On May 10th 2012, the first Forum on Indigenous Nations’ Experiences in Development Experiences -Bolivia and Canada was held in La Paz, Bolivia. Two First Nations representatives from Canada met with Bolivian indigenous community members, academics, and development practitioners. Formal presentations were followed by round table discussions. The forum fostered a space for exchange of ideas and knowledge between indigenous peoples from the North and South about their ways of understanding and practicing “development”. It also allowed for a discussion surrounding the Community Economic Development (CED) approach and its contribution to communities in Bolivia. Graduates of Bolivian CED training programs from Oruro, La Paz, and Viacha shared their experience with CED, and the implementation of initiatives and projects in their communities. The forum also brought out the crucial changes that Bolivia is currently undergoing, such as the increasing empowerment of indigenous communities, and the dramatic socio-economic, political, and cultural processes that are redefining Bolivia´s identity.
The event was organized by the Bolivian Specialization in CED team, with financial support from AUCC /CIDA.
Experiences in Bolivia and Canada
Sally Hope, community researcher from Seabird Island in BC talked about the experience of her community. The Seabird Island reserve has obtained control of their lands and created a Land Use Code through a participatory planning process. They have invested in the health and education of their communities and surrounding communities by building a health centre, an elementary and high school, and a Technical Training Institute for adults. The Economic Development department operates several community-owned businesses including gravel extraction, a gas station, and a hazelnut orchard. They support small businesses through grants. The political structure is constituted by an elected Chief and Council, with advice from their elders group. Seabird Island members are keen to protect and promote their original language, child and family well-being, participatory planning processes, use of traditional knowledge, and training for youth and adults. . Sally’s presentation showed how her community is becoming increasingly sustainable and self reliant through the implementation of CED-like strategies that mobilize human, social, economic, physical, natural, and cultural capital.
Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn, Director of SFU´s First Nations’ Studies and the new Indigenous Research Institute, also presented at the Forum. Dr. Yellowhorn discussed issues regarding the “Indian question” in Canada, how the legal category of “Indian” was an identity created by colonial government under the Indian Act. Dr. Yellowhorn touched on topics regarding history, traditions and ceremonies of the Blackfoot people from Southern Alberta. He also mentioned that indigenous people are a minority in Canada, contrary to Bolivia, but in Northern territories like Nunavut they are the majority. Following a question from the audience, Dr. Yellowhorn noted that in the present, First Nations in Canada confront serious social difficulties and are one of the most vulnerable communities in the country.
Three indigenous leaders came to La Paz from the Marka Viacha to present their experiences using CED principles in the implementation of community initiatives. Ricardo Poma Poma Mallku from the community of Charahuayto, told the audience that his community has found new strategies for development. Through CED, the community has found that they are rich in many ways, whereas they used to think they had nothing. “We have everything to design strategies and make good use of the tools we had and did not know how to take advantage of,” said Poma.
A leader of the community Chacoma Irpa Grande, Humberto Limachi, stressed that the CED capitals and its holistic approach drives the community towards the betterment of projects. Such improvement makes the initiatives more sustainable and beneficial for the whole community, as Limachi notes “CED is for everyone; no one remains isolated. We all can create a model for development.” Limachi also presented the recent projects that his community has developed using CED principles, such as the Tarwi/Tarhui crop and the trout hatchery.
A leader from the community Chica Baja, Pedro Poma Mayta, Uma Mallku, stressed that social and human capital are important tools to promote initiatives that drive progress, “From now, as a community, and counting on our resources, we can do great things. Here you have taught us about strategic alliances, so we have partnered up with different organizations to do our potable water project, but we always continue to maintain our practices and customs.” Mayta notes that the CED perspective helps his community to recognize that their territory has many valuable resources, “We have culture, water, land, and many other resources,” he told forum participants.
Beyond Borders: Canadian First Nations representatives and Bolivian indigenous leaders speak about their experiences
At the end of the forum, Sally Hope and Eldon Yellowhorn shared personally with groups of indigenous leaders at roundtables about the way of life and strategies of First Nations peoples in Canada.Questions about preserving culture, getting funds for future projects, and traditions in Canada were some of the topics discussed during the roundtables.
Sally Hope was impacted by the enthusiasm and vision that these leaders have. As Sally mentions, she was especially inspired when Isaura, Humberto Limachi’s daughter, said that she was prouder than ever of her indigenous heritage and her community’s work towards progress, to which she plans to contribute.
-by Catalina Parra