File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 605

Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 23:32:23 +0000
Subject: M-I: But what do the indigenous people actually want?

Kathleen Richardson, an anthroplogy student from London, recently came
back from Costa Rica, where she was doign fieldwork amongst the Bri Bri
and Cabecar speaking peoples of the highlands. what follows is part of
her report:

But what do the indigenous people actually want? Reinaldo Gonzalez Jefe
of Namasol explained in the new project law the governments thinks that
indigenous culture is just about language, but it is more than that it
is many things,  we have our own way of relating to the
land...Indigenous culture is also about other things for example
indigenous history, sports, heroes and artisans.  Indigenous
organisations are confident in their demands.  Indigenous groups like
Namasol want the revival and respect of their cultures, in fact he
wants more than that; 
        in the schools the children are taught about things like
Elephants and Planes..          There are no Elephants here only in
Africa, and they do not know a plane.   Indigenous education should be
set in its context.  The children should learn  about the river, which
they know and are important to them.
This reveals the directions in which indigenous NGOs want to take in
Costa Rica. The distinctive features of indigenism do not exist today
in Costa Rica, there are few remains aspects of any traditional culture.
Often indigenous culture has to be consciously revived as it is not
spontaneously reproduced.  This conscious revival of it prioritises
education system and uses the education system as a way of revitalising
interest in indigenous culture. Furthermore, they demand to be
autonomous from the government, and demand that the government consult
with thier communities if any changes occur in the terrritories.  On the
one hand the demand for indigenous rights is the artificial revival of
aspects of indigenous history. On the other it is a pragmatic attempt to
preserve and secure the entitlements that the communities already have.
For example there is nothing natural about indigenous people living in
the mountains of Costa Rica.  The only reason why they live there in the
first place is due to the discriminatory measures that existed in Costa
Rica up until the late 1970s, in which they have no even the most
rudimentary democratic rights.  By contrast today, they have the
security in living in areas that although extrememly poor ensure a
living for themselves and their families.  The reason why they have this
land and security is because they can claim to be indigenous, it
therefore seems quite rational that they would want to perpetuate this
image of difference is they can guarantee security for themselves and
their families. 

Whilst some of the grand schemes of Namasol articulate this desire,
there are many others mimatched with the real concerns of the people.
Namasol is an extremely influential indigenous organisation.  As noted
it acts as the intermediary between the indigenous communities and the
government and international organisations.  I wanted to know from the
people of the communities how important they thought Namasol was.  I
designed a test in which they could choose from a selection of things in
the community for example a school, good roads, transport even
indigenous rights.  On nearly every occasion in over the 40 people I
interviewed from several of the indigenous communities, Namasol usually
came last in peoples list of priorities.  This illustrated a tremendous
wealth of difference between the organisation and the people. The
resources which the people usually wanted were often not the resources
demanded for by Namasol nor supported by the Dutch its benefactor. In a
interview with E. Van der Sleen head of education in the Dutch Embassy
in San Jose explained to me the basis of support for indigenous groups,
We used to think that people in Latin America wanted development, but
they dont want development like we have it they want to be able to
choose for themselves, they want a non-material development  Of course
Van der Sleen rarely relied on public transport when travelling in Costa
Rica, nor as he remarked travel much on the roads- I always catch
planes. Whilst the whole world is telling indigenous people they want
cultural revival and little development, has anyone actually asked them
what they want. The results of my test were very revealing, people in
indigenous communities want buses, clinics, schools and homes. And one
of their main priorities believe it or not is ROADS

James Heartfield

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