Between August 9th and 12th, the XII Meeting of the Indigenous Solidarity Network (RSI) of the Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America was held in Charagua, in the Bolivian Chaco.

In this meeting –that takes place every two years–, about 80 people participated, and a good number of them (20 jesuits and at least 40 indigenous people) arrived from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil, and Guyana. For the most part the attendees were young people; there were Rarámuris, Tzeltales, Quechuas, Aymaras, Mayas, Wapixana, Mapuches, and Miskitos representatives from all over the continent, learning about the processes of Indigenous Territorial Autonomy advanced by the Guaranies in the territory of Charagua, and reflecting on issues such as Migration, Identity, and Leadership of young people in their communities of origin. 


Photography by Roberto Jaramillo, SJ

I am like a young girl and it is very important for me to know how the Jesuits are working in networks with different indigenous groups. We are just learning ... but it is very important to know each other, to meet, to value the differences between us. In this meeting we have learned a lot from the Guarani brothers who have made an Autonomic Statute for their territory. It is a great joy to see that there are indigenous communities that have already achieved what we dream for ourselves someday”, says Domitila Yujra Cahra, Aymara of the community of San Andrés de Machaca, in the Bolivian steppes that border the Titicaca and near the limits with Peru.

“It has also been very important to see why young people migrate to other places and understand that they are not always welcome: there are many abuses, exploitation, discrimination, and violence. Those who are lucky enough earn some money and return (many of them from Argentina), but not to their places of origin but rather they stay in La Paz or other cities; and that worries us. We have raised the need to have a constant communication with them so that they do not lose their habits and customs, and thus their indigenous identity”, adds Daniel Analoca Copaja, from the same community as Domitila.

Photography by Roberto Jaramillo, SJ

The RSI is the continuation of an effort made for more than 30 years by Jesuits who work with indigenous peoples to meet and share their experiences and learnings. In the last decade, indigenous members of the communities in wich the Society of Jesus is present have been integrating into these meetings as well as other companions of the Mission who are committed to our native peoples, so these biannual meetings have become more and more about indigenous dialogues in which we all learn and listen. 

We can know our cultures and those of other peoples, and give them the value they deserve so they are not lose. Getting to know and share with indigenous people from other parts is an extraordinary experience. For us young people it is very important to know that we are not alone and that there are other people who also fight for the things we fight: land, autonomy, customs, respect”, says Marco Antonio Zavala (22), Guaraní of the New Community Betania, department of Beni, Bolivia.

Photography by Roberto Jaramillo, SJ

We have been participating in these meetings for four years and it has enriched us a lot by getting to know other people, other cultures; the perspective and horizon of our action as indigenous peoples is broadened. Thus we see that Latin America is an indigenous continent with many expressions, languages, rites, and that our problems are common in terms of rights, education, discrimination, etc. The traditions are preserved in small family groups or villages, like the Mapuches. But you cannot stay locked up because that takes away your strength. I am also Mapuche, missionary, diocesan priest, and that has helped me discover the reality, the roots. Not because I want to be or will be the leader of those communities, but I can better accompany their requirements; and these meetings and the network helps to expand the horizon. The richness of sharing is unpayable”, says Hernán Llancaleo (coordinator of the Indigenous Pastoral of Cañete, Chilean Araucanía).

Photography by Roberto Jaramillo, SJ

Our meeting was open to the participation of other Jesuit works in which we also work with indigenous populations. NITLAPAN Nicaraguan social center with the presence of an indigenous Miskito woman working in the productive projects sector, CIPCA social center that was represented by the coordinator of youth training work in the department of Beni, in the Amazon Bolivian, and also ACLO which was represented by four indigenous youth of Chuquisaca and the communications coordinator of this Social Center. Father Valerio Sartor, SJ, member of the Jesuit team of the Pan Amazon/CPAL project, who is directly involved in several inter-institutional proposals for indigenous formation in the Western Amazon, also participated in the meeting. We also welcomed a group of Mapuche youth from not only the Cañete/Tirúa region where a group of Jesuits are present, but from the Bio-Bio region, accompanied by two priests from the diocese of Los Angeles (southern Chile), Fr. Jaime Riquelme and Fr. Oscar Gutiérrez.

This meeting was the result of different proposals for joint work in terms of contacts and articulation between groups of young people by region; for this purpose, local/regional links were appointed to liaise with the coordinators of the network as well as to deal with the food and local activities of the attendees.

[This article was originally published in Spanish by CPAL].