Working for change among the Mapuche

There are more than 20 groups of indigenous peoples in Argentina, each with its own identity and specific culture. Earlier this year there was a meeting of indigenous people which the little sisters attended. They were searching together for ways to share the richness of all this diversity with their country as a whole. Little sisters Bernardita and Maria Carolina share some of the topics that were discussed during the meeting:

With the Mapuches, among whom we've lived for over 30 years, we looked for ways to work together to re-inforce and renew their weaving techniques, as well as improving sales. Their communities rely heavily on their weaving skills to earn a living. Their art is tastefully done, and is useful as well.

We also discussed health issues: diabetes, pregnancy among the too-young girls, nursing mothers, vaccinations, and elder care. We were fortunate to have with us professional health care persons from the closest hospital who were willing to help. Two other groups of indigenous peoples were also present, the Qoms and the Wichis.

The need for a secondary school was insisted upon, and petitions were sent to both the federal and local representatives. There are at least a hundred students who would benefit from the school. We encouraged them in this endeavor very strongly, since many do not go to school simply because of the discrimination they experience when they have to go outside of their own communities.

One of our recent successes was named "Operation Firewood."   Winters in the Andes are rough, and people rely on the government to supply firewood on time, before the severe cold sets in. Very often delivery is delayed, since government officials try to avoid the Mapuche Indians, who insisit that their land be restored to them. The Mapuche also demand a voice in the decision-making when it comes to the use and/or contamination of their natural resources. This year, the Mapuche community itself arranged for the delivery of the firewood, and when it arrived, everyone turned out to unload. The old, the young, the boys and girls, women and men. And after the unloading, a great fiesta! No longer total dependency on the government.

Watching Petrona and Gabriela, who were in charge of the project, we couldn't help but reminisce. We saw these women when they were being born, held them in our arms as babies, watched them go and come from school. And now we are seeing them skillfully organizing their people for the good of the community. As we listen and learn and contemplate all that we have lived over the years, we are even more convinced of the necessity of presence—a quiet presence that bears fruit in due season. Like God seems to do...

To end, we borrow a line from a song the Mapuche women often sing:

"O grain of seed, you have become a tree."