Argentina is celebrating the bicentennial of the revolution that paved its way to independence from Spain. The nation’s indigenous people, however, are calling attention to a legacy of invasion and displacement that continues to this day.
Just as during the 500 year “celebration” of Columbus Day and the recent bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis & Clark expedition, Indigenous Peoples want to have the entire story of these events told and they want to have their histories and their involvements in these events studied and recorded and remembered.
In Argentina, indigenous groups led a caravan to the nation’s capital to demand recognition of their sovereignty and cultures, and put on one of the largest indigenous demonstrations in Argentina’s history. During the march thousands commemorated the nation’s non-colonial history.
Santiago de la Casa, of the Pilagá community, is pushing for a law to recognize Indigenous cultures, languages, and territories. “We can’t be happy and celebrate the nation’s past 200 years as indigenous people. The indigenous people already existed here. The other, the Europeans who came here 200 years ago can celebrate. They can be happy because they have benefited from the waters, rivers, air, earth apt to produce. We are sad because we don’t have a specific law for the aboriginal people.”
The Pilagá community faces many of the same problems American Indian and other Indigenous cultures have faced including environmental devastation and water pollution and the construction of public water works project that have flooded indigenous ancestral lands. Amnesty International published a report on the “systematic violation of human rights.”
The Pilagá community, which numbers around 6,000 inhabits, have faced constant repression from security forces and threats, in addition to the degradation of their living standards due to the pollution of their wetlands. They face food shortages and risk losing their traditional ways of life, such as hunting and fishing.
The Argentine frontier myth called the “conquest of the desert” was designed to wipe out Indigenous communities in the Patagonia south to make room for white inhabitants. This myth resonates with the American myth of “Manifest Destiny.”
The lands stolen during the Campaign of the Desert were handed over to the nation’s oligarchy.
200 years after the supposed end to colonial rule, indigenous territory continues to be invaded by foreign economic interests. One of the largest landholders in the Patagonia, includes the Italian company Benetton which owns 2.2 million acres of land. Benetton has lead a campaign to evict families from the land which their families lived centuries ago.
Again, just like American Indians and other Indigenous Peoples, Argentine Indigenous communities face poverty and health problems due to the environmental devastation of their lands by industrial agriculture, mining, and dam projects.