Selknam Children (Tierra del Fuego, Chile)
The Selknam or Ona were powerful, fearless people who also lived in Tierra del Fuego at the same time as the Yamana. The community hunted guanacos, eating the meat and fashioning clothes out of the guanaco skin. They were expert hunters who used bows and arrows with great skill.
When European settlers arrived here in the 1880s and set up sheep farms, they fenced off large areas of Selknam land, and prohibited entry to the native people. This led to conflict, especially when the Selknam started hunting the sheep, since any animal was fair game to them.
This unfortunately led to a systematic genocide of the Selknam people. Headhunters were paid money for bringing in heads of the Selknam they had killed, with bonuses paid for pregnant women. The heads were even shipped off to collectors and museums in Europe. Poisoned meat was also given to the Selknam in the attempt to get rid of them.
In 1881 around when Tierra del Fuego was first colonized, about 3500 Selknam people lived on the big island of Tierra del Fuego. By the late 1920s, the hundred or so of the Selknam that remained, had to succumb to acculturization.
The last two pure-blooded Selknam: Lola Kiepje and Esteban Yshton passed away in the late 1960s.
For the whole time that we were in Tierra del Fuego in the city of Ushuaia, I felt a little disconnected from the modern city around me. It was cold and rainy on most days, and as we walked up to high glaciers and hiked in the forests, I felt the presence of these ancient people around me. I kept trying to see this land through their eyes. What a great loss it is to us that their culture is no more!