The Blonde Indian, is a documentary which I’m producing, that follows the chronicles by Bolivian photojournalist Samy Schwartz, as filmed by Samy, of an indigenous march to protect rainforest homelands. This foot march began on August 15, 2011 and took several months to complete. It started in the rainforests of Tipnis, Bolivia and culminated in the 4000 meters above sea level Andean city of La Paz.
Together with women and children, including one who gave birth to twins along the way, 34 indigenous groups gathered. Their intention was to stop the construction of a highway which would cut straight through the homes of the Mojeño, Yuracare, Tsimane tribes. Significant parts of the previously protected Tipnis national rainforest would be destroyed, all the more concerning given the claims by the Evo Morales government of being a pro-indigenous protector of the environment and mother earth aka Pachamama.
Samy documented their journey from the beginning and walked their walk, all the while photographing and filming their experience. This gained international press coverage.
This blonde, green-eyed, Jewish Bolivian man, who seemingly had nothing in common with the indigenous people of this region, shared something more important than religion or race. He shared a heart which loves and values life. Coming from a family of holocaust survivors, Samy understands deeply the intrinsic necessity to cherish the place we call home. He made a commitment to ensure Tipnis, the home of these indigenous hunter-gatherers was preserved.
Through Samy’s images hearts were awakened and the entire nation rallied around the marchers. Once they arrived in La Paz, the reception was an overwhelming ticket tape welcome. The Monsignor of La Paz’s Catholic church was also present to ensure the safety of the indigenous marchers, in the face of police resistance. The march had not been without incident. On September 25, a 500 strong riot police presence repressed marchers who’d reached Chaparina. Men and women were violently shackled, bound and gagged, sending dozens of their children running into the forest for safety, videos of this can be seen on YouTube.
The marchers nevertheless persevered through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and the success story has been one to inspire much hope in Bolivia for what can be achieved when all unite in peace to achieve a goal, regardless of race, class, religion.
The main goal, in this case was “The defense of life and dignity, of the indigenous territories, natural resources, biodiversity, environment, of the protected areas, the obeyance of the CPE and respect for democracy”.
For his solidarity and tireless efforts, Samy was considered a brother by the indigenous leader Fernando Vargas, and dubbed The Blonde Indian.
The march proceeded, leaving no one behind.
Where there were no paths, they made their own.
Bolivians start rallying behind the marchers thanks to images they’re seeing in the press and through Samy’s social media posts. Supplies are sent from all over the country. It will take another 2 months for this foot march to reach its end in La Paz.
Knowing how to tap into natural water sources has its advantages. The Tipnis forest dwellers must get through the mountainous terrain as they approach the highland of La Paz.
After 3 months they arrived in La Paz. Citizens alerted to police resistance create banners expressing their support for the indigenous Tipnis marchers.
La Paz expresses the feeling of support and admiration of the rest of the country. The respect for the commitment by these peaceful, humble people places them as heroes in the eyes of the nation.
The passion Samy Schwartz has for his work as a photojournalist was taken above and beyond through his solidarity, compassion, and dedication to understanding the plight of these people. Hearing their stories as they walked from their Amazon paradise to a metropolitan city. The connection he shared with them is a story in itself doing so all the while with a sense of fun, dignity, and respect. Samy’s character and work served to inspire and unite Bolivia, a nation often divided due to its extremes in cultural and political differences.