ISSN 1754-5366

Indigenous Identity and Language: Some Considerations from Bolivia and Canada


The focus of this paper is on indigenous identity and language in Bolivia and Canada. In both these contexts there is great reluctance to treating indigenous peoples as those with internationally recognised juridical rights. The original inhabitants of North and South America have been referred to by a variety of labels (stemming from their distinct colonial histories) including “Native,” “Indian,” “Indigenous,” “First Nations,” etc. These group labels, when chosen and/or accepted, represent core symbols of culture and express meaningful identities. Moreover, identity may be formed, experienced and communicated through such labels.  Education is an important means by which such labels are accepted and identities are formed. In this paper the relationship between identity, language and education is explored amongst indigenous communities in Bolivia and Canada.  The Bolivian situation, where Aymara and Quechua speakers constitute a majority of the population, and where Spanish is replacing these languages at the national level, is discussed first with reference to the appropriateness of the language education policies and identification.  The Canadian situation, where indigenous peoples are in a small minority, and where English and French are the national languages, is considered next.  The discussion is extended and complemented by a small-scale social psychological study in Bolivia (amongst Aymara in Tiwanaku) and Canada (amongst Fisher River Cree in Manitoba and Haida in British Columbia). Overall, having considered the Bolivian and Canadian contexts, it is argued that the education and linguistic survival of indigenous peoples must clearly engage with self-determined categorizations in their appropriate socio-structural and temporal contexts.

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