Indigenous peoples win conservation successes in Chile
Also in December, the Huiliche indigenous community of Mapu Lahual received a prestigious Seal Award from Chilean president Michelle Bachelet for the contribution of their local development and conservation project to one of the most isolated and poorest areas of coastal Chile. This project, “Strenghtening Governance and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Huilliche Territoty of Mapu Lahual” is being carried out by WWF Chile and the Mapu Lahual indigenous Association.
The Pehuenche communities of Quinquen started their battle in the late 1980s, when a logging company tried to evict them from monkey-puzzle trees (Araucaria) forests they were lived in. The company was at the time engaged in suing the government to lift Araucaria logging bans introduced in 1976.
The company succeeded in having the ban lifted in 1987. But the Pehuenche indigenous resisted their eviction. A campaign developed, based on both the assault on the rights of the indigenous people and the protection of relict species trees dating from the time of the dinosaurs.
In 1990, the newly-elected government purchased land from the timber company in order to benefit Quinquen communities. Following the listing of Araucaria by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), international trade was prohibited.
WWF-Chile has collaborated with the community in the titling and planning process, as well as other organizations such as the Observatory for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and the National Committee for the Defense of Fauna and Flora.
“Pehuenche communities have played a fundamental role in protecting the araucaria, thereby benefiting society as a whole. In order for them to continue this undertaking and maintain their way of life, their territorial rights must be legally recognized”, says Rodrigo Catalán, coordinator of WWF-Chile’s community conservation programme.
This success could bring new attention to other cases where forest communities are still waiting to receive legal title for their lands.
The Huiliche of Mapu Lahual, have developed a plan to give the community the possibility to strengthen its organization through planning and participation. Another goal is to develop sustainable economic alternatives, such as ecotourism and the marketing of handicrafts and canned goods.
WWF-Chile launched the project in August 07 together with Mapu Lahual Indigenous Association and NZAID.
“This award reaffirms the importance of integrating conservation and the improved quality of life among local people, both of which are key factors that are complementary to development”, says Rodrigo Catalán.
The awards ceremony is part of the Bicentennial celebration sponsored by the Chilean government to commemorate the country’s 200th anniversary, which will take place on September 2010.
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