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Indigenous identity must be strengthened
Cecilia Remón
5/13/2016
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Amazonian Kichwa and Andean Quechua youth see it necessary to strengthen indigenous political representation and institutions.

Andrés Sinarahua Sangama had to walk for one hour from his community in the northeastern province of Lamas to reach the road that would take him to Tarapoto, the capital of the San Martín region, to board a plane that would take him to Lima and from there take another flight to finally reach the Andean city of Cusco from where he took a bus that after an-hour-and-a-half ride arrived in Urubamba.

The two-day journey that Sinarahua and 28 other indigenous Amazonian Kichwas had to take in order to be able to participate in the Second National Forum “The right of participation of indigenous peoples: progress and challenges in electoral spaces and public institutions,” held in Urubamba on Apr. 29 and 30, is a clear example of the existing disconnection between the coast, highlands and jungle regions of Peru. Some 30 Quechua youth from the Cusco region also attended the forum.

At the inauguration of the event, held in the context of the general election process that is currently taking place in the country, the Andean and Amazonian indigenous youth proudly wore their traditional dress. Their representatives made presentations in their typical languages, although one of the Kichwas admitted to Latinamerica Press that it was difficult to understand the Quechua spoken in Cusco.

“We have some words in common,” he said, “but it is difficult to understand. We do understand each other well with the Kichwas in Ecuador.”

The second forum was carried out within the framework of the “Promotion of indigenous participation and representation in the political processes in Latin America (PARTICIPA)” project, whose objective “is to strengthen the ability of indigenous peoples to have an impact on public policies,” according to Angélica Huamaní of the Andean Commission of Jurists and coordinator of the project in Peru.

“We are working in five countries with at least two indigenous communities in each country in order to meet this objective: Bolivia (T’simane and Aymara), Chile (Mapuche Lafkenche and Mapuche Pewenche), Guatemala (Maya Quiché, Maya Kaqchikel and Maya Tzutuhile), Mexico (Mixe, Zapoteco and Maya) and Peru (Quechua and Kichwa), strengthening their abilities and promoting their empowerment for them to influence in their government spaces and in the preparation of their development plans together with the respective decision makers,” Huamani explained.

The five issues that are covered in the project include legal systems, public policies, land and territory, indigenous identity and development concepts.

Sense of belonging
One of the aspects in which the Quechua and Kichwa representatives insisted on was the need to strengthen the indigenous identity, as well as their political representation and the indigenous institutions.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 25 percent of the 30 million population of Peru are indigenous and it is the country with the third highest indigenous population behind Bolivia and Guatemala. However, the attendees coincided in pointing out that this figure could be higher.

Bruce Barnaby, of the Work Group on Indigenous Policies (GTPI) of the Ministry of Culture, stated that one of the main aims of the group is to “guarantee the exercise of the right to identity, culture and linguistic rights, and to promote the eradication of all forms of discrimination.”

However, attendees agreed on the point that the indigenous identity goes beyond the common language, territory, customs, traditions, dress, or physiognomy. It has to do with the sense of belonging to an autochthonous culture that encompasses all of the mentioned before.

For Melania Canales, vice-president of the Organización de Mujeres Andinas y Amazónicas del Perú (ONAMIAP-National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru), “many of those people who claim to be indigenous, are not; they have the looks, but not the heart.”

In political terms, Canales said, “most of the elected indigenous representatives are generally not indigenous nor they lead an indigenous agenda. Also, the indigenous political representation has been ‘folklorized’. They are almost in the verge to put the indigenous in museums. There are no quotas for the political participation of indigenous women; their participation in areas of representation is almost non-existent. Women are placed at the end of the list [of candidacies], without the possibility of being elected, and when they are elected they cannot raise their voices.”

An example of the above is the recent parliamentary election that took place in the first electoral round on Apr. 10. Of the 130 congressional members, only one native woman was elected: Tania Pariona, a Quechua from Ayacucho, by the left-wing Broad Front (Frente Amplio) party.

As Pariona mentioned to Latinamerica Press, “none of the elected congress members in regions that are indigenous in their majority, as are Cusco, Puno, Apurímac, departments of the Amazonia, are indigenous. Some even have indigenous last names but they do not identify themselves as such.”

Indigenous agenda
Enith Pinedo, the coordinator of the Women and Citizen Inclusion Program of the National Electoral Board, said that “representatives in Peru have not been elected according to their customs.”

Unlike Ecuador, where there is a strong indigenous movement presence, in Peru there are no indigenous or ethnic parties that include the demands of those peoples.

“The legislation establishes quotas to make accessible the representation of gender, native communities (Amazonian) and original peoples (Andean),” Pinedo stated, but this is not enforced.

Canales stated that “the quota is only to meet the requirements.” This is why it is necessary to construct an Andean-Amazonian indigenous national movement with an entirely indigenous agenda.

Included among the recommendations heard by the end of the event are the construction of a democratic national indigenous movement that represents the indigenous peoples; to put in the public agenda the subject of unalienable, unseizable, imprescriptible, and indivisible territoriality; the effective delimitation, demarcation, titling an registration of lands; and the rights of women, children and indigenous people with disabilities.

Mentioned among the challenges were the intercultural coordination of justice, the application of prior consultation, the environmental remediation, and compensation for damages and contamination, the strengthening of the indigenous institutions, and the use of indigenous languages in public services; among others.

“We must work hard in indigenous self-identification,” Canales said. “We want to be heard, to be taken into account.” —Latinamerica Press.


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Amazonian Kichwa girls demand greater participation of indigenous women in public spaces. / Cecilia Remón
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