On the warm, sticky lowlands of the north, sugar cane was being cut. But for the most part, it was off season on the Argentine farm. In the windy, wintry south, the sheep huddled together in the snow. Green shoots of winter wheat sprouted from the rich, central pampas. Wealthy landowners followed regional cattle shows, and farmhands pitched steers' vertebrae at a stake in a game called taba.

For some 75,000 Indians who live communally on the fringes of predominantly white Argentina, the scene was less tranquil. They feared for their land. At the turn of the century, smart operators...

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