Knowledge is Power: Development cooperation and indigenous education

Knowledge is power, it is said. This is most definitely valid when it comes to indigenous peoples and education. How can development cooperation work to strengthen the education of indidenous peoples, and towards an indigenous friendly education?

On the second session of the third day of the conference on Education, Learning and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights the presenters were Vidar Wie Østlie, Emilie Ørneseidet, Lorelou Desjardins and Eva Marion Johannessen. This section was dedicated to perspectives on development cooperation with indigenous people’s education project. The speakers presented on how their activity is relative for the indigenous people’s education in different parts of the world. The first three speakers are activists representing Norwegian organizations. Eva Marion Johannessen is an educational consultant who is actively working with educational projects for indigenous peoples.
Vidar Wie Østlie has a huge experience of working with indigenous peoples in the Southern Africa. He is a representative of  NAMAS (The Namibia Association of Norway). The biggest part of the presentation was dedicated to the Ovahimba indigenous peoples in North-Western Namibia. Østlie told which challenges these peoples are facing getting an education. Being semi-nomadic pastoralists these people are moving all the time. The number of members of their communities ranges from 50 to 3 000 peoples. Being constantly on move makes schooling difficult.  Østlie explained the negative impacts of studying in boarding schools for these peoples. One of these negative impacts is that during the educational process people are losing their identity. Schooling therefore presents great challenges. The speaker underlined primary requirements for education for these people: educational institutions have to be close to home, sensitivity for adaptation of indigenous peoples should be always a matter of concern, mother tongue should be used and students should be allowed to wear their traditional clothes.
In Western Kalahari NAMAS is supporting the San peoples, whose way of life is completely different from the Ovahimba indigenous peoples. The San peoples are hunters and gatherers. Østlie noticed that parents of the both groups of indigenous children, San and Ovahimba, are supporters of giving an education to their children and sending their children to the boarding schools. But the problem with the boarding schools is that they are not culturally sensitive to these peoples. In conclusion, Østlie mentioned that their organization is working with both NGOs and Government. However, this cooperation is quite challenging.

The presentation of Emilie Ørneseidet was about SAIH (Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ Assistance Fund) and their work with indigenous peoples and their rights. Mostly they are working with the Latin American indigenous peoples. Ørneseidet is vice president of this organization. They are organizing events for informing indigenous peoples about leadership and human rights.
Every year the organization has different slogans that characterize the direction of the work. In 2014 “Knowledge is a power” has been chosen as the main slogan. In the end of her speech she showed one of the videos which they are spreading in order to draw attention to the problems they are working with.

The third speech was by Lorelou Desjardins. She represents the Rainforest Foundation. The focus of the organization is maintenance of the rainforest and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent peoples. The organization deals amongst other things with schools in the Amazon region. Desjardins said that indigenous peoples in Indonesia are discriminated. Non-indigenous population does not have a positive attitude to the indigenous peoples. Moreover the creation of schools in rainforest is not welcomed by traditional schools which retain the influence over the educational sphere in Indonesia. The activity of the Rainforest Foundation is not supported by the local churches because indigenous peoples have their own beliefs and Rainforest Foundation has an intention to save the uniqueness of these peoples in all spheres. Concluding, Lorelou Desjardins said that there are many challenging factors in the realization of the projects in these territories. These factors are internal and external. One of the internal aspects is that indigenous peoples are scared of outsiders and not very open for non-members of their community. External challenges are related to state policy when the authorities do not uphold the activity of organizations which try to save uniqueness of indigenous peoples.

The speech of the Norwegian education consultant Eva Marion Johannessen concluded the session. She evaluated the 2001-2006 project in the Brazilian Amazon. In the context of this project schools implemented programs specially adapted for indigenous populations. These schools realize intercultural education. Indigenous peoples in these schools have an opportunity to learn their native language, get knowledge about their culture and traditions. One of the main goals of this project is to save identity of indigenous peoples in Brazilian Amazon and revitalize their culture.

The speaker underlined that even though she had a lot of experience with teaching and consulting she had never seen schools, which are so well adapted for the local communities. In the end of her speech, Eva Marion Johannessen mentioned that such project could not be realized without help of other organizations.

Thus, all the considered the question of indigenous education in the different parts of the world from their perspectives. Their experience is very important and useful in the context of protecting Indigenous Peoples’ Right for education for future sustainable livelihood. The diversity of experience borrowed from one cultural context to another is possible and becomes effective via cooperation. Topical examples were demonstrated at this session by the speakers. This cooperation in the field of education and learning of indigenous peoples. Sustainability is achieved through bringing educational contexts together.

By Zmyvalova Ekaterina, student at the Master’s degree program in indigenous studies, UiT.