The second 2009 Lucy Mair Medal is awarded to John Hillary Palmer for his long-standing and continuing commitment to assisting the Wichí, an oppressed indigenous people of northern Argentina. His full-time in situ assistance over the last thirteen years has been, and continues to be, crucial in their struggle to uphold their human rights, as enshrined in Argentine and international law, particularly with regard to securing title to their homelands.

Palmer originally took a BA in Modern languages followed by a BPhil in Latin American studies at Oxford. His BPhil thesis was an ethnographic survey of the hunter-gatherers of the Argentinian Chaco, and he did fieldwork with the Wichí for his doctorate, awarded in 1997. He has subsequently published both papers, in English and in Spanish, as well as a respected monograph on Wichí life.

However, since the early 1990s Palmer has worked continuously in advocacy, particularly on indigenous rights/consultancy work in Argentina and Paraguay. After a series of repeat visits to the Wichí, he returned to the Chaco in 1996 to dedicate his life to assisting them in their various legal battles which have resulted in formal recognition from the Argentine State for the legal status of this indigenous community, and given them title to the land on which domestic life is lived.

Since 2000 Palmer has coordinated a programme of indigenous-rights advocacy, with the aim of developing a strategy of self-determination that permits the "Our Forest" communities to overcome the ethnocide of which they are historically the victims. Palmer acts as a link between the Wichí and the Commission of Indigenous Lawyers in the Argentine Republic, in bringing human rights issues before the government, judiciary and parliament. A cadastral survey of the private land-holdings in "Our Forest" has been conducted, based on the records held by the provincial land registry, and using community mapping. In the field of indigenous-rights advocacy, over seventy cases related to the promotion and defence of Wichí' cultural rights, land rights and resource-management rights have been filed. Of those that have reached a conclusion, two are of particular interest, resulting in secure legal recognition of land title and the establishing of ‘Our forest’, as an indigenous organization with a community and documentation centre. Palmer has also helped set up small-scale livelihood projects designed to improve their physical conditions, e.g. through the provision of a clean water supply, medical assistance, materials for housing and fencing, and a dress-making programme.

Outside of Argentinia, Palmer is aided by Chacolinks, an Oxford-based, international charitable organization, which supports and publicizes Wichí campaigns, and for which Palmer is anthropological advisor. Chacolinks is currently handling around 66 legal and administrative cases on behalf of the Wichí communities through the 'Our Forest' association. Of these, the ten most pressing actions are to do with land, environmental and cultural rights. Palmer's work is funded on a shoestring, and apart from academic awards, and funding through Chacolinks, he has received grants from the Spalding Trust, the Argentinian National Lottery, the Interamerican Development Bank, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, and Survival International.

According to one of his nominators, 'without the central, co-ordinating work of Palmer, the plight of the communities he assists would today be much worse ... he is the only UK anthropologist of his broad generation who has dedicated himself to assisting the people among whom he first did fieldwork.'

By his total commitment to them for over thirteen years and by continuing to publish excellent work on them, John Palmer has made himself an exemplary applied anthropologist, and it is on this basis that The Royal Anthropological Institute is pleased to honour him through the 2009 Lucy Mair Medal.

Text written b: Professor Roy Ellen, President of the RAI