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Day of the American Indigenous vs. Earth Day in Costa Rica: Which Matters Most?

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Source: Enamorate de tu Ciudad

The Day of the American Indigenous was celebrated earlier this week in Costa Rica, and the Ministry of Culture planned a series of activities this past Saturday in San Jose to commemorate the occasion. The cultural events took place at the Morazan, La Merced and Espana parks; they were organized by Enamorate de tu Ciudad (Fall in Love with Your City) and Banco Popular.

The events included indigenous cultural expressions such as dance, music, language, and theater.

Aside from the cultural events and a note by alert journalist Daniela Araya in the online news daily Costa Rica Hoy, the Day of the American Indigenous was mostly a demure affair, although the Federation of Indigenous Students in Costa Rica made the following call:

“It has been over five centuries, but the voice of our ancestors does not wish to be silent, it does not tire, it becomes hoarse and yet it continues to decry discrimination and subjugation.”

The call from the Federation was very likely in reference to the rise of the Terraba people against what they considered a violation of their cultural and ethnic heritage by the Ministry of Education (MEP in Spanish). Earlier this year, the Terraba occupied a public high school in an indigenous region of Costa Rica to protest against MEP’s practice of hiring non-indigenous academic staff in indigenous regions. That situation became tense as non-indigenous members of the community got physical with the Terrabas, and Fuerza Publica intervened to prevent bloodshed.

Another ongoing example of indigenous resistance and struggle for autonomy in Costa Rica involves the construction of a hydroelectric project in the Diquis region, close to the archaeological sites of the stone spheres.

There was a fair amount of attention by the international press in our country with regard to Earth Day. Spanish agency EFE published photos of giant Leatherback sea turtles being escorted out to sea after they nested in Limon, and other publications highlighted the fact that our reforestation efforts are paying off. Nothing much reported about our indigenous, though.

In other Latin American nations, however, the Day of the American Indigenous was welcomed with protests and demonstrations by the Chamacocos in Paraguay, a country where 90 percent of the population speaks Guarani, according to a report by the New York Times. Spanish shares equal footing with Guarani in Paraguay by virtue of her Constitution -even as only 5 percent of her people are indigenous.

In Brazil, the Kayapo people of the Amazon are entrenched as they fight off non-indigenous squatters, cattle ranchers, gunmen, and even government engineers who want to build one of the largest hydroelectrical projects in the world right on their land.

There are eight indigenous groups in Costa Rica, and although they only represent a very small percentage of the population, they want their native voices heard and respected. The spiritual connection that our indigenous people have with the land makes Earth Day as important as the day in which their own heritage is celebrated.

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