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Revitalizing the rich heritage of Patagonia’s indigenous people

“We cannot let our culture die.”

These words still ring vividly.

Earlier this year, leaders for the project “Pueblo Kawésqar” sat down with Kawésqar communities of Magallanes (Southern Chile). During one of the first meetings, members of the marginalised indigenous group voiced their desire to revitalise their culture and let others know about their history, heritage and customs.

Near the southernmost tip of Chile lies a humble port town by the name of Puerto Natales. Every summer, the town springs to life as thousands of adventurers pass through on their way to Torres del Paine National Park. Today, many surviving Kawésqar call Puerto Natales home; yet if you mention the Kawésqar here, even some of the locals will tell you that the last Kawésqar died years ago.

The dominant historical narrative in Patagonia centres around the gaucho: descendants of the first Europeans that colonised the region. As a result, the Kawésqar story and its people have largely been left out of the region’s booming tourism industry.

But the Kawésqar have a rich culture of their own to share, and they’re eager to introduce visitors and residents alike to their heritage. These nomadic seafarers were among the first people to inhabit Patagonia’s fjords; the Kawésqar skillfully navigated these channels and caught their meals from the sea. The harsh Patagonian climate intimidates many voyagers to this day, making it all the more impressive that the Kawésqar crossed these channels in their handcrafted wooden canoes.

This year, the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund – our local program based in Chilean Patagonia – partnered with The Intrepid Foundation for a new local tourism initiative. The Legacy Fund will work hand-in-hand with the Kawésqar to revitalise their culture through the development of tourism products. With an initial grant of AU $50,000 from The Intrepid Foundation, the Legacy Fund has been hard at work with local partners to bring these products to life.

 

Pueblo Kawésqar is a comprehensive skill-building, empowerment, and entrepreneurship project. Its ultimate goal is to generate greater economic opportunities by equipping the Kawésqar with the necessary skills to develop and market their own tourism products.

The project team is working alongside seven Kawésqar communities between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, who are participating in a variety of workshops and co-creation sessions and building a narrative around their story, traditions and products. They will also gain skills in English language, customer service, business administration and marketing.

Over the next several months, the Legacy Fund and The Intrepid Foundation will be providing updates about the Kawésqar’s progress towards bringing their artisanal products, cuisine and cultural traditions to life.

The project team conducted a needs assessment at the beginning of the project, including facilitating sessions to identify commonalities: parts of their identities that link them to one another. Participants found meaning and shared identity in the word Kawésqar, which simply translates to ‘human’ in their native language.

Kawésqar represents the power of this project: to revitalise a rich human identity and build bridges between humans of different walks of life.

This post originally appeared on The Intrepid Foundation’s website. 

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