Ahead of International Youth Day 2022, Simón Loncopán, member of Observatorio Ciudadano de Chile and fellow of ILC's Future Leaders 2021-2022 programme, looks at the role of youth in his community and at the lessons learned from his time in this programme and the Global Land Forum for Youth 2022 (GLFY).
A generational change to continue the fight
I was born in the territory of Curarrehue (Kurarewe, in the Mapuche grafemario), in the middle of the mountains of the Araucanía region, in the south of Chile. More than 40 Mapuche communities live there, including my own: Camilo Coñuequir Lloftunekul of Lof Txankura is made up of 60 families. I grew up with my grandparents, and formed myself as a person and as a Mapuche within the territory. My family has always been part of the territorial leadership, being involved in the different processes of resistance against extractive projects in our community.
Approximately ten years ago, mining and hydroelectric companies arrived in our territory. Since then, many young people from the communities have taken a step forward to resist corporate extractivism, promoting the generational handover of responsibilities and leadership within the communities. The commitment and strength that we Mapuche youth have had in the territory has allowed the elders to trust and delegate leadership, understanding how cyclical life is. In addition, the technical skills and tools that we young people have been acquiring have helped the more experienced leaders to recognise them as a strength to confront threats and generate life and governance projects within the communities.
I managed to study at university and become a geographer, with the desire to be able to contribute to the solution of territorial conflicts in my region. From there, for years, I have worked with different Mapuche communities, with a special focus on the defence, governance and conservation of the land and territory.
All these experiences led me to participate in the fellowship program for young leaders that ILC promotes, where I was able to acquire organisational, digital and material tools, in order to be able to contribute more assertively to the resistance that our communities sustain today in the different processes of defence and territorial governance.
Enrich work through a collective vision
The space provided by the fellowship programme undoubtedly allowed me to learn new strategies for leadership and organisational work, to implement them in the different territories which I work with. In addition, sharing experiences with the other fellows was a significant contribution in terms of understanding what is understood by governance in other peoples and countries, as well as learning about other methodological perspectives to ensure access to land for indigenous, peasant and local communities. Being a fellow strengthened my capacities as a territorial leader and as a professional, bringing me closer to the regional and global panorama of the ongoing fight for access to land and territory.
Thanks to a fund provided as part of the fellowship, I promoted an action plan to develop and improve the territorial mapping methodology that I designed in my undergraduate thesis. This gave me the possibility to apply the methodology with a specific community, the Manuel Quintonahuel, and to initiate the debate on how to achieve effective governance in rural territories around the world. This, considering environmental conservation with an indigenous perspective and formulating projects and roadmaps for the implementation of governance with more communities.
The creation of a global youth network promoted by ILC is very relevant, as it makes it possible to make connections with other territories and their proposals for the full exercise of the right to land and territory. Being able to learn about leadership experiences and projects from other organisations is a substantial contribution. It gives us a global vision on issues of land governance, and allows us to open the debate within our communities about what path we want to build for the future, positioning ourselves from the community towards the global. This is further reflected by involving and empowering young people in territorial planning with a local perspective and also in the construction and implementation of life plans, with cultural, social, political and environmental content.
Youth with their own voice
The main challenge we face today as young people is undoubtedly climate change. The climate crisis has substantially affected livelihood systems within different rural territories around the world. Desertification, water scarcity and environmental migration are some of the most serious problems we have to deal with. As a network, our role is to work not only on mitigation, but also on the adaptation that many communities are currently facing. One of the paths we must follow is ecosystem restoration and environmental conservation with an indigenous perspective.
For generations, indigenous and local communities have faced a kind of institutional paternalism in terms of support and the search for solutions to global problems and their impact within our territories. Our leaders have often been made invisible by authorities outside our communities, imposing their own roadmaps and challenges.
Today, young people must break with these patterns and strengthen the empowerment of the new generations, making a commitment to the defence and protection of the territorial rights of our communities. This means turning our organisations into proactive entities in the search for solutions to concrete problems, starting to be part of this paradigm shift with a focus on environmental protection.