Native Village
Youth and Education news
November 1, 2010, Volume 1

Paraguay hopes to shield tribe from outside world
Condensed by Native Village

Paraguay: Paraguay is racing to protect an isolated tribe from deforestation. The land used by the Ayoreo Totobiegosode tribe is being cut down by cattle ranchers for grazing pastures. Now Paraguay's government want to purchase the privately owned land to the Totobiegosode.

The nomadic tribe has only have 30-50 people. Their last contact with outsiders was in 2004. .

"The encroachment of their territories is very aggressive," said Gladys Casaccia from GAT [People, Environment and Territory].  GAT fights for conservation and the rights of indigenous groups.

"They're fleeing from deforestation and it's becoming harder and harder for them to exist as a subsistence people that avoids contact with the outside world," she added.

The Ayoreo Totobiegosode live by hunting wild boar and tortoises. They also grow a few crops like beans and pumpkins in the scrub forests of the Chaco. The Chaco is 470 miles north of the capital Asuncion.

The Totobiegosode are a sub-group of the larger Ayoreo, who number several thousand. They were the last to be contacted, in 1979. Soon after, a few missionaries forcibly drove some from their forest, according to anthropologists and advocacy groups.

GAT now works with those Totobiegosode members who rejected the missionaries teachings and returned to the forest.  The group of some 30 families live in two settlements on the edge of the forest.

The isolated Totobiegosode's last contact with the outside world was six years ago when a group fled from bulldozers. The later told their kin on the forest's edge of the struggle to find water and their fear of roads being built.

Paraguay is one of poorest countries in South America, but President Fernando Lugo has vowed to improve the rights for its 110,000 indigenous people. Many of these live in the Chaco.

Officials say, however, that budget restrictions make it impossible to create a reserve for them.

A former Catholic bishop hopes a bigger 2011 budget will let the country buy enough land for now. Talks with landowners have already started.

"Negotiations are under way and there might be a possibility that land can be bought and protected," said Lidia Acuna from the INDL [Paraguayan Institute for Indigenous people.]

"That might be possible because after we told the landowners we're going to have the budget for this purpose, some of those who were reluctant to sell have changed their minds."

Totobiegosode living outside the forest were given 100,000 hectares in 1997. That is only half of the area they need to guarantee their forest survival.

Government officials say the land purchase plan is vital to protect the way of life of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode, whose name means "people from the place of the wild pigs."

"If these lands can be protected, they could continue in isolation," Acuna said. "But if the deforestation continues, it's inevitable that they will come into contact with the outside world any moment now."

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