Indigenous voices in Medellin - the story of the KANQ Network (I)

The group of indigenous communicators and some DW Akademie members in the Gabo Festival 2019. (Photo: Benedickt Borchers) The group of indigenous communicators and some DW Akademie members in the Gabo Festival 2019. (Photo: Benedickt Borchers)

What can indigenous communication bring to the world? A group of 10 indigenous and community communicators from five Latin American countries traveled to Medellin to participate in the Gabo Festival, experience a cultural exchange and share the value that indigenous communication can add to “city journalism”.

By Arnol Piedra*.

Medellin, a city of yellow flowers, the same ones that accompany Gabriel Garcia Marquez in many illustrations and on the bill of 50 thousand Colombian pesos, became for three days the vanishing point of the newsrooms of America due to the congregation at the festival and the most prestigious journalism award in the region.

As part of a project by DW Akademie, 10 indigenous communicators from Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Guatemala had the opportunity to participate in the coverage of the Gabo Festival, to transmit their skills, their ways of communicating, exchange their experience in community media and collect new learning that will be implemented in their communities of origin.

However, the opposite happened unexpectedly. From interviewers they became interviewed. Among flashes, coffee and infusion cups, and intense walks, the indigenous communicators were intercepted by foreign journalists and visitors. They aroused the interest of the public for their traditional clothes and their native languages, inseparable symbols from their cultures, which they proudly took to the country of vallenato.

The 10 communicators chose the name KANQ Network for their group. The set of letters represents the initial of each of its indigenous languages (K of Kaqchikel and Kichwa, A of Aymara, N of Nasa Yuwe, and Q of Quechua and Q'eqchí). The group participated in different discussions in the spaces of DW Akademie and Radio Gabo, where they shared with the public their expertise and experiences in community media and other topics such as environmental journalism, the role of women in indigenous communication and the urgency of representativeness of native languages in the media.

The next step is the “big tent”

This is just the beginning and there is still a long way to go, according to Matthias Kopp, project manager at DW Akademie in Colombia. “We think it is a good time to bring communicators from indigenous villages to Medellín so that their voices are heard. The idea is to take advantage of this little window to establish a dialogue, but we would have to make the fight so that one day they will be given the big stage (the Orquideorama) along with the great national and international journalists”, he said.

After hours of bustle, long interviews and unexpected downpours, the members of the KANQ Network witnessed the gala night of the Gabo Awards, hoping that the indigenous theme will be awarded one day for communities to be visible by large media. The dream does not seem far away. During the opening ceremony, Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez called on journalists to work to forge more inclusive societies. "You have the gift of the word and the power of the media. Use them responsibly to build a better society, tell inclusive stories and give voice to those who don't have it".

In the 7th edition of the Festival, which takes place in the Botanical Garden of Medellin, the environmental heart of the city, three works related to environmental journalism were nominated, an important point on the agenda of indigenous communicators, who seek to transmit to the world the defense of Mother Earth from their communities. However, in the end only one was awarded (Blood was never yellow from the Cuban Mónica Baró Sanchez). Her investigation reports a case of lead poisoning in a neighborhood in La Habana, which began in the 1950s and barely came to light in 2006. The goal of focusing the dimension of environmental issues is still far away.

At the closing of the event, Jesús Abad Colorado, who received the Journalism Excellence Award, seems to agree with the journalists of the community media. The award-winning photographer gave a message about the defense of the environment from the informative work, in a year marked by climatic strikes and fires in the Amazon. “Without nature we are nothing. The Earth is everyone's house, so we have to defend every tree and river in this country, because, what are we going to leave to the next generations?”, he said before receiving effusive applause from the public.

Stories of indigenous communication

Marileny Choc in a conference along with Matthias Kopp, member of DW Akademie, and Selnich Vivas, professor of Antioquia University. (Photo: Benedickt Borchers)

Many of the members of this indigenous communicators network have particular stories of how they enrolled in the trade. Everything starts from the need of their communities.

“I dedicated myself to communication because there was no one who could represent us in the Amazonian villages. Our voices are extinguished by political persecutions and criminalization towards indigenous leaders, and there are no women who take risks. My grandparents taught me to be a warrior woman and to defend our culture and identity”, said Eslendy Grefa, Amazon Kichwa communicator of Lanceros Digitales, a community medium in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

“Initially in our community there were no communicators who communicate from our native languages, that was what motivated me to be a communicator. I started doing programs in Kaqchikel language and today I participate in spaces where we develop content editing in Kaqchikel on Wikipedia, not leaving analogue media behind, since there is still a very strong digital divide in Guatemala", says Uskam Camey, an activist for the defense of the Mayan languages.

On the other hand, Marileny Choc, q'eqchí communicator of Radio Sayaxche in Peten, on the northern border of Guatemala, found the opportunity to grow in the world of microphones. “Thanks to the support of DW Akademie and the Guatemalan Institute of Radio Education (IGER), they invited me to participate in the radio and launch educational programs. That is how I became more involved in the media and I have gained experiences that allowed me to learn more about the rural area. This allowed me to get more involved with my culture and meet the challenges of community media".

Marileny, perhaps, has one of the most shocking stories of the group for having suffered discrimination in her country for being a woman and indigenous, even by other women, who told her that she would never travel by plane or go far. During one of the conversations, wearing “corte” and “güipil”, the traditional garments of her community, she spoke about true wealth: “When I say that I have wealth, people think that I speak of material wealth, but the best wealth that I have is my language and my culture”, manifests and provokes euphoric applause and public admiration.

In the end, Marileny found her vocation to promote human rights through the radio. She achieved her dream and was the most interviewed of the group during the Festival. "Her face already hurts due to so much flash", jokes a partner, causing laughter and joy in the group. 

KANQ Network’s women participated in different dialogues for Radio Gabo, sharing their experiences in community media.  (Photo: Benedickt Borchers)

“Empowering the media is a constant struggle”

Eslendy Grefa, kichwa communicator from Ecuador, was one of the most interviewed of the group. (Photo: Benedickt Borchers)

How can indigenous and community media be empowered to be more visible? It was one of the main lessons learned by the KANQ Network during the three days of the Festival. Its protagonists tell their conclusions.

“To empower our community media, we must seek alliances and strategies to reach our communities, and thus achieve national and international reach. In this way, our media will be more recognized and viable for strengthening our struggle”, says Eslendy from Ecuador. 

For Uskam from Guatemala, empowerment comes from the will and commitment to indigenous languages to afterwards take advantage of technological tools. In addition, he proposes something very innovative: “It is necessary to share this learning in community media, organize this type of events or festivals in our own languages and reward the best content in communication”.

The KANQ Network communicators worked in a press room to produce content about the Gabo Festival for their community media. (Photo: Benedickt Borchers)

Finally, Yenny Paucar, an Aymara radialist from the Puno region in Peru, speaks of empowerment as an intense fighting process. “I don't want to be pessimistic, but empowering our means is a constant struggle. For example, if we, women, are in the media it is because no one has given us anything. This fight is to win spaces and that we indigenous people are visible as subjects of law and as people who can give their opinions and create the development countries yearn for”.

Yenny is the daughter of Rosa Palomino, the main reference for Aymara communication in Peru and host of the Wiñay Panqara program, which means "Always blooming", a space that has been on air for 21 years and it still has to be rented to a commercial radio, since the great challenge remains to have its own signal. "It is legitimate for community media in Peru to access frequencies under the same conditions as a commercial radio, as has been done in Bolivia. This is definitely going to support the democratization of access to information", says Luis Salazar, a Quechua radio operator at the Radio Production Center (CEPRA) in Cochabamba and a free software activist.

Intercultural dialogues 

The group of communicators carried out different spiritual ceremonies of their communities. These spaces were the center of intercultural dialogues. (Photo: Benedickt Borchers)

Interculturality was present in the three days that the Gabo Festival lasted and in the moments of coexistence of the group of 10 communicators, who had time to share their worldviews, participate in ceremonies of thanks to Mother Earth and visit some of the attractions of the Ciudad de las Flores such as Comuna 13, Plaza Botero and the Antioquia University as an icon of documentation of the historical memory of the armed conflict in Colombia.

However, the greatest expression of interculturality occurred between the two communication currents that fight and live together in our countries: indigenous communication and “city” communication. The Gabo Festival being a meeting point for journalists and academics: what lessons did indigenous communicators take home? “I learned a lot from my colleagues, to be humble, to let ideas flow, to be a little riskier in research so that the information stands out”, stated Eslendy from Ecuador. 

Fabiana Condori, Aymara communicator of CEPRA in La Paz, also enhances what she learned from her classmates. “I could apply the ventures we share these days, for example, my partner Marileny from Guatemala encourages the culture of her people through the radio, and I would also like to work on small radio formats on the subject”.

Finally, what can indigenous communication teach city journalists? “We can teach the academy a lot, from humbleness; to look everywhere. We would tell them to open their eyes and look more at the indigenous peoples”, says Yenny from Peru. 

On the other hand, Luz Dary Cuetia, a Nasa communicator of the Voces de Nuestra Tierra radio station of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (Colombia), highlights the importance of being at the scene and verifying the information: “We can teach the city journalists that they must arrive at the news site. The invitation from the indigenous media is to arrive where the indigenous peoples are and where the base is, and not to report what is not".

Matthias Kopp from the DW Akademie also agrees with these teachings of the KANQ Network to the city media. “Indigenous communicators do not stop involving the forest, land or water in their communication. This is a very valuable learning for Westerners, since we are seeing how our lifestyle is damaging the planet and every time we realize that we cannot continue like this. I think that dialogue with indigenous peoples is very important to find new ways of life”, he concludes.

The journey continues

The Gabo Festival in Medellin was only the first stop for the KANQ Network. After the end of a week full of learning and knowledge for these indigenous communicators, new experiences awaited them in Cusco (Peru) and Guatemala City (Guatemala). The group travelled to the historic capital of the Inca empire to participate in the International Meeting of Indigenous Communication, then went to the cradle of the Mayan civilization, where the Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet was held. The path of knowledge was packed in each of their suitcases.


This article was originally published in Spanish in October 2019 and translated in August 2020. Check the original version here:  

*Arnol Piedra is a Peruvian journalist specialized in culture and one of the Red KANQ members.

Escucha nuestro podcast

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.