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Selk'nam Homeward Bound

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How can one live when one is considered dead?

In this precise moment, the Indigenous Covadonga Ona community, through its legal organization Corporación Selk’nam Chile, is demanding to be taken off the extinct peoples list. 

kowanak sawar t’haynèen yoin ya’  tinisway yikwa’ te selk’na nam, echen wan yikwa’ ni yikwak sam, selk’nam warr haykoner moho’ , tinishway hash yikwak warr te sawar wan chekriyen yikowak hoówen.

I want to tell you that, in spite of what is said by historians and authorities, we, the descendants of the Selk’nam people, exist, and that Selk’nam blood runs through our veins, and that through our blood, our ancestors shout that they have not died.” 

                                                                -Hema'ny Molina, President of the Corporación Selk'nam Chile.

Since its foundation in 2013 the  Indigenous Covandonga Ona Selk'nam Corporation has worked hard to be acknowledged as a living First Nation by revealing the history that lies hidden behind official history and spearheading lobby efforts within the Chilean Congress to change the law that claims Selk'nam as extinct.  

This fundraising effort aims to raise 10.000USD or more to 1) continue the legal process of obtaining  Selk'nam recognition,  2) strengthen Selk'nam culture, historical knowledge and language learning, all of which were lost violently through systemic and institutionalized extermination, and most urgently 3) travel 20 Selk'nam people living in central Chile to their ancestral lands in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia. This trip would the first time the Covadonga Ona community will visit Chilean Tierra del Fuego.

"We want to make it to Karokynka, to our home, to be able to mourn our dead, so as to cleanse our hearts of so much pain and begin to build a future that is full of life and hope." 

Crying and mourning over those who are no longer with us is a human act that  the Selk’nam descendants have not been able to carry out. The funds raised for the trip will make it possible for the Selk'nam community of Chile  to commemorate their ancestors who were murdered  and  those who died alone, sad and far away from Tierra del Fuego.    

For this homeward bound journey to celebrate Selk'nam ancestral connections by performing  rituals  and by documenting them so as to assure they  will remain available for our descendants for posterity the Covadonga Ona community  have partnered with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) - Chile  who manages Parque Karukinka and will host the community at their science hub within the 300.000 hectares of protected land. 

Historic Background:
The Selk’nam people, also known as the Ona, inhabited Tierra del Fuego since over 8000 years ago.

In 1883, as decided by the Chilean state, the livestock farming colonization of the area began with the granting of lands to the Werhahn Company. This would become the beginning of a genocide that lasts until this very day. Because of a policy of extermination endorsed by the states of Chile and Argentina in order to give way to a late colonization in pursuit of progress and development, indigenous peoples were eliminated from people’s sights. They were massacred, murdered, commercialized, and their children were given away through illegal adoption, all under the complicity of the state and the blind eye of spectators who, influenced by Darwinian thought, considered the Selk’nam to be practically non-human beings.

Children were given away or sold, and teenagers were taken to the military, to saltpeter mines, or to work in the livestock ranches themselves. It was assumed that by not dressing like Selk’nam and not speaking Selk’nam chan (the Selk’nam language), they would stop being Selk’nam. The children of women who were raped by settlers were mestizos and therefore not considered to be indigenous, and this is how the population disappeared from plain sight, becoming  and surviving through anonymity in several cities throughout Chile. According to official history, the Selk’nam people conveniently ceased to exist.

The survivors, with Hema'ny Molina's grandfather among them, simply listened to their instincts and remained quiet, obeyed, and lived. Their children learned how to remain quiet and continued to survive and relive their histories almost as fictional anecdotes within their homes. The awakening came about only in the 2000s, when thanks to technology and the Internet, these families began to find each other, each one conserving their memories from their respective corner and space. The need to fill these spaces void of history, the mourning of unlamented deaths, and the love for roots that still refused to die, caused for a new community to gradually begin to re-structure itself. The Covadonga Ona Selk’nam indigenous community in Chile, far from Tierra del Fuego, exiled, yet Fuegians at heart. Memories gained strength and revived the language, customs, and the will to return to the homeland.

The children grew up, they lived in silence, in anonymity –victims of terror—but even so, no one managed to take away their memories and identities. Their children learned and did not remain silent; though their voices didn’t leave their homes, they did not remain silent. Today, the Indigenous Covadonga Ona community are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who understood that remaining silent is no longer a measure of self-defense. 

Related links:

Nico Arze, Sahar Ghaheri, and Camila Marambio

Nico Arze who is a Chilean designer and philanthropist will be  is responsible for withdrawing and distributing funds to the Selk'nam community. Funds will be transfered to Nico and then wired to an account in Chile to go directly to the Selk'nam community. 

Camila Marambio is a Chilean curator and the founder/director of Ensayos, a nomadic interdisciplinary research program in Tierra del Fuego. Camila has been working directly with the Selk'nam community and will be coordinating and accompanying all travel to Tierra del Fuego.


  • elisita balbontin
    • $77 
    • 4 yrs

Fundraising team (3)

Sahar Ghaheri
Brooklyn, NY
Nicolás Arze
Camila Marambio
Team member
Hema'ny Molina
Team member

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