Video: Defying the Stigma of Speaking Indigenous Languages

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

Al Jazeera's Living the Language video series brings us the stories of indigenous activists and communities throughout the globe who are standing up against stigma and are proposing solutions to recover the spaces for indigenous languages.

In Bolivia, the majority of the population is Aymara or Quechua, but due to colonization the Spanish culture and language became official and mainstream. In recent years, initiatives have ramped up to remove the stigma many Bolivians had that speaking Aymara was for ignorant people and lower classes. Efforts precede the election of Evo Morales, the first Aymara descendant as President who put indigenous issues back in the political agenda.

Examples are cultural events including rappers and hip hop artists singing in Aymara, schools for Aymara education teaching language and also Aymara culture as well as activism. Their goal: to make indigenous languages more prominent and encourage young city dwellers, who may be shamed or teased for speaking indigenous languages, into proud  representatives of their language and culture.

The story of the Mayan people in Guatemala is similar to that of the Aymara: The conquest, slavery and colonization periods relegated the Mayans to a status of foreigners in their own lands.

The fields of education, politics and the media all belong exclusively to the Spanish language, while smiling white faces and messages in Spanish look down on the Guatemalan people from billboards across the country.

“Our languages and culture are not being included [in public life],” says Saq'chen Roberto Montejo. “This is one way of making us invisible.”

The Maya communities speak more than 20 different languages – each of them is technically accepted by the state, but little effort to promote them takes place in practice.

In New Zealand, efforts to revive Maori started 30 years ago. The episode video follows through the efforts of activists and linguists who came up with a way to not only bring back the language, but also the Maori culture through Language Nests where very young children and their parents learned from the elders in their community. The first students of those nests and Maori immersion schools and programs are now adults, many who are not only using Maori in their daily life and work, but also passing along their traditional values to their children at home and also through the Language Nests. Following is the promo for the episode, which can be seen on the Al Jazeera site.

Other episodes in the series are Canada: The Ktunaxa, Australia: The Aboriginal People and comprehensive episodes Language: At threat of extinction and Over the Airwaves.

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.


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