The Bolivian president celebrated International World’s Indigenous People’s Day in the Andean nation where 62 percent self-identify as Indigenous.
Commemorating the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Bolivian President Evo Morales Tuesday praised Bolivia’s Indigenous people for resisting invasions and for their role in “democratic revolutions.”
“Indigenous peoples have resisted invasions, we submitted to empires and now we have democratic revolutions defending Mother Earth,” Morales wrote on his official Twitter account. “We appreciate the historic struggle of the Indigenous community in Bolivia for its emancipation and living in harmony with Mother Earth.’’
Morales is of Aymaran descent and is the Andean country’s first Indigenous leader. Since his election in 2006 he has promoted policies to advance the rights of the Indigenous movement.
Of Bolivia’s population of 10.6 million people, 62 percent identify themselves as belonging to an Indigenous community, making it the Latin American country with the largest proportion of native people.
The lives of many young Indigenous Bolivians have been radically different from those of their parents and grandparents. Blanca Jimena Apaza is one of the country’s tens of thousands of young people to have never experienced discrimination. “My parents and grandparents tell me I am lucky,” Blanca told teleSUR as she was taking part in an ancient ritual honoring mother earth in the sacred mountains of La Cumbre near La Paz.
“My parents couldn’t speak their native language Aymaran on public transport in La Paz because they felt bad.” Blanca says her parents were told to speak Spanish instead. “Aymaran was considered a peasant language and that’s why I was never taught how to speak it,” says Blanca.
Bolivia’s constitution recognizes 36 different Indigenous groups including Aymara, Quechua, Bésiro, Cavineño, Maropa, and Weenhayek. The rights for these native groups have greatly improved in the past decade.
“Along came President Morales who’s been a champion for all that we love,” says Rafael Sirpa Sanchez, a teacher from La Paz. Rafael holds dear the traditions of his Quechuan culture and credits Evo Morales with “advancing our rights, our beliefs and telling the world about our beliefs and identity.”
When Evo Morales took office, one of his major early policies was to strengthen land rights for Bolivia’s peasant farmers. The administration was determined to identify who had a legal right to every acre of land in Bolivia. Its mission was to hand the landless ownership of unused land and distribute up to 20 million hectares among the poor.
On World Indigenous Peoples’ Day the first analysis of an online global map of land ownership shows the United States and Australia score behind Latin America and African nations when it comes to laws protecting Indigenous land rights.
Out of 113 countries on the database, the Washington-based World Resources Institute found Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela in Latin America and Burkina Faso, Tanzania, South Sudan and Uganda in Africa ranked the highest for protecting Indigenous land rights.
Bolivia’s head of state added, “We commend the struggles of our Indigenous people for liberation, dignity and equality of the human condition.”