como comercio, sino que entendemos que es el sostén de la humanidad".- Félix Díaz, líder del pueblo Qom

- "indio sin tierra no es indio"

- El territorio no es un simple lugar de explotación económica: es la casa de los ancestros, el lugar de la Pachamama, las montañas, los cerros. Tiene un profundo significado cultural y sagrado.

- Por eso, no entienden cómo la tierra se puede comprar o vender. Por eso, sostienen que no desistirán en la defensa de la tierra, pues, como proclama Félix Díaz, sin sus tierras los pueblos originarios están condenados a la desaparición.

Lessons learned in Canada??

- From that perspective, it would be encouraging for Argentina to establish systematic indigenous studies that are not compartmentalized in order to benefit from Canadian experiences and make effective the rights that have been recognized for the benefit of all Argentineans.

Aborigenal, indigenous, native, Indians???

- Indio: Natural de la India. Se dice del indígena de América, o sea de las Indias Occidentales, al que hoy se considera como descendiente de aquel sin mezcla de otra raza. Por otro lado, existe la falsa creencia de que esta palabra es fruto de la unión de in (prefijo que indica carencia) y dios, por tanto sujetos sin dios.

- Aborigen: Se dice del primitivo morador de un país, por contraposición a los establecidos posteriormente en él. Aunque algunos autores dan a este término el significado de sin origen.

- Indígena: Originario del país de que se trata. Si bien, algunos relacionan su origen a la palabra indigente.

Jessica Carro has a Master of Arts degree in Investigative Journalism from Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She works as a freelance journalist and focuses primarily on South American issues. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.