South America · Argentina
A Compassionate Leader, Dedicated to the Indigenous Cause
Matilde Lucio (64) is an indigenous leader, who has been at the forefront of the struggle for indigenous rights in the South American Chaco Region. Despite leaving primary school at a young age to work in the fields with her family, Matilde has played a key role in the protection of indigenous culture and identity, while also promoting sustainable development and the environmental conservation.
In 1995, Matilde founded the local Guarani Assemly (APG), which aims to fight for the rights and recognition of the Guarani identity. As leader of the APG, Matilde helped spearhead a long legal struggle, involving countless advocacy actions including roadblocks and demonstrations, in which the indigenous community was finally granted 4100 hectares of its ancestral land. Given the rate of deforestation and the centrality of land to indigenous culture, the recovery of their ancestral land is considered vital to ensuring sustainable development and strengthening food security in the community.
Additionally, through her dedication and leadership, bilingual education was made available in local schools and Guarani youth are now able to speak their native language and feel proud of their indigenous identity. Matilde also works to promote Guarani culture through the publishing of picture books for children that tell traditional Guarani stories, and the successful creation of a radio program to communicate information on indigenous rights and culture.
She has played a role in the empowerment of indigenous women in a region where they suffer multiple forms of exclusion and discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity. Illiteracy levels are extremely high among indigenous women and most have not completed primary education. Additionally, increased male migrant labor has resulted in women to be left alone in their communities, for most of the year, to single-handedly protect, feed and care for their families.
Matilde advocates for and strongly encourages indigenous women to set up their own community development organizations. Due to Matilde’s leadership, women in the region are more organized and aware of their rights, which they now advocate for, demanding their right to housing, health care and education.