The work shows how the Yagan people, currently located in Isla Navarino, face the current pandemic based on past experiences. The research was recently published in Maritime Studies, one of the most recognized journals in the field of social sciences dedicated to maritime and coastal issues.
Andrea Navarro, IDEAL Center. The Yagan people are considered the southernmost in the world. Currently, 94 people are part of the Yagan Indigenous Community of Bahía Mejillones group and most of its members live in Villa Ukika, located on Navarino Island (Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region.)
An alliance between researchers from the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) and the Martín Gusinde Anthropological Museum allowed to overcome some of the difficulties of researching under sanitary restrictions. Using a socio-material approach, the anthropologist Macarena Libuy, the historian Dr. Alberto Harambour and the archaeologist Karina Rodríguez, led by the researcher Dr. Gustavo Blanco, carried out a study that examined how the threat of COVID-19, added to the effects of colonization, become part of a broader socio-historical debate on the right of coastal peoples to their maritories.
The research published in Maritime Studies – one of the most recognized magazines in the social sciences and humanities, dedicated to the study of the relationship between peoples and the sea – focused on analyzing how the virus has affected the population of Puerto Williams and, in particular, to the Yagan Community of Bahía Mejillones. The work considers a historical review that shows how, like other colonized peoples, the Yagan people have been decimated and suffered the contagion of numerous diseases in successive encounters with Europeans. Added to this, in the mid-twentieth century, the radical transformation of life forms as a result of forced sedentarization by the Chilean State.
“Overall, the development of the pandemic in the world showed the particular vulnerability that social groups and indigenous communities may have. Colonialism is also a history of encounters with diseases that has brought a series of negative consequences and has led to the affectation of these groups,” says Dr. Blanco. “Paradoxically, our results suggest that COVID-19 has become part of a process of ethnic revitalization, in a conversation within these families, which joins other initiatives and opens possibilities for the Yagan clans to make some of their expected futures possible,” he adds.
The researcher affirms that it is necessary to recognize that there are elements of the colonization process that have influenced the way in which indigenous communities have faced the pandemic. For example, navigation allowed them to be far away on the islands. From that perspective, for the purposes of the population’s survival, the confinement processes in misiones and estancias was a very damaging process.
“In Chile there is not enough information regarding the situation of native peoples during the pandemic; nor specific sanitary or epidemiological figures, nor data in relation to their social, economic or cultural situation. Therefore, it seems relevant to us to be able to contribute to the visibility and understanding of these problems, hoping to be able to influence the debate regarding the public policies that are necessary to protect these groups. As the leader of the Yagan community pointed out to us: protecting their lives is protecting their culture,” says anthropologist Macarena Libuy.
“Despite COVID-19, the Yagan community has been able to organize itself. They are a living people that is in a process of ethnic revitalization. The threat of the pandemic has strengthened them and they have managed to transform it into challenges. In addition, they proved to be generous since they extended their concerns about the virus to the rest of the inhabitants of Puerto Williams so that everyone was safe,” concludes Dr. Blanco.
Read the scientific study here.