By: Paola Sarmiento, MA in Educational Studies, University of British Columbia
As part of my master thesis at the University of British Columbia, I investigated, during 2016, how one Indigenous organization from Peru—the Chirapaq organization—conceptualizes an education notion and policy, namely Interculturalidad, and how their expectations compare to one Peruvian government’s official discourse on the same notion. To accomplish the aims of this study, two leaders of the Chirapaq were interviewed and publicly-accessible documents of the organization were also analyzed in order to demonstrate their position on Interculturalidad. Similarly, it was analyzed the 2016 intercultural education policy document (EIB policy) to understand the government’s position on the same matter. Both conceptualizations were, later on, compared in order to discuss how Chirapaq’s discursive construction of Interculturalidad may resist or contest the policy discourse.
The analysis of the Chirapaq’s discourse revealed that four central themes informed their discussion on Interculturalidad: cultural diversity, Indigenous knowledges (IK), Indigenous languages and Indigenous territory. Diversity, as discussed by the organization, has less to do with the opportunities of living in an ethnically and culturally diverse Peruvian society and more to do with the colonial structures of power exerted by Peruvian dominant groups over Indigenous peoples and culture. For instance, in conversation with one of their members, Newton Mori, he contended: “The government’s intercultural discourse has fostered Peruvian cultural diversity and dialogue among cultures. Indeed, Interculturalidad is about diversity and relationship among cultures. But, the real questions are ‘how are these relationships sustained?’… these relationships do not operate outside of power relations …our problem is the devaluation of the Indigenous. This devaluation did not emerge by itself. It has been learned and imposed. It has been historically reproduced generation after generation since the Spaniards arrived”.
On the other hand, where the Indigenous organization permanently targets the exclusion and devaluation of Indigenous peoples when it comes to speak of cultural diversity, the study found that the EIB legislative document takes matters into other direction. Although the policy identifies intercultural education as the space to deconstruct “the different forms of discrimination and racism…” (p. 15), it keeps failing to engage with the essential issue, which is starting the conversation on Interculturalidad with the fact that some groups are recognized within Peruvian society while others are not, and that some groups exert power over others. For example, the policy text suggests—through the chosen language— that conflict, racism, and discrimination within Peruvian society are natural consequences of being part of certain sociocultural groups and not others, as well as obscures any discussion on Westernized dominant elites in Peru (i.e. White/Whitened/Mestizo groups), who remain absent from the policy representation of Peruvian cultural diversity.
Another central result was related to Indigenous languages, knowledges, and territory; which emerged as three foundational and interconnected themes within the Chirapaq’s intercultural discourse. Thus, when it comes to speak of intercultural education, the Chirapaq brings to the fore a discussion on territory, demonstrating an alternative rationale, in which territory is inseparable from Indigenous knowledges and Indigenous languages. To this respect, Tarcila Rivera, leader of the organization, explained. “A real intercultural dialogue is a dialogue about Indigenous territory…for us, these are not simple water sources or simple stones, or just a piece of land …territory is constructed in interdependent relationship with us…”. Newton Mori also elaborated: “Language, identity, culture, in the case of Indigenous peoples, is expressed through our territory…, if we do not respect or have rights over our territory, then we are mutilated”. Then, all our system is weak”. In the study, it is pointed out that, by specifically using the word ‘mutilation’ as a term that better emphasizes the brutality of the fragmentation that occurs, the Chirapaq Indigenous organization achieves its purpose of highlighting the serious consequences for Indigenous peoples’ lives that results from compartmentalizing their knowledge systems. That is, separating any action, decision, or discussion on their languages and knowledges from their territory. In contrast with the Chirapaq’ discourse, the absence of any discussion or reference to Indigenous territory was found through the whole EIB policy document; an absence that shows the government’s failure to recognize or, perhaps, understand the interconnectedness of this dimension with Indigenous knowledges and languages. While the holistic nature of Indigenous knowledge systems emerges as a central aspect within the Chirapaq’s discourse on Interculturalidad, the EIB policy document fragments this system by omission of any discussion of Indigenous territory.
Finally, this investigation leaves two conclusions to take in consideration when it comes to speak of Interculturalidad and, specifically, intercultural education. First, Interculturalidad constitutes, for the Chirapaq, a highly political discourse that can be employed to resist and contest the official policy, and articulate their own vision of education and demand their rights. Second, where the Chirapaq relates (intercultural) education to life itself (i.e. education cannot happen without taking in consideration the essential dimensions of Indigenous life) and as a space to challenge the historical power patterns that permeate Peruvian society, the EIB policy representation of Interculturalidad assumes a ‘soft’ approach and still speaks of education as a neutral space where highly ‘controversial and political’ topics remain omitted.