Guest Blog by Wes Espinosa, Torres del Paine Legacy Fund
While best known for its glaciers and peaks, Torres del Paine and its gateway city of Puerto Natales also possess unique cultural assets and indigenous heritage, particularly that of its original peoples, the Kawésqar. However this heritage is little known or celebrated by many of the region’s residents, much less the 260,000+ tourists that visit every year.
Descendants of the region’s original nomadic, seafaring tribes that inhabited southern Chile’s extensive channels and fjords, today the Kawésqar are organized in thirteen communities recognised by the Chilean state. However, lacking in tourism and entrepreneurship skills to express their cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, past and contemporary, the Kawésqar have been economically and socio-culturally marginalised from the region’s booming tourism industry.
This is where the Pueblo Kawésqar project stepped in to empower these indigenous communities and revitalise their narrative.
Pueblo Kawésqar: Tourism, Culture and Heritage is a collaborative effort to empower seven Kawésqar communities between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas through tourism. Over the course of two years, community members will receive capacity-building workshops in tourism, language, entrepreneurship, and storytelling with the end goal of developing tourism products that can be shared with visitors to the region.
The project is led by Francisco Gonzalez, a Kawésqar individual and local tour guide, who is receiving implementation and project management support from Evoluzion Travel and the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund – a local nonprofit supported by Eclipse Travel. While the communities themselves and Mr. Gonzalez are leading the project, both the Legacy Fund’s and Evoluzion’s roles are to coach and equip the community with the tools they need to make their vision a reality.
Since project launch in January of 2019, the project team has completed an ethnographic analysis and interviews with community members, facilitated a workshop entitled How to Strengthen Indigenous Culture through Tourism, and officially launched the project in front of the local tourism community at the Futurismo Fest in Puerto Natales.
While the historical narrative in the region has traditionally focused on estancia life and the gaucho – cowboys descended from European immigrants – Pueblo Kawésqar is paving the way for a new Patagonian narrative that allows visitors to engage with the rich Kawésqar heritage and culture.
As part or our Responsible Tourism program, Eclipse Travel donates US $25 to the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund for every passenger that books a holiday to Patagonia.
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