Centro de Documentación Mapuche Documentation Center
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

"Indigenous people at risk as rainforests stripped bare, conference told"

Carla Wilson
Times Colonist

Chile's Mapuche people are losing their land and way of life as corporations log temperate rainforests to create tree farms, says an advocate from the South American country.

"The Mapuche people believe that we are the guardians of our magical forests," Maria Theresa Panchillo told the first day of a three-day World Temperate Rainforest Conference at the University of Victoria on Monday.

In the area where Panchillo lives, "there is hardly any native forest left ...They have been cut down, clear cut, by the biggest timber companies in Chile."

Panchillo, speaking through an interpreter, said the loss of trees in the Valdivian rainforest has meant water systems have been disrupted and many communities have lost access to water at their homes during the summer.

Pollution from industrial logging means water has to be imported to many towns, she said. "If they take away the forest, there is no water, because inside the forests are the forces and energy that create water."

The Mapuche are campaigning to get timber companies out of what they maintain is their land. An international campaign is urging the Chilean government to bring in forest and plantation policies to protect the forest and native people.

"When we fight to save these forests, we are also fighting for our way of life that depends upon these forests," Panchillo said.

The U.S.-based American Lands Alliance is the lead sponsor of the conference, with several Canadian environmental groups supporting it as well. Up to 70 participants are expected, said Aaron Sanger of ForestEthics.

Issues that will be tackled include communications, how to use existing laws and sponsor new legislation, international trade, markets and product certification, and new ideas.

Cutting down rainforests jeopardizes the people who live there, Sanger said. From Chile to coastal B.C. to Alaska, "fragile threads bind some of the world's most endangered people and some of the world's most endangered forests."

Elmer Makua, a spokesman for the Tl'ingit people in Alaska, said, "The attack is happening. It has been happening for decades."

Logging, fishing, mining and tourism all help diversify the economy but have impacts on the forests, he said. He is also worried about the proposed use of pesticides in the Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska.

For the Tl'ingit, the connection to the forest and the animals that live there is spiritual, Makua said.

"The forest is an intricate part of our culture. Without it we are nothing."

Brian McNitt, conservation director with the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, is fighting to prevent the U.S.Forest Service from building new roads and clearcutting thousands of hectares of trees in Alaska's temperate rainforests. His group is backed a national roadless rule which bans roads and logging in the undeveloped areas of Tongass and Chugach and other U.S.

© Copyright 2003 Times Colonist (Victoria)