Through Grimaldo Rengifo’s connection in Lima with Pratec, we met Elena Pardo in Cusco. Elena is a warm, committed and generous person. After two long conversations, she invited us to attend a Quechua ceremony at the winter solstice (December 20) in the ruins of Saqsaywaman above Cusco, an amazing and unforgettable experience. Knowing we would be in Chile in late February, Elena also invited us to join her in a visit to a Mapuche school she has been in contact for a number of years. Actually her invitation was even more enticing, to join her at a ceremony with some Mapuche people by the Lago Arco Iris (rainbow lake) near the Icalma volcano! Needless to say we were excited about this and faithful to our principle of being open to what arises we took the thirty-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires across the border to Temuco, Chile, about 8 or so hours south from Santiago. We will write about our learning and experiences of ceremony later, but this was a moving event and spiritual exchange between Quechua and Mapuche Elders.
Trañi Trañi, a Mapuche intercultural school
In our third day in Chile we were invited by Elena’s friend Don Roberto, who was also at the ceremony, to visit Trañi Trañi, a Mapuche intercultural school a few kilometres outside Temuco and be part of two days of meetings with Elena, teachers, parents and students before the school year begun. The school has around 90 students from the surrounding communities and 14 teachers, some Mapuche, a number of whom we met at the ceremony a few days before. Mapuche language, history and culture is taught at the traditional ruca building made of mud and straw which sits by the rest of the school’s buildings. The other buildings are also designed so as not to have corners and the desks are positioned in clusters so that the authority of teacher is not emphasised as in traditional classrooms.
The meetings took place in the ruca and we were treated to a warm and overwhelmingly generous Mapuche hospitality. Around fifty of us from young students to the village elder sat in a circle and greeted each other with hugs and a single kiss on the cheek. When latecomers arrived they also went around the whole circle doing the same. Everyone spoke and introduced themselves. We were left with a warm, affectionate glow and a deep connection to all in the room. A far cry from the often inhospitable conferences, seminars and staff meetings we are used to!
Trañi Trañi, which has been around for over a decade, is considered a model intercultural school in the region. In the south of Chile where most of the Mapuche live and make up a considerable percentage of the population and ownership of land there are around two hundred such intercultural schools. These are a new phenomena only beginning to emerge after the Pinochet era (from 1973 to 1990) and hundreds of years of cultural oppression. Such intercultural schools are beginning to emerge all over the Americas. We visited the wonderful school in the Blood Reserve in Alberta where Kelly ran with teachers and students in the annual race across the prairies. We visited another school in Lamas within the Quechua Lama community, also going on a school trip to the forest with the students, teachers and a local elder who knew the forest. Across these schools and the hundreds or thousands of others like it in the continent there is a constant tension between teaching the national curriculum and the incorporation of local ways of knowing, doing, being. National curriculums tend to offer learning that is completely divorced from indigenous language, culture and history, suppressing these in favor of a Euro-centric national identity.
Masters of two cultures
The commitment to and desire for a truly intercultural education on the part of teachers, students and parents also varied. It takes remarkable individuals, people like those we referred to here, masters of two cultures to really inspire others of the importance of interculturalidad. We saw how rare or transient were the spaces for learning about or sharing the competencies of being intercultural.
We came across some wonderful experiences for training teachers such as the course in Blackfoot Ways of Knowing run by Narcisse Blood and Cynthia Chambers (professor of education) at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. (see the posts we have written on this here and here). Elena also organised a course along similar principles at the University of Cusco for teachers, based on Quechua ways of knowing. These initiatives deeply impacted the teachers who took the course opening their lives to inhabiting this space in-between. But both these courses only ran once and were not made regular by these universities. As both Cynthia and Elena related to me, there is a deep resistance of the traditional university to accommodating other ways of knowing.
At Red Crow Community College the Kainai Studies course (one of the most advanced course on indigenous ways of knowing we have visited) the inspiring effects of the course on a number of students from the College we talked to were clear to see. Many spoke of rediscovering their history, their identity, of reconnecting with their ancestors, with grandparents, their land, and most importantly with a sense of pride and value of a way of life that had been oppressed for many decades. But the course has also been taken by non-Blackfoot, people who came to find a renewed connection and responsibility to the place they live in.
In the course of these seven months of traveling and learning from these different initiatives I have become convinced that we are all going to have to learn to be intercultural. We will learn to inhabit a cultural space between the ways we have been educated to see and be in the world within our industrial societies and other ways of relating to place and community, many of which have existed for thousands of years. These other ways may not necessarily be entirely Native or indigenous cultural practices, although we can learn much from them. But wherever they come from, in building sustainable societies we will need to master practices, other principles and values that reconnect us to place, each other and ourselves.