Can ecotourism help preserve Chile′s Pehuenche way of life? | Global Ideas | DW | 15.09.2021

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Global Ideas

Can ecotourism help preserve Chile's Pehuenche way of life?

Isaac Huenchunao wants to safeguard the future of his culture by bringing in tourist dollars. Can a people who have lost so much to foreign invasion welcome outsiders to their Andean home?

Indigenous peoples and Chile's Araucaria Forest

In their own tongue, Pehuenche means "people of the araucaria tree." For countless generations, the indigenous Pehuenche have been harvesting the seeds of the araucaria (elsewhere sometimes called the monkey puzzle tree), in what are now the Chilean Andes.

These days though, making a living from araucaria nuts alone isn't easy, and many Pehuenche youth are leaving their mountain home for Chile's urban centers.  

Isaac Huenchunao isn't one of them. He's afraid the exodus of young people will mean the loss of his Pehuenche culture and identity. By setting up a tour company specializing in bringing visitors to see the land and lifestyle he wants to protect, he hopes to offer locals an income as tour guides and selling traditional handicrafts and cuisine.  

Isaac Huenchunao on a hillside surrounded by hikers in the Chilean Andes

Isaac Huenchunao leads a group of tourists on a tour of the forest

But can culture and ecology really be preserved by packaging them for tourist consumption? After centuries of colonial invasion and exploitation of their resources by outsiders, some Pehuenche are wary of foreigners and resist their way of life being reduced to picturesque folklore.  

A film by Judith Mintrop

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