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A day in the lives of four indigenous leaders from Latin America


Manari Ushigua, Ecuador; Oriana Mora, Chile; Guadalupe Oceloxochitl, Mexico; Samuel Carpintero, PanamaThe following stories are excerpts from the life experiences of four indigenous leaders who participated to the 2007 Spanish version of the OHCHR Indigenous Fellowship Programme. They wanted to share their story and a day of their lives just before they met: a day in the jungle, the mountains, the city and the desert. A day in which each of them devoted energy, passion and joy -the whole of their lives- to the protection of their rights.

Community of Mazaramu , Ecuador : a day with Manari Ushigua, Zapara president

My name is Manari Ushigua, son of Shimanu (a shaman) and president of the bi-national organization Zapara.

As a child, my father forced me to leave the Amazonian jungle where I was born to go and find out what those surrounding us do so we could better defend ourselves. Our ancestors claim we were a strong and numerous people in the past. Now only a few hundreds remain on our land and our last shaman passed away in 1997. Our ancestors still talk to us in our dreams.

During the past years, the installation of oil wells has eroded our land and killed our animals. When all the Zapara got organized and decided we would not disappear- despite our legends telling us otherwise - we began defending our rights. In 2001, we succeeded in having both the Zapara language and culture recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

April 10, 2007 : Today begins a long trip towards the Llanchamacocha community. This is a forest region accessible only by light aircraft and canoes. After arriving at a community close to the aerodrome, we left on four cable ferries towards Llanchamacocha. Fallen trees stop us half way and force us to spend the night without shelter.

On the second day, we finally arrived in Llanchamacocha where representatives of indigenous communities are gathering. That same night, in the light of a fire, they tell us their fears: multinationals had just arrived and they dreaded constructions in their habitat and on their sacred places, and changes in their way of life.

In the future, as the Akamaru (the president of the organization), I will provide a training and compile information on the situation we are facing. This will perhaps help us to survive.

Mexico City : A day with Guadalupe Oceloxochitl, member of the Indigenous Migrants Assembly

My name is Guadalupe Oceloxochitl and I am a Nahua de Tepeji del Río. I only remember my life in the city, where my family settled because the ancestral lands we had inherited after expropriation did not allow us to subsist.

One day we woke up and some of us Mexican indigenous migrants noticed many had migrated. They decided to get organized. We are only following their legacy.

April 10, 2007 : Today is a warm day. In the past few months the Mexican press collected information on the violation of our rights in the city and the Assembly entrusted me to prepare a report that I carry with me.

After several hours of journey by truck, I arrived in our premises made up of two rooms no bigger than 50 square metres. As soon as I pass the entrance, I noticed a woman waiting for me. Lidia, dressed in a modest blue suit and rubber shoes, holds the hand of a little girl, probably her daughter. She tells me she came to the city years ago to improve her living conditions because among the Mixteco people, where she used to live, she did not have enough to survive. She tells me she was fired from her job because "she is pregnant again". This is a frequent story. I prepare a report that will be used to bring a claim against her employer and perhaps we will manage to have her reincorporated at work. If not, we will bring a formal lawsuit against her employer; we may achieve something that way.

I say good bye and ponder on how difficult life is for us here. After a while my colleague Ismael comes with the script for a radio programme that will be broadcast tomorrow. It will focus on corn and the right to food. While preparing it, we interview the Nahuat elder women who chanted: "No corn, no nation". I hope our leaders will also understand their words.

Atacama desert , Chile : a day with Oriana Mora, member of the Land's and Water Commission of the Peine Community.

I am Oriana Mora from the Lickan Antay community. My ancestors taught me that a little water is enough to make life flourish. They also taught me that water, hills and mountains have spirits that should be respected.

Now, rivers and basin watersheds are getting dry; some want to take away our water and invade our hills, impacting on our way of life. Sisters and brothers of our community have moved out to the city and have experienced poverty, discrimination and what it is to feel different despite the process of assimilation we have passed through.

We have already lost our languages but we still have our protector-mountains, Puri (water), and Patta Ohiri (Mother Earth). They link us to this desert, to this place where we can breathe clean air and where we can contemplate the stars with all their magnificence.

April 10, 2007 : Tonight the Lands and Water Commission holds a meeting at the guest house, once we finish our daily work. At 22:31 people arrive in the community lodgings. They are workers from a company that plans on extracting more than 1,025 litres per second of subterranean water that springs from the sacred mountains and provides food for our basin watersheds. They say they need it for their mining processes; that it is a sustainable project; that the levels of water will decrease but nothing more.

Every morning, workers come to make the path that will be followed by the pipes without asking whether the land they are treading on is sacred to us, or even if they can intrude. As a Commission, we are preparing to report to the Community's Assembly on this project as well as on many more that they want to carry out on our land. Our ancestors lived 11,000 years respecting nature, our mother earth and water, to which we sing and dance. We know that from us depends the perenniality of our way of life.

The next day, the decision of the Assembly is uniform: we reject the project and we will exhaust domestic and international remedies to defend our rights and the way we live.

Ngobe Community, Panamá: a day with Samuel Carpintero, Human Rights facilitator from the CEDHUNG

I am Ngobe. Years ago, my land stretched out on half of what is now the Republic of Panama . Today, we live in a small fraction of the country and it is not the best land. The lack of territory coupled with the absence of education and the scarcity of social services in the Ngobe community have made ours one of the poorest regions in the country.

April 10, 2007 : Today, a training session will take place in the Ngobe community. I arrived early and there are only a few people under the roofing that will serve as a classroom today. This is a difficult to access area and I imagine that the boys and girls, women and men who will come today will need to ride horses and walk for a couple of hours to join us. I remember that on other occasions I had seen people from other communities come to learn in canoes from surrounding coastal communities.

As the room fills with people and I greet our mates, I think about the importance of learning and knowing our rights. Today we will have pens at least, and some of us will be able to take notes. From time to time I return mentally to the moment when I first participated in a human rights training- it was a workshop at the International Labour Organization (ILO). At that moment I accepted the responsibility to be trained to empower my people. Since then, with the support of peasants, my family and an old friend from the Wayuu community, I have devoted my days to building capacity within my people, discovering with pride that I am of some use in this world.

Samuel, Oriana, Guadalupe and Manari met in Deusto, Spain, where they began the OHCHR Indigenous fellowship Programme for Spanish speaking indigenous leaders. After sharing almost three months together, they became more conscious of the reality of their communities and their peoples, and of their differences; but through it all, they are more conscious of all that unites them.

"We come from different indigenous peoples and nationalities of Abya Yala , our colorful cloths and weaving are made of sounds, smells and flavors; our weaving comes from our ancestors.

We come from the Jungle-Desert and the community-city. We come from that same duality which is in the universe. Our hearts beat with the same rhythm of drums, we feel and we believe we listen to the voice of our mother Earth.

We are now in a reality that differs from our own. We met and we became once again a community. Today we know that the universe has united us; it makes us understand that unity is the most valuable way to envision the world, to face it and understand it."

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.