A heritage of traditions, craft techniques, knowledge and know-how, largely unknown to us.

The most advanced countries are leading the world towards catastrophe, while the peoples hitherto considered primitive are trying to save the entire planet. If the rich countries do not learn from the natives, we will all be doomed to destruction.

Noam Chomsky

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Who are the indigenous peoples? In recent years, several groups have preferred to call themselves 'original peoples' to emphasise that they have lived in the continent since time immemorial (Europeans arrived only at the end of the 15th century). The important thing is not the denomination, which can be considered a simple label, as much as the role of these minorities within a globalised world that often deprives them of visibility and protection, leaving them marginalised and in constant danger.


Indigenous peoples hold all living things in high esteem and pay great attention to them, maintaining a deep respect for 'Mother Earth'. This is one single entity that encompasses and balances different natural elements, such as plants and animals. Mother Earth cannot be bought or sold and must not be harmed.
Deforestation, on the other hand, forces the indigenous peoples to migrate to the cities, in urban environments that are totally alien to their traditional habitat. They are thus foced to live in small rural spaces, where they cannot survive by hunting, gathering and growing crops for their own consumption. Instead, they have to submit to other masters, working jobs for which they are not qualified. Centuries after the Conquest, the problem of environmental destruction remains, producing harmful effects not only for the indigenous peoples but for the whole of humanity.

The famous linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky wrote: "The most advanced countries are leading the world towards catastrophe, while the peoples who have hitherto been considered primitive are trying to save the entire planet. If the rich countries do not learn from the indigenous people, we will all be doomed to destruction." The indigenous vision aims at sustainable development in space and time. It aims at the quality of life for all that exists and for all people.

The fundamental rights of indigenous peoples have officially entered the international public consciousness since 1989 with the famous "Convention No. 169" of the International Labour Organization, dedicated to "Indigenous and Tribal Peoples" and their rights, now ratified in almost every country across the continent. This was followed in 2000 by the creation of the "Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues", then the "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" in 2007, and finally the "World Conference on Indigenous Peoples" in 2014.It is interesting to note that one of the fundamental points of these documents is the defence, appreciation and maintenance of cultural systems, customs, ideas and values, and the ability to choose and make decisions in national societies; that is, precisely those aspects that in the past were considered "barbaric, primitive, backward and diabolical customs"

As you may notice skimming through the websites of the main United Nations agencies, most of these organizations are responsible for important documents and initiatives in support of indigenous people. UNESCO, WHO, FAO, IFAD and the World Bank have created various initiatives and projects over the years. A substantial amount of international funding has also been provided by governmental and non-governmental agencies. In addition, indigenous associations have been set up, registered as such in local and national legislation, and are often direct partners through equal negotiations in initiatives and projects.
The indigenous peoples of the greater Chaco area, like many other groups of original inhabitants of Latin America, have recently claimed the definition of indigenous peoples, first occupants of the continent, and no longer ethnic groups. Like all other groups descended from pre-Columbian societies, they have suffered from transformative pressure, sometimes ruthless domination, social marginalisation, land-grabbing and destruction of their habitat.
The Gran Chaco is an extraordinarily interesting region: a unique ecosystem that remains little studied by scientists. The environmental variety comes with a great variety of indigenous societies, which differ in language, customs, skills, production styles and craft activities. In recent decades, coordination and exchange processes have begun between the different indigenous peoples, who in different ways maintain their identity as the 'People of the Gran Chaco'. 

To appreciate the constant and often symbolically-refined relationship between the environment of the Chaco and the life of all living beings, one needs only compare the creation myths of some of these peoples, which recall the origin of the world and the primordial relationship between all living beings.
The majority of indigenous peoples in the Gran Chaco possess an extraordinarily in-depth knowledge of all four subsystems: the dry forest, bush, arid zones and river sloughs.

The forest is being cleared at a dramatic rate. The Chaco region comprises the second-largest tropical forest in South America, second only to the Amazon. This green lung is undergoing one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, making room for cattle ranches to meet international demand for meat and leather. Those who have chosen to continue living in the area are forced to take refuge in increasingly restricted green areas.

In recent years, many autonomous organizations have been investing in projects to support the Gran Chaco and its indigenous peoples. For example, Greenpeace has run information campaigns spreading empirical research on deforestation, meat exports (from extensive cattle ranches), the amount of carbon dioxide released each year due to the burning of gas, oil, coal and livestock manure. Among the International Organisations, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has produced very accurate documents and studies on deforestation in the area over the last twenty years, and Earth Observatory (NASA) has released very detailed satellite views of deforestation in Argentina's Gran Chaco.
Some important NGOs are also working in the area, establishing a close link between conservation and environmental restoration. For example, in 2001 the Italian NGO COOPI, based in Milan, started a series of projects in Argentina, Bolivia and Alto Paraguay, with fundings provided by the European Union and Italian Cooperation.
There have also been other international initiatives, such as the Consortium between the Universidad Nacional de Formosa (Argentina), the Universidad de la Cordillera (Bolivia) and Centro 'Desarrollo, Participación y Ciudadanía' (Bolivia), which has focused on studies and interventions in the Chaco area, covering issues such as reformed and sustainable agriculture and water resources.
Finally, it is worth referring to an international initiative that has had a great impact across Latin America: the realisation in the Centro de Convenciones in Salta (Argentina) of the "IV° Encuentro Mundial del Gran Chaco", held in 2016 with representatives from all the countries in the area, which produced an interesting final document, which looks very carefully and competently to the future: "Hacia una Agenda Chaco 2030".
Among the international initiatives that have attracted scholars and experts from the indigenous Latin American world, it is worth mentioning the major project promoted by the Istituto Italo Latino Americano in Rome from 2005 to 2008, “Linguistic and Cultural Identities of Indigenous Peoples of the Various Regions of Latin America”.

In general, all the indigenous peoples of America experience a stage of cultural transition. The wise elders and shamans are seeing the ancestral practices of their indigenous population getting weaker and weaker. Young people, influenced by contact with outside society and the avalanche of information coming from TV and the Internet, are disoriented and risk losing their identity. Therefore, there is widespread concern and desire to find and build a new way of being indigenous in the 21st century.

A dynamic cultural synthesis must be promoted, one that builds on the roots of the past but produces new fruits. It is necessary to rely on the processes of interculturality, multilingualism and the recovery of history that prepares young people to live critically with other cultures, using technologies without abandoning their identity values.

The activities that can be carried out with Museo Verde, understood as a cultural centre where processes of recovery of historical memory and processes of creation of new cultural syntheses are generated, are a powerful tool for ethnic empowerment and improvement of living conditions. (José Zanardini, 2018)
The central issue for the future is the need for indigenous communities to participate in decisions regarding their territory, which must be legally and juridically recognised as 'registered indigenous property'. Only in this way would they have a say in discussions about state concessions for oil and mineral exploration, large external investments in continuous crops (soybeans first and foremost) and extensive livestock farming. 

Apart from the recognition of rights over inhabited land, it seems that the only way to achieve these goals is to strengthen the indigenous economy, making it more productive and competitive, forming ecological indigenous companies, and establishing strong relationships with international 'fair market' networks.

The future of the indigenous peoples of the Gran Chaco, like other indigenous areas of the continent, can also be promoted with the instruments indicated here. The programmes of Museo Verde are clear and straightforward as they include initiatives that can revitalise the indigenous economy, such as: medicinal herbs cultivation and marketing; revitalisation and distribution of the rich traditional handicrafts; micro-accommodation facilities for sustainable and responsible tourism managed by the indigenous peoples. This will strengthen the indigenous economy while protecting the close relationship between environment, nature and indigenous culture.



Museo Verde Network

Today, the Gran Chaco is home to communities belonging to 25 different ethnic groups or peoples, grouped into 10 different linguistic groups.
They are the result of prehistoric immigrations from Asia and Oceania, and subsequent internal migrations, conflicts, mergers and remodelling that have continued until recent times. The result is a complex cultural picture, a mosaic of cultures, each different from the other, but at the same time united by common characteristics.
Much has been lost, devoured by globalisation, but much has remained, thanks to the resilience of these peoples.
The Museo Verde, with the aim of preserving and enhancing this heritage, has established relationships with communities belonging to 7 of the 25 native peoples still present in the area. These are Yshir, Ayoreo and Ache in Paraguay, Kadiweo in the Brazilian Pantanal, Wichi and Qom in Argentina and Ava Guarani in Bolivia.

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In this context we creates:

  • Mini structures intended to house traditional objects;
  • "Activities that generate processes of recovery of historical memory and processes of creation of new cultural syntheses, as a means of ethnic reinforcement and improvement of living conditions. " (José Zanardini, 2018);
  • Initiatives aimed at stimulating the economic activities of indigenous peoples (tropical wood processing, cultivation and marketing of medicinal herbs, revitalisation and national and international dissemination of traditional crafts, micro-accommodation facilities for sustainable and responsible tourism managed by indigenous people), respecting the relationship between the environment, nature and indigenous culture.
  • Finally, it aims to stimulate the sense of belonging of individual small communities to a larger common reality, to a network that extends throughout the Chaco.

To this end, it promotes exchanges and contacts between communities belonging to ethnic groups that in the past had hardly any conflicting relations, with the common goal of preserving and enhancing indigenous cultures.
In short, the network is a specific resource that the Museo Verde relies on to achieve results in terms of solidarity, emulation of good practices and, above all, to nurture a legitimate pride of belonging to a high-profile and important reality, that of the Peoples of the Gran Chaco.