The North region concentrates around 40% of the entire indigenous population in the country, with Pará being the third state with the highest number of Brazilians so listed, according to a survey by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). For these people, education has been an important way of valuing their culture, identity and preserving knowledge. Since 2009, for example, more than 100 indigenous people have graduated from the Federal University of Pará (UFPA). And in the last ten years, 11 classes completed higher education at the University of the State of Pará (Uepa) - achievements that are opposed to the national social conditions that impose difficulties of protagonism and self-determination to traditional people in Brazil.
Last wednesday (8th), 74 indigenous people from the Munduruku ethnic group joined the 11th class to complete the Indigenous Intercultural Licentiate course, offered through the Uepa Indigenous Training Center. The ceremony was held at the college headquarters of the city of Jacareacanga, on the border with the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso. “Today is a special day for me and for the people who are attending, because it was a battle for a long time. Today I am an example for people in my community, for the chief and for all those who like to see us winning”, says graduating student Marcelo Saw Munduruku.
Hands tied with care for the future is also the respect and appreciation of ancestry. It is the past that is not left behind, and is revived in everyday practices within the villages. During the graduation ceremony, it was no different: a big part of the students complemented their clothing with ornaments that were significant for their culture. “I am dressed today in honor of our ancestors. It is a very important victory, a very big achievement for us and an advance in education in that specific area. It is also an incentive for other peoples to have access to education, because we have the ability to conquer”, emphasizes graduate student Ivair Datie Karikafu. He presented the Uepa rector, Clay Chaves, with a symbolic 'cocar', a Brazilian indigenous headdress.
Pandemic: one more challenge to indigenous education
For undergraduate Elisa Akai Wui Munduruku, the opportunity to celebrate the gradutation was also a moment to remember all those who died during the covid-19 pandemic. “It is a joy to be able to reach the end and see my family, all well, after that period we went through, with the loss of our leaders, unfortunately. But, thank God, my whole family is here, in addition to the people, each one of them anxious, wanting to see us receive our diploma so that we can say we won the battle, one more fight of ours”, he celebrates.
During the graduation speech, the newly graduated teacher Roseane Kabá Munduruku, took the opportunity to propose a minute of silence for her classmate and former councilor of Jacareacanga, Elinaldo Kirixi Munduruku, who died at the age of 50, on the 9th July 2020, victim of covid-19. The graduating class was named Elinaldo in honor of his memory.
Roseane recalls how the pandemic was a very difficult period for students, increasing the challenges during the learning process: “We had online classes, which were not easy. The internet problems were huge for us. Many did not know how to enter virtual rooms. After a few months, we started to figure it out”.
Roseane details that even the use of messaging mobile apps, such as Whatsapp, was a great challenge, due to the difficulty of adapting to the devices. It took a lot of resilience to get to the end, as the class should have graduated in 2020. The pandemic postponed the graduation for two years. “It wasn't easy, but we, Munduruku, are used to battles. We fight, even today, for our territory. We are grateful to the caciques (tribe's chiefs), who fought so hard for the university to come to us. We are also grateful to our parents. After all, our home was the first school and our mother was the first teacher”.
In addition to the pandemic, to graduate required strength to overcome obstacles, until the conclusion of higher education. At the opening of the subscriptions for the course, the candidates per place ratio 400 for 80 chairs. Then, came the need to leave the house and the village, to go to the village where the course is located. “Leaving our family members and adapting to the university routine was very difficult”.
Mastering Brazilian portuguese was also a challenge. “When it came time to explain the college tasks, as many of us did not know how to express ourselves well in Brazilian portuguese”, details Roseane. However, she guarantees: the course allowed “to combine indigenous knowledge with the knowledge of non-indigenous people”, says Roseane, feeling emotional. “There were times when visagens (supernatural apparitions) visited colleagues. Other times we need to carry water, do work with the phone flashlight, and deliver it the next day. We mature more with the labor, in the certainty that our struggles are not in vain”.
Trainees and teachers bet on indigenous protagonism in education
Deconstructing the idea that wisom and production of knowledge are restricted to specific environments and speech places, especially with a eurocentric point of view, is one of the main gains of indigenous education, defends one of the teachers of the Indigenous Intercultural Licentiate course, professor Antônia Zelina Negrao Oliveira. “It has been extremely gratifying to know that the university has also had the opportunity to learn from indigenous peoples, bringing people's knowledge into the academy, combining this knowledge with scientific knowledge. As a university, we only profti from this exchange of knowledge. This gave us more peace of mind to face this decolonization process that we are experiencing”, evaluates Antônia Zelina.
The teacher gets emotional when remembering the difficulties she faced in teaching. Among them, the three-day trip from Belém to the village, in Alto Tapajós. “Our students also had challenges. Some came from four-day trip villages to reach the main village, where the course was held. It is very gratifying to be training 74 indigenous teachers. They have the opportunity to write the school education they want to provide for their children, youth and adults. Not just the Munduruku people, but all the villages in Pará”.
For the course coordinator, professor Aline da Silva Lima, the course is not about earning a higher education degree: it's about being a protagonist, in order to exist and produce knowledge. “The indigenous teacher knows his context and can relate the teaching of the mother tongue with History, the knowledge of his territory, with the teaching of Geography, with the knowledge of hunting and fishing, with Biology. It is an intersection between knowledge. It is the construction of a leading role”.
"Now, I can say that in addition to our traditional teachings, we will also teach about world affairs. This is critical" - Elisa Wuiu, teacher.
The newly graduated Roseane Kabá Munduruku summarizes the importance of indigenous education for the degree: “The indigenous Munduruku teacher must promote an education focused on his people, bilingual, that does not distance himself from the Munduruku language. The course taught us that the great authors of our stories are us, the protagonists to transform our education. The university made us equal and showed that we need to promote an intercultural, unique, specific, interdisciplinary and proper school education for the Munduruku”.
Munduruku teachers are already planning classes in the villages
Munduruku teacher Elisa Wuiu is already preparing to travel to the Escondido village, in the city of Jacareacanga, southwest of Pará. Last Thursday (9), it was her day to separate what will be used during the trip. The diploma received at graduation, last Wednesday (8), will stay in the city, but the knowledge learned during the Indigenous Intercultural Licentiate course will follow the teacher forever. “We will share the education we received with our relatives. I used to teach before. Now, I can say that in addition to our traditional teachings, we will also teach about world affairs. This is critical. Quality education is our right”, points Elisa Wuiu.
In an unprecedented graduation ceremony, last Wednesday, the 73 Munduruku professors bestowed received their diplomas from Governor Helder Barbalho himself, who was next to UEPA's dean, Clay Chagas. “The message to indigenous peoples is to count on the government of Pará. We're at a moment when we have, unfortunately, seen many conflicts with indigenous peoples in Brazil. As far as the government of Pará is concerned, indigenous peoples will always be seen and protected, guaranteeing their rights, the preservation of traditional peoples on Pará soil”, emphasized the governor.
New investments in education will come with specialization
Helder Barbalho also announced more investments for indigenous education in Pará. “In partnership with UEPA, we will bring intercultural graduation and specialization to indigenous peoples next year. So it's not just a Bachelor's degree. We will already take the specialization so that you can learn and qualify more and more. Take advantage of this opportunity”, he announced.
The Indigenous Intercultural Licentiate course is part of Uepa's indigenist policy and is coordinated by the Indigenous Training Nucleus. The Nucleus is an inter-institutional space that guarantees indigenous peoples higher education, research, extension activities and continuing education, according to the needs and realities of these peoples. The course covers the areas of Language and Art, Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Humanities and Social Sciences.