Why do indigenous communities rise up?

Ecuador, 2015. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Though they put the bullet here, though they put the rifle there, I must
cry out wherever I want. I must keep fighting. To live, in freedom in this
Cacuango (1881-1971),
fighter for peasant and indigenous rights.

Why do indigenous
communities rise up? Because they feel diminished, marginalized, their dignity
offended. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui says “The issue of dignity is so fundamental
for Andean oppression, that the same word expresses ‘oppressed’ or ‘oppression’
and ‘to exploit’, which in Aymara is only one word: ‘to make small’. And such
is the issue of human dignity, that is, all that diminishes human dignity (be
it a bad salary or bad treatment), diminishes you as a person… It is for that
reason that people rise up. The people don’t rise up because of the productive
forces… Also, in Quechua the word ‘to step on’ is the same as that used for ‘to
oppress’. One has to put one’s life on the line, there’s no other way.”[1]

Chimbolema comes from Guaranda, in the central Andean region of Ecuador.
Together with her family and other members of her community, she is in the El
Arbolito park of Quito, where many indigenous groups from the Andean and
Amazonian regions have come together. From there they will march to the Historical
Center of Quito to participate in the “Indigenous Uprising” of August 13, 2015.

explains that she has come to Quito to demand, among other things, for
education. She says that the bilingual Kichwa-Castellano schools, which had
been managed by the communities, have now been replaced by Millennium Schools,
but that the school which corresponds to her community is very far away and
there are no buses to transport the children, including her young
grandchildren. Her adolescent grandchild studies medicine at a private
university, because there was no place available for him in the state
university. He needs two more years to finish but she doubts the family will be
able to continue paying the tuition.

She tells us
she’s illiterate, since there were no schools in her community when she was a
child. “I learned Spanish when I was 25”, she says and smiles, while easily
passing from Kichwa (speaking to her grandson) to Spanish (when she speaks to

She points
to her son, a man of 40, dressed in white pants and shirt, and a black wool
hat, who converses with a group of people. Her son was a candidate for mayor
and “for only a very few votes did not win”, she remarks with pride. He was 6
when the first school was formed in the community, and was educated there.

humility, she says that she “only works in the fields”. That work covers
everything from tilling the land to raising farm animals, providing, together
with the other women, the basics of the family diet.

Lucía wears
the traditional dress: a long black skirt, a white blouse with embroidered
flowers, a multicolored knitted band at the waist, a short shawl made of dark
cloth, a golden necklace, a white wool hat adorned with ribbons, and sandals.
Each color has a meaning. Black represents the earth, or Pachamama; white, the
snows of the colossal volcano, Chimborazo, at whose feet lay Guaranda.

The presence
of Lucía and the other women united in the park here emphasizes the assumption
that the indigenous woman is the guardian of the group’s identity and the
carrier of the culture of the people. Lucía, olive-skinned, with harmonious
features, slender but strong, seems to express: “Here am I, mother,
grandmother, indigenous woman, and I come to the capital of the country to say
what I have to say”. She asks if I believe that President Correa will hear of
her complaints. She awaits the answer with much attention, as if it were of
great importance, perhaps to evaluate the results of the march on Quito, or
perhaps to try to understand if an interlocutor really exists: “Do you believe
Correa will read what I have said?”

Velázquez, an indigenous activist from Cotopaxi, mobilized in the indigenous
uprising, says: “There’s only one Millennium School in Cotopaxi. There are many
students in each class, in some cases, up to 100-150 students. The majority of
the teachers are high school graduates teaching students up to the 8th
or 9th level. School district chiefs are changed very often; the
present one has been in the position for only three months. When they finish
high school, our young people are not well prepared, they cannot make the 800
or 900 points needed for admission to the public university; we have to go into
debt to send them to the private universities… In 2009 I participated in the
dialogues about education; not a single government cabinet Minister was
present… The government accuses us of helping the right wing politicians; no,
it’s the government itself which is helping them…”

The first indigenous bilingual schools in Cayambe (1945)

Two great historical
leaders of the struggle for indigenous rights, Tránsito Amaguaña and Dolores
Cacuango, were Kichwa speakers who learned to speak, read and write Spanish,
when they were adults. Linked to the Communist Party, they fought for the
rights of the peasants and indigenous peoples, for agrarian reform, and for
education for the indigenous communities of Cayambe. In 1945, Dolores Cacuango
–with the help of María Elisa Gómez de la Torre, a teacher and her comrade in
the Communist Party- founded the first indigenous school on the grounds of the
“Tierra Libre” union en Yanahuayco, Cayambe. Shortly afterwards, they
established three more schools in that region, with indigenous teachers and
without support from the state.

In 1963,
pressured by the large landowners (who did not want educated peasants), the
Military Junta forbid that children be taught in Kichwa, claiming that these
schools were “communist cells”. Towards the end of the 1960s and beginning of
the 1970s, with the emergence of Liberation Theology, and the Church of the
Poor, new indigenous schools were created. The schools in the indigenous
communities took on a task far beyond that of the education of the children and
the young; they were considered a centre for political and social organization,
from which to forge the struggle for agrarian reform. Signed in 1976, the
Agrarian Reform Law, though it did not include their essential demands, was
accepted by the indigenous movement as a starting point from which to continue
the struggle.

The Intercultural Bilingual Education System: the active role of the
indigenous peoples

In the 1980s
and 1990s, the presence of the indigenous schools throughout the Central Andes
was consolidated by the establishment of the Intercultural Bilingual Education
system. This system, which was later extended to other regions, emerged thanks
to the initiative of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations (CONAIE), composed
of thirteen indigenous nationalities in Ecuador. Since its origin, CONAIE’s
actions combined anti-neoliberal demands with the struggle for ethno-cultural
rights. In that struggle for the right of the indigenous peoples to cultural
autonomy and self-government, CONAIE elaborated an education proposal to
present to the national government: in November of 1988, the National
Directorate for Bilingual Education (DINEIB) was created. CONAIE, at this time,
achieved a key demand: the right to elect the authorities of the DINEIB.
CONAIE, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, elaborated didactic
materials for teaching literacy and post-literacy, and for professional
development programs for educators in the Kichwa, Awa, Chachi, Tsa’fiki, and
other, languages.

By the year
2000, the intercultural education system included 2,150 centers of primary
education, 142 centres of secondary education, and 13 institutes of higher
education. The primary strength of this model is the participation of the
communities: based on research carried out in the communities, pedagogical
materials are produced, teachers are trained, and the objectives of indigenous
education are debated. The objectives of the alternative education system are:
to vindicate their own culture –including the teaching of the historical
struggles of the indigenous peoples, rendered invisible in the official histories;
to strengthen the native languages; to revitalize community processes in order
to improve the quality of life –with the understanding that the indigenous
peoples and nationalities must have the freedom to construct their own models
of development.

An executive decree puts an end to CONAIE’s involvement in the integral
education system

In February
of 2009, by executive decree, the government of Rafael Correa terminated the
administration of the DINEIB by the indigenous community, putting it under the
control of the Ministry of Education. This decree, by delinking the indigenous
communities and the CONAIE from the National Directorate of Bilingual
Education, effectively ended their autonomy. The declared objective was: “to
unify all the country’s schools, urban as well as rural, under one common

The new
Millennium Schools are located in modern buildings, which attempt to
concentrate the student populations of different villages. According to
community spokespersons, the application of the plan does not take into
consideration a key factor: the distance from the schools and the lack of roads
or means to transport the students. In some cases, the children have to travel
several hours, which makes attendance impossible. In addition, many of the new
teachers do not speak Kichwa, nor are they familiar with the Andean
cosmovision, nor are they properly trained in the new technologies, according
to complaints of indigenous activists in Cotopaxi.

Correa has used the term “schools of misery” to refer to the indigenous
schools. And it’s true that the majority lack running water or any type of
comfort, and in some cases there’s not even chalk to write on the board. But is
the solution to eliminate the schools and their rich multicultural and bilingual
legacies? Or is the solution to invest in improvements in all of these schools,
as the indigenous communities propose?

In numbers: The education budget has quadrupled    

By 2014, the
Correa government had quadrupled the education budget. Among the government’s
achievements in the area of education are: the universalization of general
basic education; an increase in the number of students which graduate from high
school; the construction of public schools: “in the coming years, 900 new
buildings will be constructed and 4,600 schools will be rehabilitated, with an
investment of nearly $10 billion”; professional development programs for
educators; the creation of three new universities: the University of the Arts,
Yachay and Ikiam; and approximately 8,000 Ecuadorian students have received
scholarships to study in the best universities worldwide.

René Ramírez
–Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation- points out
that during the government of Correa, the rate of university attendance has
grown faster than in previous decades, according to the Population and Housing
Censuses. Beginning in 2006, university matriculation doubled among the poorest
20%, a group composed mainly of indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians.
Ramírez emphasizes that in Ecuador the budget for higher education represents
2.12% of the GDP, while the European average is 1%, and in Latin America it is
0.8%. [3] These numbers reveal a real commitment to education by the state, and
a significant advance with respect to the previous governments.

CONAIE demands educational autonomy for indigenous peoples and nations

However, in
the context of a policy which intends to strengthen the education system at all
levels, there is a clear deficit in the participation of the indigenous
communities, which are in complete disagreement with the path taken by the
Integral Bilingual Education System. In the communication to call for the
indigenous uprising of August, 2015, CONAIE affirms:

“We demand
full respect on the part of the State in the exercise of collective rights in
the distinct branches such as education, health care, management of water
resources and of our territories, as a concrete and legitimate manner of
constructing the plurinationality, as mandated by the Constitution and
Agreement 169 of the ILO. Therefore, we demand the reestablishment of the
Intercultural Bilingual Education System and the reopening of Amawtay Wasi
University. We demand that communitarian education models be strengthened, we
emphatically oppose closing the communitarian schools…we defend a pedagogical
model, as well as the production of knowledge, in accordance with the cultural
and local reality.” [4]

In contrast
with other countries in the region –such as Mexico and Colombia, where the assassination
of community leaders is a daily tragedy- in Ecuador reigns the rule of law.
Although the protests and uprisings have developed within a climate of tension
and frictions, on occasion violent, between police and protestors, there have
been no deaths. It is important to take note of this, faced with the
exaggerated analyses, on both sides.

protagonists of this story, which is being written today, are the indigenous
communities, which fight to recover their rights, such as the educational
autonomy won through decades of struggle. By eliminating indigenous educational
autonomy, the government impoverishes the plurinational and multicultural
character of the Ecuadorian State. Now it’s the government’s turn to rise to
this historic challenge and commence a true intercultural dialog with the
communities and their leaders, without imposing conditions. The restitution of
indigenous autonomy in education will enrich the plurinational and
multicultural character of the Ecuadorian State, as mandated by Article 1 of
the Ecuadorian Constitution.


[1] “La
disponibilidad de lo inédito” – Interview with Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui by
Claudia Arteaga and Gerardo Muñoz (2014): http://anarquiacoronada.blogspot.com.ar/2014/04/la-disponibilidad-de-lo-inedito.html

[2] Radio
interview with Diego Oquendo, Radio Visión, FM 91.7, August 13, 2015, Quito.

“Hablemos de política, hablemos de igualdad: Capital y trabajo en el Ecuador de
la Revolución Ciudadana” –Blog of René Ramírez: http://reneramirez.ec/hablemos-de-iguadad-heblemos-de-politica-educacion-capital-y-trabajo-en-el-ecuador-de-la-revolucion-ciudadana/

[4] Declaration of CONAIE “Porque nuestra lucha histórica es junto a las
comunas, los pueblos y las nacionalidades. Vamos todos al levantamiento
indígena y popular!”: http://conaie.org/en/26-noticias/198-manifiesto-del-levantamiento-indigena-y-popular-del-campo-y-la-ciudad

Original article: http://lalineadefuego.info/2015/08/25/por-que-se-levantan-las-comunidades-indigenas-por-silvia-arana/

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