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Nina Pacari: “The coexistence of different forms of knowledge production must play a role in conflict resolution in multicultural societies”

"In law curricula, as in other branches of the sciences, the notion of indigenous peoples was missing, so it was not a complete education"

"In law curricula, as in other branches of the sciences, the notion of indigenous peoples was missing, so it was not a complete education"

"There must be different perspectives and a coexistence of the different civilizations that share a single territory"

"There must be different perspectives and a coexistence of the different civilizations that share a single territory"

"The issue of equal opportunities for men and women has not been solved altogether, but I think that substantial progress has been made in the Latin American region"

"The issue of equal opportunities for men and women has not been solved altogether, but I think that substantial progress has been made in the Latin American region"

03/01/2011

Nina Pacari is a celebrated leader and defender of indigenous communities in Latin America. She has worked with the Federation of Kichwa Peoples of the Sierra Norte in her native country, Ecuador, and has supported Kichwa communities as a lawyer in Chimborazo Province. In 1989 she became legal advisor to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which was founded in 1986. In the 1990 uprising she gave support to the indigenous communities of Chimborazo and was involved in negotiations with the government. In 1997 she represented Chimborazo Province in the National Assembly and took part in drafting the new constitution. In 1998 she became the first indigenous woman to sit on Ecuador’s National Congress, as a representative of the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement. She is currently a judge for the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, and recently visited the UB to take part in the seminar “Reptes del nou constitucionalisme llatinoamericà”, organized by the Faculty of Law.

How do you recall your time at university?

 
Legal doctrine is taught from the hegemony of the dominant culture, but during my time at university I always found myself reflecting on where the indigenous peoples fit into this, because their situation is altogether a different reality. In law curricula, as in other branches of the sciences, the notion of indigenous peoples was missing, so it was not a complete education.
 
However, this experience of university education, given its links with a broader organizational process and the struggle of indigenous peoples, contributes to the knowledge of another rationality. It is important to strengthen your own perspective through formal education, as this provides the tools for understanding the codes of Western civilization and for developing those of your own culture, to reach the conclusion that the two can exist alongside one another. At the beginning of the 1980s, when I was a student, I began to write articles on the legal pluralism of different cultures. The idea is that the coexistence of different forms of producing knowledge, of different forms of developing doctrines, should play a real part in resolving conflicts within a country, within a multicultural society.
 
What is your personal view of the law? Do you think that it is an instrument that favours those in power, or is a tool for defending the rights of the most vulnerable?
 
Law, in the same way as constitutional norms, has throughout its history exhibited elements of exclusion and criminalization, with oppressive ideological content. But things have gradually changed. What active civil society does, and what the indigenous communities do, is instigate change so that laws can genuinely be considered products of the society they represent; so that laws are not conceived as means of control and repression but as tools to facilitate the exercise of rights and to ensure justice in the resolution of conflicts. And I think that this is the dynamic we are now experiencing. As regards our relationship with the law, as indigenous people we have experienced its restrictive and exclusionary side. But we also have the chance to make a change, and, ultimately, changes in legal or constitutional norms are only tools, not the solution.
 
What could Western culture learn from the codes of behaviour of indigenous peoples?
 
The important thing is to be familiar with what is different – in this case, indigenous culture – and to respect it, to enable coexistence. In other words, there must not be a dichotomy between the forms of education and the principles of the two cultures, in which one is imposed on the other, which is what we have seen here. There must be different perspectives and a coexistence of the different civilizations that share a single territory. This also has implications for decision-making; the proposals put forward by the indigenous communities must be viable for the political sphere or the existing institutional structure. This would entail fundamental structural changes to the model of state, the model of public management, the exercise of power and the economic model. And the action of indigenous communities will be important in this process, as will their voice in shaping the political process that is planned for the country. But for this to occur it will be necessary to share and to implicitly understand what the indigenous movement thinks. What is the indigenous view of the way in which education or healthcare is organized? What knowledge do the indigenous peoples possess? It must be possible for these principles to be redimensioned through a fundamental conceptual change, in a new agenda, and this must make a real contribution to the creation of new paradigms. Effort must be put into being open to coexistence, to understanding what is different; this does not mean the integration of aspects of folklore, but the integration of tangible content that can catalyze fundamental structural changes.
 
You are something of an exception, as an indigenous woman who has risen to the position of judge of a Latin-America constitutional court. How well represented are women in high-level positions in Latin America?
 
Since the 1970s, the women’s movement in Latin America – its discourse and the platforms for its dissemination – has have gone from strength to strength. It has managed, for example, to win the fight for equal opportunities in the labour market. If we analyse the percentage participation of women in politics, we will see an increase on the figure from thirty years ago. Increasing the visibility of women in leadership roles at the national level is tremendously important. The issue of equal opportunities has not been solved altogether, but I think that substantial progress has been made in the Latin American region.
 
It must is important to remember that the participation of women in this sphere will necessarily reflect a political and ideological position. This is one of the issues that the women’s movement should think carefully about, because not all women are the same, either in terms of their political and ideological stances or in their ethnic and cultural views.
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