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Most Argentine of the 36,000 Wichi live in the provinces of Salta, Chaco and Formosa (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, 2004-5). There are also many Wichi in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Traditionally Wichi people are hunter-gatherers, planting gardens and gathering honey as well as fishing. Colonization of traditional lands by settlers has created a vicious circle in which the settlers have forced Wichi into the same situation of urban poverty that the settlers hope to escape.

Historical context

In the late 1980s, contrary to national and international legislation, the provincial government of Salta passed a law that gave settlers a legal right to Wichi land. Subsequently, settlers forbade Wichi to hunt and often took gratuitous violent actions against them.

The non-traditional herding of cattle and goats on scrubby Chaco forest has reduced previously fertile grassland to a sandy desert.

During the last two decades Wichi conmmunities have begun to organise together with other indigenous groups in the region. In the early 1990s they won an important legal victory when the authorities recognised that the Wichi were the rightful owners of approximately 400,000 hectares in the Chaco province. However, several years after this they had still not been granted the official land title.

Current issues

In August 2006, after several Wichi, Toba and Mocovi people had led a hunger strike of 31 days outside the provincial government buildings, it was agreed (by the provincial government of el Chaco and the Instituto Aborigen Chaqueño) to grant more land titles to local indigenous communities. Authorities also agreed to revise recent sales of fiscal lands to private interests. It remains to be seen whether such agreements are adhered to.