Every morning, groups of tribespeople cross a jungle creek from their adobe student homes and wander barefoot through savannah inhabited by boa constrictors to reach class at Venezuela’s first indigenous university.

The original residents of Venezuela’s forests, Caribbean coves and swampy plains, dozens of Amerindian ethnic groups now make up only a fraction of the 29 million people in the South American country dominated by the oil industry.

Like similar groups across the world, their habitat and way of life in a vast, long-neglected region of forests and waterways around the Orinoco river are increasingly threatened by illegal mining, ranchers and evangelical Christianity.

Adding to the mix of influences are socialist aid programs from President Hugo Chavez, who has placed Venezuela’s Indian identity at the heart of his home-spun revolution.

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