Destination Bolivia: from the Outback to the Amazon

4 Jun 2012   |   Blog   |   Long-term Development   |   Bolivia   |   Australia

Tags:  Indigenous Australia, solidarity, Walk As One, Indigenous rights   |   No comments

Scott and Major

Scott Hall and Major Cameron’s story begins in the community of Beswick (Wugularr), south-west Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, at the Ghunmarn Culture Centre.

A few months ago, both men travelled to Bolivia with Caritas Australia to meet and share experiences with the local Indigenous communities. Although Bolivia is thousands of miles away from Beswick, it’s much closer when it comes to challenges facing Indigenous Peoples.

The Ghunmarn Culture Centre is an Aboriginal owned and run arts space which maintains, develops and promotes Indigenous art and culture. Run by Caritas Australia partner, Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation, it is situated in Beswick (Wugularr) on the traditional country of the Jawoyn people.

A popular tourist attraction and provider of much needed local employment, the Centre’s main focus is to preserve cultural knowledge by teaching young people about bush foods, traditional medicines and dance. Multimedia and filmmaking skills are also taught, which encourages these same young people to tell their own stories and that of the Elders within their community. These stories are often told in local languages. For many, including Scott and Major, English is a sixth or seventh language.

Many of Beswick’s residents are descendants of workers at the Maranboy tin mine, or of Beswick Cattle Station. The community of Beswick was historically part of the Beswick Creek Native Settlement (which later divided into Beswick and Barunga Communities), created by the Northern Territory Government in the 1950s. The Settlement has been described as a ‘de facto prison farm’; the movement of Aboriginal people was restricted, access to money denied and racially based legislation restricted their human rights. Many children were forcibly removed from their families; with the view they would be ‘better off’ brought up in non-Aboriginal institutions.

The culture, it’s more important to us ‘cause we love our culture, we got ceremony, culture, songs, we got everything.”
 Scott Hall

With this painful legacy of intervention and violence as a backdrop, Beswick today is a community struggling with many challenges. Good employment and educational opportunities are few and far between, traditional languages are being lost and many social structures have broken down.

In the face of such challenges, the importance of organisations like Djilpin Arts and the Ghunmarn Culture Centre, becomes even clearer.

“The culture, it’s more important to us ‘cause we love our culture, we got ceremony, culture, songs, we got everything,” said Scott.

Married with a three-month-old son, Scott grew up in Beswick and attended school until Year 10, when he left to continue his love for art.

“First year I was working here, I was doing art, painting, canvas, a little carving, just follow footsteps, just like my father… “

“It’s important to me, my culture, because my eldest mob brought the culture in this area, so we can’t let that ceremony go down, we have to let it keep building, all the way,” said Major.

Married with five children, Major is not only teaching his kids about the local culture, he’s helping to strengthen the community through his work with Djilpin.

Right around the world, there are Indigenous communities, just like in Beswick, that have similarly rich cultural knowledge and traditions to offer their broader communities and nations. However, they also face common issues of marginalisation and discrimination, including lack of land rights, poor access to education and healthcare, and disrespect for their cultural and legal traditions.

Bolivia is considered the poorest country in Latin America. Despite a wealth of natural and mineral resources, 30 percent of the country’s 10 million people live on less than $2 a day. Bolivia has over 36 different Indigenous groups; each with a distinct language, culture and identity. Find out more about Caritas Australia's work in Bolivia.
  • Population: 8,922,000
  • Area: 1,098,581 km²
  • Capital: La Paz
  • Official languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymará
  • Currency: Boliviano
  • Caritas funding 2010/2011: AU $347,063

Bolivian Life

Bolivia is home to one of the largest Indigenous populations in the world with over 36 different groups. Some of the most marginalised of these, such as the Yuracaré people, live in the Department of Cochabamba, central Bolivia. The community faces many challenges including lack of basic health services, educational and employment opportunities, and protection of their land and cultural traditions from external influences and agendas.

Caritas Australia works in partnership with CINEP, a local non-profit organisation. This group aims to construct alternatives that promote peace and development as well as a greater respect for human rights and the enhancement of democracy.

The Yuracaré community has been working with CINEP to establish an ethno ecotourism project on their land. The project’s goal is to enhance the living conditions of the community by generating money which can be spent on basic services, infrastructure, and conservation initiatives. It also provides much needed local employment and training opportunities, while valuing and strengthening the community’s strong ties to land, language and cultural traditions.

Bolivian Nelson Galindo

Restoring Tradition

“I value my culture because we can take our storylines back through generations and generations, even though my ancestors couldn’t read and write, the culture was passed on in story,” said Nelson Galindo, ethno ecotourism local Project Coordinator.

Nelson is helping to restore hope and pride to the Yuracaré so their human dignity and rights can be realised. Elders are being encouraged to share their wisdom about medicines and craft; traditional practices and industry such as chocolate making are also supported.

On Scott and Major’s first night, a customary fire was built and Nelson welcomed them into the community. It was the first time that Indigenous representatives from another country had visited the Yuracaré People. “In the first place I’d like to thank the Indigenous Australians, and to give you a big welcome… because like you, we are Indigenous People of this land.”

Scott and Major then played the didgeridoo (yidaki), sang and danced for the community. They were proud and excited to share their culture.

“They [the locals] were really proud and that hit their hearts and minds,” said Scott. “And they was thinking for their culture, ‘cause they all lost some of it, their cultures. It’s good. I’m not shamed ‘cause I’m out here to teach my traditional way, lore, culture, that’s what we do back at home, we touring around and we don’t get shy. We just get up and show them action, and show how the experience goes for the traditional way,” said Scott. “Like we do in Beswick.”

“Yeah I feel a little bit sad to go [home] … maybe next time they might want me back to come and share my culture again with the people,” added Major.

More information

This story first appeared in Caritas News, Winter 2012.

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