The last known living person who spoke Yagan, the language of the indigenous people who inhabited Tierra del Fuego, passed away this week in the Clinics Hospital from Punta Arenas, extreme south of Chile. She was 93, and had to be transported urgently from Puerto Williams to the Magallanes Region capital.
According to condolence messages Cristina Calderón Harban dedicated her life to keep alive the culture and language of her ethnicity and was thus considered a Living Human Treasure.
Chilean president elect Gabriel Boric sent a tweet message praising Granny Cristina, today at 93, Cristina Calderón a faithful representative of the Yagan people has died. But her tenderness, teachings and struggles from the south of the world, where it all begins, will be ever alive and present, a huge hug to all the family and to Villa Ukika. You're not alone
Her daughter, Lidia González, an elected member of the Constitutional convention drafting a new constitution for Chile appealed to Facebook, My mother Cristina Calderón had died at the age of 93. A great pain since I was not able to be with her when she left us. It is a sad news for the Yagan people, she was our living treasure, but beyond that she was my mother. All I am doing at the current representation will be in her name. And in her name, and in that of my people who she proudly defended
The Chilean minister of Cultures, Consuelo Valdés also had kind words in social networks, with great pain I have received the news of the death of Cristina Calderón, a human living treasure, who promoted the language and traditions of the inhabitants of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. My condolences to her family, friends and the Yagan people
Known as Granny Cristina, Calderón was the last living representative of the Yagan people, and the last living member to speak their indigenous language. She was born on 24 May 1928 in the island of Navarino, close to the town of Puerto Williams. She was a very active member of the Villa Ukika community where she lived, always busy knitting the Yagan baskets, a long time tradition of her people, and which helped her look after her family, nine children and fourteen grand children.
Cristina Calderón was declared Illustrious Daughter of the Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctic, plus been recognized as a Human Living Treasure by the Chilean National Culture and Arts Council.
The Yagan people are no strangers to the Falkland Islands. It is not known if any did make the crossing as good mariners they were, but several of them were taken to the Falklands by missioners to Cape Meredith in Keppen Island, where there was a religious settlement, believed to be among the first in the Islands.
Originally belonging to the South America Missionary Society, some of the buildings in the settlement remain and date back to 1855. The idea was for the missioners to gain the trust of the Yagan people, by learning their language, culture, traditions and protecting them from the white people in Tierra del Fuego, who wanted to forcibly submit them as slaves or evangelize them.
Andrea Barlow, Director of the Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust recently recalled the significance of the Keppel island mission, and its potential as an iconic reference of Falklands history and connections with the extreme south of the South American continent. She even suggested that the SAMS mission could someday be potentially included in the UNESCO world Heritage List