Master’s thesis: Education and Indigenous Territorial Struggles : A study on the Sapara people’s experiences with the education system in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Text and photos: Riikka Kaukonen Lindholm

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Riikka Kaukonen Lindholm wrote her master’s thesis about the territorial and educational struggles experienced by the Sapara people as the part of the research project Goal 4+: Including Eco-cultural Pluralism in Quality Education in Ecuadorian Amazonia. She  is a doctoral researcher in global development studies in the University of Helsinki. Her PhD research deals with indigenous ecocultural knowledge and alternatives to extractivism in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This blog post introduces the topic and central arguments of the master’s thesis.

The focus of the thesis is on the education of indigenous peoples, especially on how education can facilitate territorial self-determination and political emancipation for them. Indigenous movements world-wide and in Ecuador have focused on creating education respectful of and relevant to indigenous cultural background and knowledge. The thesis explores further the interconnectedness of education and indigenous territorial politics, as they have been together in the forefront of the indigenous movement in Ecuador, and they link the epistemological struggle of recognising Indigenous knowledges to environmental issues prevalent in the country dependent on extractivism. As indigenous peoples often inhabit environmentally vulnerable regions, the thesis examines how for the indigenous groups of Ecuadorian Amazon the relationship between education and territory can aim to be mutually beneficial, encouraging both preservation of the diverse cultures and environment in the biocultural landscapes.

The Conambo river, Llanchamacocha

The research was conducted as an ethnographical case study on the province of Pastaza, situated in the Ecuadorian Amazon with a special focus on the indigenous group known as Sapara, who are the smallest of 14 indigenous nationalities recognised under the plurinational state of Ecuador. The data of the study consisted of 27 semi-structured interviews and participant observation recorded in the field diary, accompanied by historical analysis of intercultural bilingual education in Ecuador.

The thesis illustrates the place-making practices and histories of indigenous peoples, acknowledged under the term Indigenous knowledge, as they form a foundation for territorial politics. Possibility for epistemological diversity in the education system is understood through principle of interculturality, as articulated by the indigenous movement itself as a radical project of recognising lived heritage of cultural and historical differences in dialogue between various segments of society. The topic is examined through the concept of territory, which emphasises a question of governance in plurinational Ecuador, where indigenous nationalities struggle to exercise control over their respective territories. Territory is formed of competing political projects that aim to define and redefine its meaning, which also opens up a definition of territory to scrutinise what type of power actually operates in these political projects and rejects assumptions of simple top-down governance as the only possible territorial form. This theoretical framework facilitates the analysis of education as a part of territorial strategies.

La choza, Jandia Yacu

The main argument of the thesis is that education constructs a significant part of reinforcing political emancipation and territorial self-determination of indigenous peoples. Based on historical and ethnographical analysis, the thesis illustrates how education functions as a privileged arena of cultural struggle to achieve epistemological diversity that includes Indigenous knowledges alongside with Western science. Simultaneously, education, which is perceived pivotal for living well, acts as a societal force that can transform material foundations of life, since indigenous peoples modify their residential patterns in order to access education. As indigenous territories remain only partly autonomous, since the nation-state retains control over subsoil resources, land continues to be an arena of competing political interests. This accentuates the importance of planning education practices to facilitate living inside the whole territory, since inhabiting space asserts the claims of indigenous groups effectively, allowing them to practice a strategy of dispersal.

Master’s thesis available: https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/307795

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