Before the process of colonisation started in the Chaco, the different indigenous peoples possessed large territories, which were used by different local groups. Their main means of subsistence were hunting, gathering, fishing and seasonal raising of vegetables.

In the course of the early period of colonisation – by military occupation of both Paraguayan and Bolivian troops, by missionaries and first settlers – the indigenous population was deprived of its land.

Today 55 % of the indigenous people own small areas of land, while the rest are forced to live on land that no longer belongs to them. A few men and women can find occasional work as day labourers. But most are without jobs. They live in poverty, are discriminated and often exploited.

According to the Paraguayan Constitution, the indigenous people are entitled to land for their subsistence. The state is bound by the law to provide the necessary land free of charge. However, private property is also protected by the constitution. In the 1990ies, when most of the land had been privatised, this led to a deadlock situation. It became almost impossible for the state or NGOs to secure land claimed by indigenous communities, as the claimants and landlords got involved in endless legal disputes and trials.