Mapuche community members protest fracking and shale exploration near Vaca Muerta, Neuquén.

Photo by Fernando Cabrera, Observatorio Petrolero Sur. Copyright released.

The Mapuche tribe fights for a way of life in harmony with nature

The case of the Mapuche community is paradigmatic: an ancestral people with their own culture and cosmovision, the Mapuches are being systematically displaced from their lands in order to make space for the exploitation of Vaca Muerta, the biggest non-conventional oil and shale-gas site in Argentina.

Vaca Muerta has a long history of destruction, pillage and death for the Mapuche communities who claim their right to life and water. Jorge Nawel, one of the community leaders, said: 

Jorge Nawel and the Mapuche Community during a protest in February of this year against the Treater dumpsite in Añelo, near Vaca Muerta, Neuquén. (Photo rights granted by Greenpeace Argentina).

Shale and gas explorations not only displace the communities, they are also fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming and climate change when burned. 

On the contrary, allowing the Mapuche and other indigenous peoples communities continue with their own way of living in harmony and reciprocity with nature is crucial in solving the climate crises, said Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people.

“Evidences show that many of the world’s ecosystems which are in better shape overlap with indigenous peoples territories. These include tropical, boreal and mangrove forests and marine ecosystems. Where their rights to their territories and resources are legally recognized results in terms of ecosystems sustainability are better. Thus, if their rights are recognized there are better results in terms of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing carbon sequestration,” she said.

Sadly, the existence of indigenous peoples in Argentina is under threat as the damage on the soil by shale and fracking explorations affects their fragile means of agriculture.

The Mapuche communities teach agriculture to the women of the family groups, from the elderly to the newest generations. The women learn how to engage with seeds-trade in small plots, where cooperation and solidarity are the main values for communal food production. 

For the Mapuche people, the soil is one of the pillars of their cosmological world view, as they connect with their ancestors under the notion of ‘ñukemapu’, or Mother Earth, upon which the people constantly depend and with which they interact daily.

The pollution in the air due to toxic gases from the exploration sites and the chemicals that end up in the rivers also affect the Mapuche people’s small livestock economy. 

Accused of ‘instigation to commit felonies of usurpation’ for defending their land, Jorge claims that “the State cannot advance any further with the shale and gas exploitation without consulting the indigenous population first.”

Traditional Mapuche ceremony of soil-blessing in their cooperative territories.

Photo rights granted by the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén.

Modernity has forgotten that once upon a time, humanity used to live in balance with nature, although now it seems to be the right time to bring back that ancient knowledge to the policy-makers table in order to preserve culture, tradition, the environment and to counter the effects of climate change. 

By protecting the cultural and territorial existence of the Mapuche people currently under risk, the Argentine government could not only learn about the ‘ñukemapu’ and promote it as an alternative and sustainable development by exporting their wisdom to stop the devastation of monoculture in other areas of the country, but also to enhance conservation efforts that would help not only to adapt but also to mitigate the effects of climate change in rural communities.