To the rescue of the indigenous languages - the story of the KANQ Network (III)

The KANQ Network reunited in Guatemala for its final learning trip, where they also had spaces to share their experiences. (Photo: Uskam Camey) The KANQ Network reunited in Guatemala for its final learning trip, where they also had spaces to share their experiences. (Photo: Uskam Camey)

What can we do to rescue and also empower our indigenous languages? The group of ten indigenous communicators of the KANQ Network traveled to Guatemala to participate in the Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet and close an intense cycle of learning that will boost the development of communication in their communities.

By Arnol Piedra*

Guatemala, a country of coins and birds, called quetzals, was the last meeting point for the KANQ Network, a group formed by DW Akademie to develop indigenous communication in the region. After participating in the Gabo Festival in Medellín and the International Meeting of Indigenous Communication in Cusco, it was time to venture in two new events to defend more than 400 indigenous languages that exist in Latin America.

However, Guatemala City, well known by its mysterious red buses and colored cotton candy, it was not the first point on the KANQ Network route. As soon as the group arrived at La Aurora Airport, they went first — on a one-hour trip — to the city of Antigua to participate in the Latin American Meeting of Digital Activists of Indigenous Languages, a closed event that got together about 60 educators, linguists, and technologists of the region.

After three days exchanging knowledge in the historic city on the banks of the Volcano of Water, the KANQ Network moved to the Guatemalan capital to participate in the Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet, a space open to the public that brought together more than 400 people, where an intense linguistic and cultural flow was experienced. In addition, the group had places and talks to share their experiences in community media and their own mechanisms to preserve and disseminate native languages.

At the end of the two events, it was time to conclude the project. The members of the KANQ Network and DW Akademie had a workshop where they talked about the main achievements of the group; the lessons learned from the three communication events and the personal experience of what it meant for each indigenous communicator to participate in this adventure. Emotions, hugs, selfies, games, smiles and tears were present on the last day.

The group also experienced an intercultural day in the two cities to get to know some of their attractions. In Antigua, they visited the Main Square and the Santa Catalina Arch. They also toured the cobbled streets of a colonial city razed by an earthquake in the 18th century. While in Guatemala City they visited the Constitution Square, the Central Market and the National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, where they appreciated through dioramas and relics the lifestyle of the ancient Maya.

Learning about different initiatives in Antigua

The Meeting in Antigua had group exchange workshops for learning about the promotion of indigenous languages. (Photo: Uskam Camey)

The former capital of Guatemala hosted for three days the Latin American Meeting of Digital Activists of Indigenous Languages, which was held at the Training Center of Spanish Cooperation, whose site was the historic school Compañía de Jesús, a colonial building that still shows the havoc of the earthquake of 1773. Great positive energy was present at the event through calls through human circles, flowers, and colored candles.

The members of the KANQ Network felt admiration for discovering so many initiatives trying to preserve the languages of their ancestors, most of them coming from a region with as many contrasts and social problems as Central America. Workshops, exhibitions, and dynamics were developed to exchange views through flipcharts. At the same time, they discovered that — without knowing it — each one of them was already an indigenous language activist because of knowing how to communicate in their respective language.

Despite the busy days and difficult group photographs, inspiration and knowledge spread throughout each sentence. "Language is one of the anchors of identity. At this time, the phenotype doesn't matter that much, but rather self-identification," said Irma Álvarez, an activist in the Quechua language from Peru, for example. On the other hand, Marco Antonio Martínez, an activist of the Ayöök language in Mexico, said that "to maintain a language is to maintain history, the worldview, and the way of seeing life in communities".

The Meeting also served to contemplate the wide range of paths offered by technology. For example, the “Rachel” project by Israel Quic, from the NGO Mundo Posible, stood out. The project consists of a portable server that stores a virtual library, proving to be of great help for communities that lack Internet access. "We are losing all our knowledge and our way of interpreting the world by no speaking in our language", commented the Guatemalan Tz'utujil language activist worried.

Finally, the Meeting also merited a television report of the international media DW in Spanish, which collected different opinions on the defense of the more than 400 native languages that exist in Latin America. “Digital activism has great relevance to promote the way of thinking, culture and all the feelings that we retain in our languages since it is a way of understanding the world”, explained Fabiana Condorí, Aymara radio broadcaster of CEPRA in La Paz (Bolivia), before the German channel’s cameras.

The indigenous languages activists shared their experiences and projects at the headquarters of the Spanish Cooperation Training Center in Antigua. (Photo: Uskam Camey)

Exchanging languages at the Festival

After the event in Antigua, both the KANQ Network and the majority of digital activists, moved to Guatemala City to participate in the Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet, which was held at the Cultural Center of Spain, located near the Constitution Square. The Festival was characterized by an intense sharing of languages that manifested itself with words written on a wall in the more than 25 languages present and the exchange of words of encouragement during the invocation ceremonies.

In addition to the different panels and discussions, workshops were held to boost activism, addressing issues such as the use of Facebook, the development of podcasts, digital security, among others. Among the workshops, there is one highlighted called “How to make an audiovisual project in your own language?”, by the Salvadorian YouTuber Héctor Martínez, a Nahuat or Pipil language activist, who taught the public to produce videos for social networks and YouTube, and create memes or gifs in their native languages.

The KANQ Network also had a space entitled “Creation of communication campaigns in indigenous languages,” in which they discussed the key role of free software in activism. Before the emotional applause of the attendees, the gesture of the Ecuadorian Gina Brito of the Huaira Foundation, stood out. She shared some tears of emotion to congratulate the work of the KANQ Network. “It is a joy to know that free software is a basic tool to develop communication on the Internet in indigenous communities. Free software is freedom,” she said.

Among other panels and conversations, the talk called “Why is it important that my indigenous language be on the Internet?” was developed, which aroused active participation of the public concentrated in the main auditorium. “Language is like practicing a sport, if you speak once a year it loses its validity. It's a daily practice”, recommended Imbaya Cachiguango, defender of the Kichwa Otavalo language from Ecuador, whose speaking people are characterized by the use of white hats and outfits.

At the end of the event, the last talk called “What is the digital activism of indigenous languages?” was held, it was carried out on Sixth Avenue, a pedestrian street crowded with hundreds of “Chapina” families looking for a fun afternoon. “We need to exercise writing. We must never forget or belittle our language,” said Cecilia Tuyuc, spokeswoman for the Kaqchikel Maya University, before the applause of the attendees and some passersby, whose faces of surprise and curiosity denoted that it was time to learn about the diversity of their land, a country of 24 indigenous languages.

The Festival in Guatemala City was characterized by the coexistence of more than 25 indigenous languages present among activists and attendees. (Photo: Uskam Camey)

“We must empower our languages starting on the families”

As in Medellin and Cusco, members of the KANQ Network took advantage of each space to interview Festival participants and learn more about the use of digital tools for the spreading of indigenous languages. Now they feel more excited to develop their own empowerment proposal.

“We can empower our native languages by reminding people that they exist, making known their contributions to humanity, and the consequences of their disappearance. It takes a change of thought and a transformation of ideas of what our languages really are. Media and digital platforms are essential to empower them”, says Uskam Camey, a Guatemalan activist who promotes the Kaqchikel language using Wikipedia.

For Luis Salazar, Quechua radio broadcaster of CEPRA in Cochabamba (Bolivia), the key is in greater diffusion. “Empowering our languages is easier now. We must write about them and take advantage of social networks, blogs and wikis. Moreover, through media, we can spread the languages by developing informative, comic, cultural, and educational programs. I think that each speaker is already a potential communicator who can contribute to its spreading”.

“We must empower our languages, starting with our families and homes, to strengthen our identity. In schools we must implement a teacher who speaks all the time in their native language. It would also be useful to boost the development of music, theater, radio programs, and television series in our indigenous languages”, says Eslendy Grefa, Amazon Kichwa Communicator of the Lanceros Digitales collective in Ecuador.

During the Festival in Guatemala City, the KANQ Network had workshops where public participation was encouraged. (Photo: Uskam Camey)

“I learned to strengthen my conviction in communication”

Once the Festival was over, the members of the KANQ Network had a workshop where they shared their reflections and experiences after the trip through three countries. What lessons and experiences were taken? Some of its protagonists expressed their opinions amid mixed feelings.

“I learned that working in a team allows us to achieve great things. I also learned to love myself, to transmit love and good energies. I learned that although we speak other languages, we understand each other perfectly because we are one with the Pachamama or the Chacana. It is impressive how our worldviews fit perfectly, and that is what the KANQ Network represents for me, a new generation of communicators, but with the essence of living people”, said Marileny Choc, q'eqchi radio host of Radio Sayaxché in Petén (Guatemala), who feels more secure since the first time she told her story in a conference in Medellín.

“I felt great when sharing the stories, the worldview, the culture and the struggle of each one of our communities and to present the realities of the indigenous peoples in the Gabo Festival. I also discovered that I am a digital activist because — through my radio station — I work to revitalize the Nasa Yuwe language. Finally, I want to add that each of my classmates stole my heart thanks to their personalities and their companionship”, Luz Dary Cuetia, communicator of the Voces de Nuestra Tierra radio station from Cauca (Colombia).

“I learned to strengthen my conviction in communication, especially by seeing how my colleagues are passionate about indigenous communication from their formats. The Gabo Festival taught me how challenging is developing new research from our communities; the Encounter in Cusco, to empower our spaces; and the Festival in Guatemala, to articulate our native languages with the Internet”, said Yenny Paucar, Aymara radialist of the Wiñay Panqara program in Puno (Peru).

After a round of giving thanks speeches, members of the KANQ Network and DW Akademie said goodbye with hugs and some tears; and they celebrated one last spiritual invocation to ask the wind to protect them on their journey back to their communities. New energies accompany them and more hope to meet again in the future. It's not a goodbye, but a see you later.

Indigenous languages activists, Festival organizers and KANQ Network members had three long days of cultural exchange. (Photo: Uskam Camey)

Productive trip

The entire KANQ Network project was a success. The group managed to produce more than 200 contents for their community media — both in Spanish and in their indigenous languages — in different formats such as chronicle, video, photography, radio spot, live broadcasts, even memes for social media usage.

Magnus Kossman, project manager at DW Akademie in Ecuador, adds other goals achieved. “The KANQ Network was a timely project to form a group of indigenous communicators in the International Year of Indigenous Languages, which achieved active participation and visibility in all three events. Although the intention was not to create a long-term network, fruitful links and working relationships were established that will last over time, which seems very good”, he concludes.


This article was originally published in Spanish in January 2020 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.

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