Program Challenges for Indigenous Peoples

In the eve of the new millennium, the populations of Latin America still face a number of challenges that they must solve in order to improve their living condition, have greater access to basic resources and services, greater respect for their human and collective rights, and greater recognition of themselves as political actors. In this context, the Instituto del Bien Común (IBC), together with the Ford Foundation and Oxfam America, developed the project Indigenous Peoples of Latin America: Challenges for the New Millennium with the aim of reflecting on the accomplishments benefitting indigenous populations in Latin America, and assesing what remains to be done. The driving force behind the reflection was how these challenges for indigenous peoples are influencing their ability to govern themselves and to relate to the legal and political framework of each state. It was also necessary to analyze the challenges based on the interrelationship between identity and culture regarding the economy and access to resources.

First phase

This phase was implemented by Oxfam America and IBC between August 2000 and January 2003 under the auspices of the Ford Foundation. This started a process of reflection and discussion on the challenges facing indigenous people, which was attended by more than 40 indigenous and non-indigenous activists, academics, and leaders from all over Latin America. The presentations addressed the following topics:

• Access, use and control of the territory and other natural resources
• Family and communal economy at subsistence and market insertion levels
• Identity, culture and language
• Governance, political organization and representation

Products of the first phase

• “A tapestry woven from the vicissitudes of history, place and daily life: Envisioning the Challenges for Indigenous Peoples of Latin America in the New Millennium”, in a trilingual edition.
• A multimedia presentation titled “Indigenous peoples of Latin America: Challenges for the New Millennium”, in a bilingual edition.
• A video of the reflection process, with excerpts from the presentations of the participants to the final workshop, which cover the four main topics, in a bilingual edition

Second Phase

Research projects

Three research projects were developed: two under the responsibility of IBC and one led by Oxfam America. This research was carried out with the aim of achieving a better understanding of the issues of particular interest to indigenous peoples in their efforts to meet the challenges facing the new millennium. IBC conducted the following research:
• The indigenous territory as a historical cultural space. Do ancestors still have relevance for the recognition, defense and conservation of the territory?
• Bilingual intercultural education and indigenous education as development strategies for the survival of indigenous cultures in the 21st century

Oxfam America developed the research “Defending the rights of indigenous peoples from the impacts of extractives industries: mining, oil and gas”.

Audiovisual production

The audiovisual material produced captures the topics, lessons learned and challenges for the future for the new generation of indigenous intellectuals, leaders and teachers. IBC was responsible for the following products:
• A collection of two documentaries, plus annexes: “School education and indigenous peoples: challenges and possibilities. Interrogating the policies and practices of bilingual intercultural education in the Peruvian Amazon”, which explores the problems and challenges of intercultural education in the Peruvian Amazon. The first video, Changes and Permanence, presents the progress of school practices after twenty years of bilingual intercultural education policies. The second, Between Languages/Between Cultures, analyses the initiatives that gave rise to and that underpin the policies and practices of bilingual intercultural education in the Peruvian Amazon.
• A documentary entitled Indigenous Peoples of Latin America: Challenges to the New Millennium, which presents reflections raised by indigenous academics, activists and intellectuals on the challenges for indigenous peoples in the 21st century.
• A collection of four documentaries, entitled “Where our ancestors walked. Mapping the cultural historical space of the Yanesha people”, which narrates the relationship between the Yanesha indigenous people and their ancestors. The four videos in the collection are: Rromuepatsro: Mapping the cultural historical space of the Yaneshas; (ii) Yatanneshan: Remembering our ancestors; (iii) Yompor Partseha; Compassion and transformation in the Yanesha world; (iv) Porromno: Water and death in the Yanesha world.
Oxfam America assumed responsibility for the following products
• A collection of five documentaries chronicling five different experiences in Peru on political advocacy in the face of the impacts of the activities of extractives industries.
• A manual for the community organization of advocacy actions against the impacts of extractives industry.

Mapping, ancestors and territory

Since the early 1980s, the Amazonian indigenous movement has developed a political discourse regarding indigenous peoples and their territorial rights based on concepts taken from international law. Such an understanding of territoriality includes the idea of a land polygon with limits set in time and space, used and occupied “traditionally” by a specific indigenous people. One of the weaknesses of this discourse is the difficulty in demonstrating what the “traditional” use and occupation of a territory actually means in a specific case.

In this research, Richard Chase Smith of the Instituto del Bien Común worked hand in hand with Espíritu Bautista, from the Yanesha indigenous community of Loma Linda (Oxapampa, Pasco). It was based on the combination and comparison of the results of 35 years of efforts by both researchers to understand the relationship between the Yanesha people, today residents of the mountainous forests of central Peru, and the space where their ancestors walked. To this end, a combination of information from ethnohistory, archaeology, linguistics and the study of Yanesha oral history was used. With this basis and with the collaboration of dozens of Yanesha elders, a process of mapping geographical, historical and cultural elements was carried out for four years, recording the relevant toponymy and oral history associated with the place.

As a result, a database was built in Spanish and the Yanesha language, linked to digital maps via the Geographic Information Systems software. More than 4000 elements were recorded in a cross-section of the central Andes, from the Pacific coast, including the basins of the Chillón, Rimac, Lurín and Chilca rivers, the Pampa de Junín, the heights of Ticlio, La Oroya, Tarma, and the upper basins of the Perené and Pachitea rivers on the eastern flanks of the Andes. The mapping of the geographical sites and elements associated with the ancestors of the Yanesha, which is still ongoing, provided a large number of surprises and provocative questions. It shows that this indigenous people, with very ancient Arawak roots, have important historical-cultural associations with both sides of the Andes. The evidence accumulated during this process suggests that the Yanesha world is a product of the development of the Andean Central civilization. Collective memory expressed through oral history and songs, along with landscape iconography, is a powerful tool for remembering these associations, stories and migrations.