“A Journey through Indigenous Communities in El Salvador and Panama”

On September 23,rd 2014, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Permanent Missions of El Salvador and Panama to the UN and Peace Boat US hosted a film screening of a documentary which was created as a collaborative project between Peace Boat US, the non-profit Downtown Community Television (DCTV), and youth from New York City who joined Peace Boat’s 84th Global Voyage as participants of the Music & Art Peace Academy (MAPA). Peace Boat US sponsored the ten-day trip for three teenage youth from the non-profit organizations Global Kids, DCTV and the Brooklyn Community Media and Arts high school to visit El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama. The film aims to raise awareness about issues that local indigenous communities are facing in Central America during the 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Peace Boat’s International Coordinator Emilie McGlone introduced the organization and the background behind the film to attendees, including representatives from El Salvador and Panama, indigenous leaders, and three of the students who participated in the Peace Boat voyage and helped create the documentary.

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The film documented the students’ trip through indigenous communities in Central America this past summer as they traveled with the Peace Boat. The documentary started with the MAPA students’ first stop in El Salvador at a school in the Pilpil community. Here, children from the community participate in a language immersion program to learn Nahuat, the indigenous language, as part of a language revitalization program where Pipil women teach the local language to children. As of now, only about 150 to 200 people still speak this language, and according to UNESCO, Nahuat is a critically endangered indigenous language. Since the project to preserve this language started in 2003, there are now 11 schools participating in the project, and 2,500 preschool children aged three to five who are learning Nahuat.

The documentary followed the MAPA students’ to their next stop, the city of Colon, Panama, where the Embera community, consisting of eight families and 40 people, sustain their culture through eco-tourism. In the documentary, their leader, Atilano Flaco, discussed their goal to improve living conditions for each family member and younger leaders in the community discussed the importance of access to education.

Among the main speakers at the documentary screening was Salvadoran Ambassador H.E. Ruben Zamora, who stated that “in 1932, indigenous people were massacred in my country,” however, “we have been overcoming the invisibility of the indigenous communities in our country.” He explained that the government is working to devise better policies in order to improve the situation for indigenous people in El Salvador. He stated that, “a bonus has been granted to the last Nahuat speakers- trying to encourage them to speak the language in their houses.” He stressed the importance of dialogue between the government of El Salvador and the indigenous people, in order to overcome many obstacles.

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Her Excellency Paulina Franceschi, Ambassador, and Deputy Permanent Representative of Panama to the UN, congratulated Peace Boat for their work on peace and human rights and recognized that, “there are a lot of things to improve” in the lives of Panama’s indigenous peoples, and assured the attendees that, “there is political will and commitment to their well-being and quality of life.” She welcomed two indigenous community leaders at the event who attended the UN Conference to advocate for their communities in Panama and El Salvador.

A representative from the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous community in Panama, who was working along side the Permanent Mission of Panama to the UN during the Conference, began her speech by thanking all of the attendants and stated, “As the highest authority of my community, to express the main concern of my community, I’m here for all of Central America, not just my territory.” She invited those at the event to visit her country and see their culture. She explained that protection of indigenous culture and communities are written “in the constitution, but are violated.” She said, “it is important to express our concern since our lands are violated by transnational corporations. We are living in two different countries: the rich and the poor. The poor don’t have a voice.”

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An indigenous leader from El Salvador who also attended the event said, “I am happy to see the children learning the indigenous language. But I think there is a long way to go to strengthen the culture of my people.” She noted that June 12th, 2014 the national constitution was reformed, and Article 63 now officially recognizes indigenous people and commits to pursuing polices which will improve the situation for indigenous people in El Salvador. She noted that, “this is a very important achievement that we’d been fighting for, for a long time, but we still have a lot of things to do to strengthen the indigenous people in El Salvador.” She also added that “as an indigenous woman, I am happy to be here with my indigenous sister. Some efforts have been done, but we have to go deeper into the rights of the indigenous people. The transnational companies want to use our resources but we don’t want the interest of the empire to be above the national interests of the country.”

The event closed with a short discussion session where attendees expressed their interest in the work of the governments of Panama and El Salvador and the efforts they are currently undertaking to improve the conditions for the indigenous communities in both countries.

 

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