‘We the Indigenous peoples are interested in conservation,’ says Indigenous youth in Bolivia

Photo of Francés Greber Mandepera Perezz taken by Jessica Peñaloza Cladera for Rising Voices.

A group of 11 young people from various Indigenous and Afro-Bolivian communities in the Gran Chaco region in Bolivia participated in the workshop called “Roipea Taperai” (“Opening Paths,” in the Guaraní language). The workshop focused on the terms used in Bolivian media when reporting on climate change or Indigenous peoples in the region (more about the workshop is available to read here). What follows is an interview with one of the participants in this workshop.

Francés Greber Mandepera Perez is from the Bazoanti community belonging to the Kereimba Iyambae (Charagua) Indigenous autonomy, which is located in the Cordillera province, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He is a young man whose interest has turned to the conservation of forests, flora and fauna. He considers that local Bolivian media should discuss conservation more. As a native resident of the Gran Chaco, the second-largest forest in the Americas after the Amazon, he knows what is beneficial for the forest and what activities could be harmful. For this reason, he believes that the best way to deal with climate change in his area is by coordinating with the people of the Indigenous communities, but also that there should be greater efforts to understand their way of life in this region. Francés shared those reflections in this interview.

Word cloud for the terms “Chaco” and “communities” generated by Media Cloud.

Rising Voices (RV): During the workshop the participants chose a word cloud and identified specific terms. You chose the cloud that results from the search for “Chaco” and “communities.” Within that cloud, you identified the terms “identity”, “territory” and “ancestral knowledge” as words you wanted to reflect on. How have you seen these terms represented in the media?

Francés Greber Mandepera Perez (FGMP): En referencia a lo que dicen los medios de comunicación sobre los pueblos indígenas, dicen que nosotros somos muy flojos, porque no trabajamos el territorio que tenemos. Pero en realidad no es así. Somos más conservacionistas, protegemos más a la naturaleza y tenemos conexión con la naturaleza, porque ella nos da lo que nosotros producimos.

Francés Greber Mandepera Perez (FGMP): The media talks about us Indigenous peoples as being very lazy, because we don't work the land that we have. But this is not the case. We are conservationists, we protect nature, and we have a connection with nature, because she provides us with what sustains us.

RV: What words should a word cloud include for the terms you chose?

FGMP: Debería tener «identidad», «territorio» y más que todo «conocimientos ancestrales» para así poder recuperar nuestros principios y nuestros valores. 

FGMP: It should include “identity”, “territory”, and especially “ancestral knowledge” in order to recover our principles and values.

RV: During the workshop, the group created a word cloud with terms that they believe represent them. Explain what words you highlighted in your cloud and why.

FGMP: Más que todo conservación porque es algo que nos interesa a los pueblos indígenas y porque gracias a eso tenemos la reducción un poco de la contaminación ambiental. Como bien sabemos los árboles reducen el dióxido de carbono, que actualmente está afectando a muchas personas más que todo en las ciudades. Pero en cambio nosotros en nuestras comunidades indígenas en donde nosotros vivimos aún podemos respirar aire puro y eso es lo que te ayuda más que todo a tu salud. Es por eso que nos preocupamos por conservar nuestros bosques.

FGMP: I emphasized conservation because it is something that interests us Indigenous peoples and because thanks to that we have some reduction in environmental pollution. As we well know, trees reduce carbon dioxide, which is currently affecting many people, especially in cities. But on the other hand, we in our Indigenous communities where we live can still breathe fresh air and that is what keeps us healthy more than anything. That is why we care about conserving our forests.

RV: What topic is not discussed in the media in your region?

FGMP: No se cuenta sobre nuestros principios y valores con los que protegemos nuestros bosques. Los medios dicen que nosotros no trabajamos, que nosotros somos muy flojos, pero no, en realidad es que nosotros queremos que este ambiente que tenemos, el aire puro que nosotros respiramos, permanezca para las generaciones venideras.

FGMP: The media doesn't discuss about our principles and values we have in protecting our forests. The media say that we don't work, that we are very lazy, but the truth is that we want this environment that we have, the pure air that we breathe, to exist for future generations.

RV: What examples of harmful or incorrect information about the problems in your region have you seen in the media, including on social networks?

FGMP: Que nosotros no trabajamos, eso es lo que dicen de nosotros, pero las cosas no son así. Teniendo el inmenso territorio que tenemos, los otros [los medios] ven que podemos trabajar más, que podemos explotar más nuestros recursos naturales [que salen] del bosque, pero nosotros no queremos hacerle daño a la naturaleza aunque sea eso lo que ellos quieren que nosotros hagamos.

FGMP: The media say that we don't work, but that's not what it is. Having the immense territory that we have, the others [the media] see that we can work more, that we can exploit more of our natural resources [that come out] of the forest, but we don't want to harm nature, even if that's what they want us to do.

RV: And what do you want the people of the Gran Chaco to know about climate change in your region?

FGMP: Que aún tenemos la posibilidad de reducir el desastre que está causando el daño medio ambiente. También me gustaría que se sepa sobre la sequía que nos está azotando en este momento, la falta de agua más que todo para la producción, nosotros antes producíamos maíz,  ahora en esta gestión no hemos producido ni un solo grano y eso nos afecta, que se pongan la mano al pecho, que nos puedan ayudar.

FGMP: That we still have the possibility of reducing the disaster that is causing damage to the environment. I would also like people to know about the drought that is currently plaguing our territory, the lack of water, especially that we used to produce corn; currently, in this season we have not produced a single grain and that affects us, so people could have some heart and help us.

RV: What do you want the people of Bolivia and the world to know about climate change in your region?

FGMP: Más que todo, que los pueblos indígenas tenemos nuestros principios, que aplicamos nuestros conocimientos ancestrales para poder reducir un poco el daño que está sucediendo al medio ambiente. 

FGMP: More than anything, that we the Indigenous peoples have our principles, that we apply our ancestral knowledge to be able to reduce the damage that is affecting our environment.

The Roipea Taperai media literacy workshop was held on July 2 and 3, 2022 in the town of Charagua, located in the south of the department of Santa Cruz (Bolivia). It was promoted by Global Voices, a partner of the Fundación Avina, in the project “Exploring and shifting narratives on climate change in the Gran Chaco” within the framework of the global project “Voices for Just Climate Action.” For this workshop, Global Voices collaborated with the School of Indigenous Journalism, a project carried out by the ORÉ – Legal and Social Support Organization.
Jessica Peñaloza Cladera participated with conducting the interview with Francés Greber.

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