Patagonia Indian tribe faces extinction
By Simon Gardner
PUERTO EDEN, Chile (Reuters) - Hawking sea lion skin souvenir canoes at one of South America's most remote outposts, Francisco Arroyo is among the last members of a Patagonian tribe staring down the barrel of extinction.
The elderly Arroyo recalls wending the icy channels and fjords of southern Chile's Patagonia region with his father as a boy, tending a fire lit on dried earth on the bottom of their canoe and diving naked for giant mussels to survive.
With only an estimated 12-20 pure-blooded members of his nomadic Kawesqar tribe surviving, most of them elderly, another of the far-flung region's tribes will soon disappear.
"It ends with our generation," Arroyo said, huddling against chill wind and spitting rain in a polar fleece and hat on a wooden walkway that skirts the tiny fishing port of Puerto Eden on an island around 1,300 miles south of the capital, Santiago.
Arroyo does not know how old he is. A state census hazarded a guess, assigning him a birth date that makes him 66.
"We are old now. We can't go out in the channels any more. I am not sad. Life is easier now," he said in Spanish, as European tourists in bright orange life vests paid a lightning visit to the far-flung settlement of 120 people, reachable only by boat or helicopter.
He sold a few trinkets, earning less than $10.
His ancestors lived in their canoes, even sleeping and cooking in them, wearing nothing other than a piece of sea lion skin on their backs and smothering themselves in grease and fat when diving for food. Continued...