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Colombia Chairs the Indigenous Languages Institute


Colombia Indigenous Languages
Colombia will chair the Ibero-American Institute of Indigenous Languages with the aim of disseminating this cultural heritage – Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Colombia presides pro tempore over the Ibero-American Institute of Indigenous Languages. The Vice Minister of Heritage, Memory and Cultural Governance, Adriana Molano, received the presidency through a symbolic act in which she was handed the baton, which represents the presidency of the Institute.

With this mandate, Colombia will seek to continue building actions to strengthen, preserve and vindicate native languages based on the knowledge and wisdom of Latin American indigenous peoples. In addition, the country will seek to obtain strategic and cooperating actors to promote the implementation of strategies within the framework of the linguistic and cultural policies of indigenous peoples.

The Ibero-American Institute of Indigenous Languages (IIALI) was created in 2021, integrated by Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and this year for the first time Chile and Brazil attended the official council. The IIALI fosters dialogue between indigenous peoples of different nations and strengthens cooperation and mutual understanding.

Colombia’s commitment to indigenous languages

Colombia received the baton of leadership from the Bolivian representatives, the country that has held the presidency of the Institute until now. Elmer Catarina Mamani, vice minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia and outgoing president, acknowledged the work carried out by the Institution and the trust placed in Colombia in assuming this presidency, and welcomed Brazil to the Institution.

“We have played a fundamental role in the beginning of this Institution and we have managed to position ourselves at the international level. It is with deep respect and admiration that we welcome Colombia to assume this great historic responsibility. We trust that under its leadership the institution will continue to prosper”, said the Bolivian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.

For her part, Adriana Molano, representative of Colombia, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to protect and disseminate the continent’s indigenous languages. “I thank you with honor, dignity, respect, admiration and humility for the baton. I commit myself with President Gustavo Petro, with the Minister of Cultures, Juan David Correo, with the 115 original indigenous peoples and with all the languages, to honor this struggle,” said Vice Minister Molano.

The Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Knowledge will work under three major themes: the role of women in safeguarding indigenous or mother tongues, the importance of languages in the care of biodiversity and their relationship with nature, and intergenerational transmission.

Abadio Green Stocel, first indigenous Colombian with a doctorate degree

The handover event began with the harmonization by Pacha K’anchay, an indigenous Yanacona who, together with Abadio Green Stocel, called on governments to “listen to the indigenous peoples” and supported this appointment.

“Count on us, Vice Minister Adriana, on the land and the grandfathers and grandmothers of our peoples”, pointed out Abadio, who was the first Colombian indigenous person to achieve a doctorate, in 2016.

Abadio is a theologian, philosopher and master in Ethnolinguistics, who was born on an island on the Colombian-Panamanian border and in December 2022 was appointed advisor to the Ministry of Education for ethnic affairs. At his appointment almost a year and a half ago, the Colombian Minister of Culture at the time, Alejandro Gaviria, said that “the presence of Abadio as advisor sends a message that clearly shows a willingness to transform the educational system of the peoples, to transmit a wisdom that enriches”.

Colombia Indigenous Languages
Abadio Green appointed advisor to the Colombian Ministry of Culture in 2022 – Credit: Ministy of Education

Protecting cultural heritage

Forty percent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken in the world are in danger of disappearing, therefore, this international platform is a call to the states of the region regarding the precarious situation of the languages and the implementation of actions to strengthen them. The death of languages would imply a loss of humanity’s heritage.

“We will work on international relations, to make Latin America and the Caribbean understand that as a region we have a lot to show the world, that we have a voice and that voice is the multiplicity of languages, which are at risk and endangered”, said Adriana Molano.

Elizabeth Taylor, Vice Minister of Multilateral Affairs, highlighted in her speech Colombia’s commitment to indigenous peoples and the preservation of their languages. “Through progressive foreign policy, the languages of indigenous peoples are an invaluable means of preserving knowledge systems”, she said.

Ten-year plan for indigenous languages

Colombia has made progress in the concerted construction and implementation of the Ten-Year National Plan for Native Languages. At the political level, it is a milestone for the Ibero-American region, since this program develops lines of action such as sociolinguistic self-diagnosis, the strengthening of native languages from the perspective of indigenous and intercultural education, attention to indigenous languages in urban contexts, extinct languages, border and international languages, and languages of indigenous peoples in initial contact, among others.

The policy is developed within the framework of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), a UNESCO initiative that seeks to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages globally, recognizing the current critical situation in this area and the need to generate spaces for reflection and exchange on good conservation practices.

Colombia today has 65 indigenous American languages, present in 30 departments; the Creole languages of San Basilio de Palenque in Bolivar, and of San Andres and Providencia; and Romani, a language of the Gypsy people of Indo-European origin, introduced by more recent migrants and spoken by some 6,000 people. According to figures from the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), these languages are used by 400,000 speakers.

Colombia Indigenous Languages
Colombia has 64 indigenous languages in 30 of the country’s 32 departments – Credit: Diego F. Gomez / CC BY-SA 4.0

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