UN Volunteer for the RCO in Guatemala, Zully Magzul.

International Day of Indigenous People

The 2030 Agenda aims to empower vulnerable people, including indigenous peoples, through economic development, equal access to education and social, economic and political inclusion (Sustainable Development Goals 2, 4 and 10).

The United Nations (UN) has also declared 9 August to be the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples and the decade of 2022-2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. The former has as its primary objective to protect indigenous languages that are at risk of disappearing.

The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is a perfect occasion on which to reflect on the situations of indigenous peoples, especially women, who continue to confront barriers to accessing education. We are three times more likely to live in conditions of extreme poverty and we are frequently discriminated against and excluded.

As a Maya Kaqchikel woman, it is a great privilege to be a part of this culture, characterized by its clothing, language, customs and ancestral spirituality, as well as by a set of values based on the relationship of balance that must exist between human beings and nature. This is expressed in the principle that “everything possesses the same breath of life and thus respects the deepest respect”.

It is of the utmost importance that the UN has this year chosen as the theme of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples the “role of indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge”, given the significance women hold in the preservation and transmission of ancestral practices.

 

“The role indigenous Guatemalan women play in preserving and transmitting traditional knowledge”

 

In Guatemala (a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country, with one of the highest proportions of indigenous populations in the world) it is we, indigenous women, who to a larger extent work hard to preserve and transmit our culture. For example, through our clothing and our language.

It is indigenous women weavers who transmit their knowledge, feelings and love through the hard manual labor that is required to create each unique garment, which also always reflects a specific and special moment in the life of its creator.

In spite of having been discriminated against in the academic, work and social sectors, I have chosen to wear my Maya clothing proudly, whater setting I find myself in, as a symbol of respect to my roots. On top of this, it is an opportunity to raise awareness for my culture and to express how fortunate I am to be a part of it, this thousand-year-old culture that accompanies me with every step I take.

As women who are teachers, we also play a central role in the preservation and transmission of our culture. In this sense, I value the opportunities I have had as a Kaqchikel language teacher to transmit the traditional knowledge of my country to children and young people in Guatemala and in other countries.

I’ve seen the benefit first hand of making the teaching of a Maya language compulsory in the national education system. Having had the opportunity to teach the significance of Maya culture, its language, worldview, clothing, as well as other elements, I observed a change in girls, boys and young people, rooted in a respect towards our indigenous populations.

In this way, in the context of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, starting from this small reconciliation with Mayan culture and through what has been my experience, I invite all citizens of this country to reflect on the actions we can take to build a peaceful, just and inclusive society. One that recognises the role of indigenous populations (and above all indigenous women) and to propel our efforts to maintain and protect our worldview and ancestral culture.

This will contribute to making a reality the principle of the 2030 Agenda to “leave no one behind”.

This article was translated with the kind support of online volunteer, Julian Bressanelli.


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