Second Brown Bag lecture discusses Paraguay

Yash Chitrakar

Paraguay at the Crossroads, a lecture by Professor Mailin Rehnfeldt attracted dozens of students, teachers and anthropology enthusiasts alike. 

Held Aug. 30 at the International House, this lecture was the second Brown Bag International Lecture and talked about the problems and injustices that indigenous peoples face today. This lecture focused mainly on the Paraguayan Chaco, who have a modest population of around 80,000.

After completing her master’s degree in anthropology in 1983, Rehnfeldt devoted all her time to researching the plights of the indigenous people.

Rehnfeldt currently teaches at the Catholic University of Our Lady of the Assumption in Paraguay.

Rehnfeldt discussed how the 19 native tribes of the five main linguistic families suffered from the Paraguayan government’s negligence toward their civil, economic and political rights. Forced labor is the most prevalent way in which this occurs. Indigenous peoples are tasked with menial jobs under hollow verbal agreements.

“There were many instances of child labor as well,” Rehnfeldt said. 

The main reason for this systematic discrimination, according to Rehnfeldt, is the unfair ousting of the indigenous people from their ancestral land by the Paraguayan government.

“If you ask indigenous leaders, ‘What are the problems that you face?’ they will single out the land situation,” she said.

Since the livelihood of the native people depended on the land and its resources, the government’s seizure of the land meant that they had to resort to working under business agreements that took advantage of them. 

“This is unjust according to any international law, but in Paraguay, it is being overlooked,” Rehnfeldt said.

Rehnfeldt’s presentation also featured numerous photos she took while researching the Chaco area. Photos that stood out featured an old woman with whom Rehnfeldt lived, daily Chaco life and the stark landscape they call home. 

In reference to the landscape photos, she said that voyagers, indigenous people, have died in the desert-like terrain due to the heat and lack of water.

“[The environment] was definitely very hot,” Rehnfeldt said. “We had to stop our excursion to sit in the shade because it was so hot.”

The lecture ended with Rehnfeldt entertaining questions about indigenous cultures, their current living conditions and the Paraguayan Chaco as they related to her research.