Valeria Lozano Hernández.
For starters, the meaning of indigenous people, for the UN, is the native people that lived in a place before someone else, and according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI, 2010) an indigenous person is defined by the language they speak, which takes out the others aspects, like identifying as indigenous, or having indigenous ancestors.
The article 2 of the Mexican Constitution states that indigenous people have the right to self-determination, and the recognition of indigenous people and communities is on the constitutions and laws of the federative entities; and also indigenous people can decide on their owns economic, cultural, social and political organizations; tolerating their individual guarantees, human rights and the dignity and integrity of the women’s (Secretaría de Gobernación, 1917).
For the sake of this essay, the meaning of indigenous is someone that identifies as one, that speaks one native language, has indigenous ancestors, and, as Martínez Cobo said (1981, in United Nations, 2013) ‘the determination to preserve, develop and transmit to futures generations their territories and ethnic identity’.
The amount of indigenous people in America has a high number, between North America, Central America and South America; there is approximately 552 indigenous groups across Latin America (UNICEF, 2016) and 39 million indigenous people in the continent (Programa México Nación Multicultural de la Universidad Autónoma de México, 2014).
To talk about indigenous people in the continent it’s necessary to talk about the beginnings, for example, the Conquest of America, a lot of indigenous traditions were washed away, and America became a continent full of diversity, integrated by mixed culture, races and traditions.
The indigenous were mistreated by the colonizers, either they were treated as slaves or killed, only a few could survive, but still, a lot of their traditions were erased or adapted to the new system. So that’s the history of how indigenous became a vulnerable group.
The countries that will be discussed in this essay are USA, Canada, México, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina and Latin America as a whole.
The topic of discussion is about indigenous children living in America, in terms of education, and how education is related to human rights bodies.
Human rights, to me, it’s a parameter that protects and enhance the human life qualities, also all humans are born equal and free, so all humans are entitled to have human rights.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), human rights are:
“Inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible (OHCHR, 1948)”.
I will use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Political Constitution of Mexico, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Declaration of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the human rights bodies and references.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most important document in terms of Human Rights, was created right after the end of World War II, on December 10th 1948, and a grand majority of the countries in the world signed the document. The background of the declaration was modelled on a few older documents, like the Habeas Corpus Act of England, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence of USA, and the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen of France. The reason this document was created was so that the whole world had the same rights for the simple fact of being human, and since then, the declaration has been the most important declaration of Human Rights in the Planet, but still, a lot of countries don’t follow their procedures or respect the rights stated in there.
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Education is very important, but unfortunately not every country has the priority to educate the people that lives in there. Not only education provides people with general knowledge, it also improves people skills and attitudes to guide and control many of their vital circumstances. It also provides a set of values, customs, traditions and norms (Perrenoud, 1996).
Schools also educates about the moral and ethical norms, emotions, social and cultural diversity.
Entering a school is not the hard part for the indigenous children, the hardest part is staying in there, according to Magaly Domínguez López (Rubio-Campos, 2014), an educator for a civil organization that works with child workers, manifested that indigenous kids in San Cristóbal de las Casas, México that the entry and permanence in schools gets difficult because of:
Economics reasons, such as work over education, even if the schools are free, they still have to pay for the uniforms, school supplies, which makes it expensive.
Gender inequality, it’s preferred that male kids study till middle school and the female kids to primary school, because it’s expected that girls should get married and stay at home.
Generational gap, the kids get through their parents educational levels and there’s no more educational escort, they donÂ´t know how to help them.
Birth registry, not every kid is in the civil registration, so legally they don’t exist, they can’t go to school and also deprives the kids of other rights, such as the right to an identity.
Language, schools in San Cristóbal de las Casas, teach in Spanish, and the grand majority speaks an indigenous lingo called tzotzil, so that causes troubles when it comes to learning and permanence in schools.
For the mazahuas, also a Mexican native group, the child receives an education that makes him a member of his community and the community is obliged to provide him with a status in his structure and a place in the location of the resources (Robles, 2012). The article 19, ‘The rights of the Child’ on the American Convention on Human Rights (1969), states that every “minor child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a minor on the part of his family, society and the state”.
Also, in Nicaragua, there is an educational lag, because the indigenous society faces more socioeconomics problems in comparison with the Nicaraguan population (Yoshioka &Esparza, 2009) which makes me think, why there is such a big difference between the non-indigenous kids and the indigenous kids, and the reason behind that is that during the colonization of America, indigenous and black people were slaves, and were considered to be beneath the other population, like the “half-blooded” and “nobles”; so education wasnÂ´t a thing for them, because they were not allowed to have one, this problem has persecuted the indigenous until this day, when their governments don’t help them with the education, and schools taught in other language that it’s not the first to them. In the same article, the author mentions that the mother education is a big factor regarding the life expectancy of their children’s and education, because she’s the one that makes the decision about school.
In Canada and the United State of America, the native people accentuate in community life, cooperation, collaboration and learning based on direct experience and participation in group activities (Pewewardy in Schugurensky, 2015).
It is important that the kids feel part of the community, so in their early childhood they are taught and they are encouraged to get involved in community activities, learning thru the interaction between other kids and nature, helping the adults with work and community activities (Schuguresky, 2015). So that talks about on how the kids get involved and they feel they’re part of the community and they’re worth it, giving them a high sense of self-esteem, and also the work to keep their traditions, values and customs, by working with the community and other kids.
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Also in the USA and Canada, they were trying to educate children’s and teenagers how to eat, because of the country amount of people with overweight and obese people, but it wasn’t successful (Araujo, Moraga, Chapman, Barreto & Illanes, 2016); so in Central and South America, they are indigenous children’s starving and in North America, they’re too fat, which I found it sad, the contrast between countries and lifestyles.
In Latin America, indigenous children’s school enrolment and the quality of the education has been improved over the last two decades, but still there is a lot of desertion and truancy in kids and teenagers, but mostly in the female population, and this population, after they get married, is the one that stays at home with the kids, so the people that is best educated in terms of health and nutrition take better care of themselves and their families, but because a high number of mothers are illiterate, a consequence of this is that their kids suffer from undernourishment. Other of the consequences of this, is that indigenous kids, in comparison with the rest of the population, have a higher risk of child mortality, poverty, malnutrition and hunger (Jiménez-Benftez, Rodríguez-Martín & Jiménez-Rodríguez, 2010).
In Chile, with the mapuches, education means cultural knowledge and school knowledge, but also implies the recognition of the importance of social and emotional norms that can differ with their culture in the intercultural relations (Riquelme, Quilaqueo, Quintriqueo & Loncón, 2016).
In relation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 28, in which, the first statement talks about free education, and being careful with the attendance at schools, but in Mexico, is not like that, first of all, education it is free, but for all public schools is mandatory to wear an uniform, and if the students donÂ´t have the money to buy an uniform, they cannot enter the school until they get an uniform, so that violates their right to a free education, and the government does have a financial assistance, they give scholarships to the children to keep studying, but a lot of those children’s uses the money for stuff that are not school related or either his parents spend the money in other things. A lot of the children in Mexico, leave secondary school because sometimes the only title they need for work is a primary school diploma, so that encourage teenagers and kids to leave school. I, once met a ten year old indigenous kid that worked delivering food in his county, he had left school when he was eight because his mother told him so, and that education wasnÂ´t important.
Also the fact that they teach in other language, so many of the children don’t understand what the teachers say. The 7th article of “La Ley General de Educación” says that every native speaker will have an access to an education in spanish and in their own language (SEGOB, 2013).
In México, education is a fundamental rights, and the 3rd article of the Mexican Constitution states that every person has the right to receive an education, and the state will provide free preschool, elementary, middle and high school, and that its required to have an education, so if the constitution says so, why there’s a lot of kids dropping out of schools?
Other fact that is being violated is section (e) of the 28th article on the children’s rights, the necessary measures are being taken, but none of them ensures the motivation for children to continue to study in schools, they rather leave school to start working and make money to give to their families.
Regarding the section 3 of article 28th, of promoting education and the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy, there’s a hole in there, Latin America has 40 million illiterates according to the Sistema de Información de Tendencias Educativas en América Latina (2013), so children leaving school at such young age concludes in a lot of illiterate adults.
Other articles that talk about education, like the article 29 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and it’s very similar to article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), in which both establish that ‘everyone has the right to education, education shall be free and directed to develop the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and promoting understanding, tolerance, friendship, respect for their own cultural identity, language and values’.
These articles talk about free education and not leaving aside the ethnicity and identity of children, but as already mentioned, schools only teach in the official language of the country and not in the native indigenous language, in addition in Chile, children are taught that there are more cultures and that they must learn about interculturality and other parts of the general culture of their country that differ with their culture, which is the opposite of what the previously mentioned articles affirm, these articles say that children will be taught to respect their own culture, but not wanting to teach about it in schools, to me, that sounds like the culture of the non-indigenous people in Chile it’s more important than the indigenous.
As mentioned above in Latin America, education has improved and there is more school attendance by indigenous people, but there are many women who leave school because it’s a cultural thing, because in many cultures women must stay at home and take care of children and the home, and many of them start from childhood and that makes me think, because it is something cultural, should we respect their decision to leave school, or we should we do something for women to attend school? I know that is very important to respect the culture of the indigenous people, but education is also a very important issue, and more because in Latin America there are so many illiterate.
In Argentina, according to an interview with Gabriela Novaro by Kelly Russo (2016), for indigenous kids or indigenous immigrants, they have to quit their indigenous heritage, so they can be someone new, ceasing to be what they are for real and become something else.
Sometimes, they think of indigenous people as only traditional knowledge, they stereotype them, and they don’t realize that they can add tradition or folklore in schools. So that means that kids get to study but they have to forget everything about their own identities.
Other social issue regarding education, is kids dropping out of schools to start to work, abusing the article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The article 14 of the Declaration of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, states that all the children have the right to all levels and forms of education with no discrimination, and the indigenous people have the right to control all about their education, like systems and institutions and providing education in their own language (UN, 2007).
Which makes sense to me, because they’re trying to keep the traditions and at the same time integrate the indigenous people.
To me, indigenous people are very important, I’ve been working with them for years, I did four years of volunteer work with indigenous purépechas children, and to have this kind of interaction with them, I could see how their organizations worked, which were their traditions, but at the same time I had the opportunity to see the bad stuff that happen with indigenous, the kids do attend school, but a lot of them told me that the teachers sometimes didn’t showed up to the classes, or that they didn’t do anything for days, but the vast majority of the kids that I met, they loved going to school, and the idea to go to college and became a teacher or doctor.
It is an alarming fact that kids don’t go to school because it’s expensive, or because they have to work to help with their family income, or because they don’t understand what the teachers are saying in class, when supposedly they should have the classes in their own native language.
It’s alarming to me how a whole continent can have all of this problems, when a big part of the population is indigenous or native, they were there first, and now we’re washing or ignoring their traditions and costums. Still, education has improved the last few years, which is a good thing, but there is still a long way to get better education for indigenous children.
So I guess to improve this, the governments of the countries should help the children with the materials and uniforms for the school, and Human Rights bodies and organizations should keep an eye to this. Also, I found very important to have an inclusive education, that every school should teach about indigenous heritage and traditions, I know that it’s hard because there’s a lot of indigenous groups across the continent, but at least we can acknowledge them in school.
The document about indigenous people written by the United Nations, has a lot of similar articles to the 2nd article of the Mexican Constitution, in which, both states, that indigenous people are free to educate their children the way they want it, which makes me think, in how that could be a better option, because their families will taught them about traditions, values and community life, without leaving behind everything that represents them, and in school, they leave behind that, I mean, it’s a conflict of interest, because we want them to have a normal public education, but we leave behind everything that they are, and if they leave everything they’re behind, they will become part of the society, but they will lose all that heritage and traditions.
It’s nothing new to talk about child obesity in the USA, kids learn from their parents; I’ve been in the USA many times, and I’ve seen how the americans eat, they have this fast-food culture, and the kids pick up that culture, there’s a lot of children in the USA dealing with diabetes, and that has a lot to do with education, because parents and schools are teaching their children’s how to eat; and the nutrition of the kids is very important, because it can have a lot of repercussions in their health in their adult life.
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