The United Nations interviews Bolivian trade union leader and lauds Bolivia is avant-gardist and model country when it comes to conserving and protecting Indigenous languages, cultures, knowledge and traditions.
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In an interview with U.N. News, Felix Ajpi Secretary of Productive Development of the Confederation of Intercultural Communities (CIC) says that Bolivia under the Evo Morales administration, has been a pioneer in the protection of Indigenous languages.
"Before it was forbidden for us to speak our language or even to go to school. It was miserable in Bolivia. They discriminated against us so much that they made us ashamed of our own language, our clothes and our way of being," said the trade union leader in the interview.
Bolivia is home to 36 Indigenous nations, each with their own language, and has the largest Indigenous population in Latin America at 62.2 percent. Three of Bolivia's Indigenous languages are endangered but are a part of a rescue program to prevent their extenction. Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani are the country's most widely-spoken Indigenous languages.
President Morales and his administration have implemented a series of changes in the government in order to formally recognize the value of Indigenous languages over the last 13 years. Most recently, in April, three more Indigenous languages, Joaquiniano, Paunaka, and Kumsa were added to the nation's constitution as official languages, making all 36 Indigenous languages recognized within the country's magna carta.
Morales has also created the Plurinational Institute of Indigenous Languages since taking office.
“Today, it is mandatory to know at least one Indigenous language to be able to become a government official," says Ajpi to the U.N.
The CIC leader is happy that his granddaughters learned Aymara not only at home, but were taught it in school, which was not the case for Ajpi who only learned his native language at home. Felix explains that Indigenous languages preserve cultural values among ethnicities, while communication throughout the country remains in Spanish.
Freddy Mamani Machaca, director of Bolivia's Diplomacy of Indigenous Peoples within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says the administration's work to reinforce the use of Indigneous languages has only just begun.
"When an indigenous language dies, unfortunately the knowledge, culture, forms of organization, ... knowledge about seeds that are fundamental for Indigenous peoples also dies," says the government official.
"That's why we are working intensively with all state institutions, with major national-level social organizations to instutitionalize Indigenous languages and knowledge through programs and projects," said Machaca.
Bolivia hosted a summit in January to kick off the U.N.'s declaring 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages.