Revista Yachaikuna
Working Papers
Boletin ICCI Rimai
A monthly publication of the Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Year 2, No. 19, October 2000 (Special Issue)

General Edition: Pablo Davalos
Editorial Direction: Luis Macas
Design: Rocamadour
Electronic Edition: Marc Becker


También disponible en español.

How was the Intercultural University created?

Luis Macas

The Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE) was founded in 1986 following a process of reflection begun in the early 1980s by the indigenous peoples and nationalities who sought unity and to have a single representation and voice at national level.

The discussions revolved around issues such as nationality, the historical continuity of the indigenous peoples, territorial rights – a whole series of fundamental concepts. While for some sociologists and economists the 1980s was a “lost” decade for us it was a “decade won” because this was the time the Indigenous movement came into being after much effort and struggle.

CONAIE’s first steps were mostly concerned over specific demands and locally-based issues. For example in 1988 and 1989 there was a struggle for a different system of education to the established one. As time went on, as we advanced towards uniting the different indigenous peoples the proposals began changing, which led to the first national indigenous ‘Inti Raimi’ (Sun Festival) uprising in June 1990.

One of the things the Indigenous movement achieved was recognition of the fact that Ecuador was not only inhabited by whites and mestizos but also by us, the Indigenous peoples who up until than had not been considered to exist or count. The Inti Raimi uprising changed the whole social correlation that had existed in country up until that time; recognition of the identity of different social groups was promoted, especially that of indigenous and black peoples.

Indigenous peoples continued our struggle so that by 1994 we were influencing legislation. For example, we proposed the restructuring of land tenure in Ecuador, we drafted proposals on the use of natural resources such as water that the government at the time wanted to privatize.

In 1995 the Indigenous movement decided to enter into the political arena and founded the Movimiento Pachakutik. Our aim went beyond capturing the odd municipality or provincial or national authority. Pachakutik was born as a proposal for change, for restructuring the State. The indigenous sphere was broadened to include other social sectors and we called on different social sectors, politicians, etc. to join us. There aren’t just indigenous people in Pachakutik, there are workers and trades unionists, professional associations, lawyers, doctors; as well as non-governmental organizations, ecologists, an indigenous and non-indigenous women’s organization. Everyone participates.

In 1996 when five Pachakutik compañeros and compañeras were elected to the National Congress as well as a number of provincial mayors and councilors, we became aware that we lacked a fundamental component: technicians and scientists. At first we thought of establishing a series of training schools for young people, leaders and other compañeros and compañeras, but of these early initiatives did not have the required bases to ensure political and technical education.

In the National Congress the Pachakutik deputies thought of creating a university, which has been an old dream of CONAIE’s since 1989 when the Bilingual Intercultural Education system was first established. This proposal contained the first ideas for an indigenous, alternative university and in 1998 we presented a bill to Congress. As we did not get political support for it we presented the idea to our and other organizations who proposed another strategy to achieve our aim.

It has cost us a lot of time and the effort by a team of indigenous and non-indigenous people who worked consistently to establish the university on the principle of interculturalism. We always thought of a university that would be different from the others, supported by the ILO’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal peoples and with the help of foreign universities.

We consulted with our people’s organizations and communities to define the areas of study which led us to decide on pedagogy, agroecological technology and indigenous rights.

People mentioned the need to study indigenous rights because the present system of justice, descended from the conquistadores, doesn’t function and only maintains a system of impunity and corruption for the powerful. We want to re-establish elements and values of the justice our ancestors practiced, which should be recognized and should not simply be treated as ‘common law’.

As regards pedagogy, there is an urgent need to train a new generation of indigenous professionals in view of the fact that there are some 2,800 schools being run by indigenous men and women in the Bilingual Intercultural Education program. We have to develop a different type of school in which the community participates actively, a form of pedagogy our ancestors used to practice. The central focus of any social process must be based on our traditional ayllus (family and community-based networks or domains) as they are known in the Andes of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Agroecology is also important to ensure that our Andean and Amazon regions stop being a garbage dump and market for agricultural chemicals are practically swamping and poisoning our land. In most cases agrochemical aren’t even necessary, although our people continue being told that they need them. We have to revitalize what is ours, in the way our parents used to cultivate the earth’s produce, such as tubers. (We should think of how many species of potatoes there used to be here in the Andes, ancestral knowledge which is now being lost due to genetic engineering and agro-industrial interests.)

As regards the form of the university, it’s not that we are proposing an enormous building for people to come here to Quito, Guayaquil or Cuenca. A study revealed that just 0.05% of the country’s university students are indigenous people. The figure is insignificant although it does show the efforts that our people make to come and study in cities. However, many of them of them remain in the cities once they’ve finished their studies and don’t go back to the communities. On the contrary, our motto and our practice will be to establish a university directed towards the countryside and not the community to the university. We are going to work with an open university system, above all a distance-learning university. We’re going to hold workshops with the support of people from here and abroad.

The knowledge that humanity has evolved to this day does not belong to anyone. It’s humanity’s heritage and I believe that indigenous peoples have the absolute right to make use of what humanity has done and learned up to the present. Our elders did it, it’s not new. New, useful elements we have developed in more recent times have been incorporated alongside those that our foreparents developed before us.

The Intercultural University of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples is coordinating a number of initiatives in Bolivia and Peru where the Tinku network is working, supported by Danish, Finnish and Swedish universities. We have held a number of workshops on creating the university as well as on ways of coordinating these initiatives, especially in regard to the great Quechua-Kichwa people who live in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. A resolution was taken in Cuzco, Peru, in October last year to establish a scientific and academic establishment, such as a university, in response to the need of the Quechua people within the perspective of building a great Quechua Confederation throughout all these countries.

Another difference of our proposal is that we do not have libraries of our knowledge and values and so assignments are mostly research-based. At present universities appear to be dead, they’re lifeless, science isn’t being supported as it should. Science has to be put at the service of humanity, at the service of concrete, real processes. We are going to carry this process forward with great rigor because we want people to have faith in this university. We are not going to accept poor quality as many other universities do because ours is a result of social pressure and need for justice, for livelihood, production, based on the desire to recover and develop what is ours and protect and care for Mother Nature.

Reflections on colonization and university education in Ecuador

Luis Macas and Alfredo Lozano


The university system in Ecuador and that of the Andean countries as a whole is undergoing a dramatic debate over a colonial heritage that blocks “learning to be oneself” starting from the basis of our historical and cultural history.

As is well known, the process began in the 16th century when western Europe pretentiously universalized its ‘civilizing’ project and ‘Truth’ became the sole property of the extirpators of idols and inquisitors of faith and knowledge, prophets and holy saints. Firstly, missionaries were called on to teach the infallibility of their dogmas and the infinite rewards that waited for true believers. The following centuries, following the struggle between faith and reason, the missionaries of scientific reason arrived who, with brilliant reasoning, tried to explain a very different reality to that of those they taught.

Universities in the colonial period were above all else a source of foreign knowledge and because of this their role was artificial, with no relation to indigenous people’s world, whose existence these universities ignored and denied. Clearly, during this period the universities’ impact on indigenous people’s own reality was alienating while also being useful to the colonial administration and local elites.

It was a period when the Spanish crown and other European colonial powers had assumed a civilizing mission on behalf of the “wretched” indigenous peoples who were evicted, above all else, from their own philosophical beliefs (religious, knowledge, works and technologies) in the same way that they were robbed of their riches and their labor exploited – a process, it should be noted, that has continued over the 500 years up to this day.

Colonial theory concerning the identity of the colonized peoples provided its own answers: identity had to conform to the colonizers’ culture, religion, language and even their customs – a process of destruction and assimilation very far removed from recognizing peoples’ identities. ‘De-indigenized’ indigenous people had to renounce being who they were and adopt the model imposed on them, giving up their own, original responses to the challenges of their own nature and environment and assume responses developed for other conditions in another part of the world. (Tinajero, Fernando, 1986).

During these centuries of colonialism the only cultural activity allowed the subjected peoples was that which distanced them from their own history and emptied them of all coherent thought, making them incapable of reacting further than the mechanical training they suffered as a way of making them passive and obedient. Those who were responsible for drawing-up colonial policies were well aware of the danger of native people’s cultural identity with their own civilization and the social consciousness which this entailed; hence the zeal for religious Catholic education and the prohibition of cultural expressions that encouraged peoples’ common, shared feelings.

The emergence of the republican states in the early 19th century came about in countries divided into ethnic groups with more internal contradictions than political unity unable to overcome conflicts for economic control which have continued to this day. The economic interests of the Creole groups who had inherited power from the Spanish colony influenced national strategies who often turned into forces of intervention and destruction against national liberation movements. Political national unity has not always been based on economic or social unity – and never on cultural unity.

In Ecuador, after these 500 years, tired of having been relegated to mere spectators in the nation’s affairs and of having been condemned to being marginalised by the dominant creole sectors that demanded indigenous people renounce their cultural heritage and replace it with the European cultural paradigm, Indigenous peoples are throwing off the colonial yoke and challenging the neo-colonial onslaught. Indigenous peoples’ need for cultural identity with their traditions and history assumes ever greater importance. It is in this context that a proposal to establish the Universidad Intercultural de las Nacionalidades Indígenas (UINPI, Intercultural University of Indigenous Nationalities) as an instrument to enable recover and revalue their knowledge and other contributions that have provided coherence and personality to Andean peoples for thousands of years and to incorporate these as the principal basis of indigenous-american cultural identity.

The Indigenous movement’s political development and the need for an intercultural university

During the 1990s the Indigenous movement erupted on the Ecuadorian political scene with the aim of achieving active participation in the decisions that affect Indigenous peoples’ lives, which over the past centuries of Spanish and European colonization had been denied us.

Over the past few years we have been fighting to draft a new political charter that includes our legitimate rights and recognizes the ethnic diversity of Indigenous nationalities and cultures that exist within the Ecuadorian State, as the basis to build a new, non-exclusive country where all Ecuadorians have the same rights.

The crisis of the existing official educational system has shown the need for change and to draft proposals that will contribute towards a new form of education. A study on the country’s educational system (MEC, 1990) highlighted the crisis in the system, especially in higher education due to lack of teacher training, Hispanic cultural homogeneity and a host of other problems related to the country’s social and economic development that has led to the poor quality of education.

Training for professionals suffers from a lack of an integral, holistic form of education, which up until now has focused narrowly on specific training for skills related directly to their profession (engineering, architecture, medicine, etc.) that usually do not take the country’s wider social, economic and cultural reality into account and so limit the development of appropriate responses to people’s needs.

Re-thinking education means enriching the cultural dimension without marginalising or excluding any social group, respecting idiosyncrasies and value systems that influence people’s attitudes and behavior that form the basis for stimulating cultural development. It also means encouraging individuals’ intellectual potential, sensitizing them through the educational process, recognizing their capacities and limitations, providing them with skills, abilities, attitudes and information to enable them to achieve their potential as people, capable of progressing on the basis of becoming aware of their own values and reality.

These reasons – especially the question of the dysfunction between education and cultural diversity – led the Indigenous movement to establish the Bilingual Intercultural Education system which now includes some 82,000 school students, many of whom will go onto higher education studies. From this need indigenous peoples are now developing the Integral the Bilingual Intercultural Education System (SIEBI) that includes pre-primary (nursery) schooling (Huahua Huasi) through to higher education (Yachac Huasi).

The Integral the Bilingual Intercultural Education System

The proposal for higher education (Yachac Huasi) within the Integral the Bilingual Intercultural Education System will be based on research and mutual learning (that is, learning and exchange among teachers and students) that can be informal (not having to conform to the academic regulations of full-time studies) and itinerant to enable rural community-based students to participate and contribute to the recovery of our peoples’ and communities’ ancestral knowledge. The aim is to train new professionals in areas such as indigenous (traditional) medicine, agro-ecology, biodiversity, linguistics and philology, territorial and human settlement planning, local sustainable development, indigenous worldview and philosophy, among other subjects.

We believe that our own knowledge is the basis of awareness of and interaction with reality and it is in this field that the issue of cultural identity plays a major role. Cultural identity arises when social consciousness reaches a determined level of development that lays the basis for and leads to people investigating their own cultural and historical memory (and those of others) with the aim of finding fundamental nexuses with today’s society and thus establish new social relations that allow personal and collective cultural development.

Strategic aims of multi- and inter-cultural education

The experience gained through the Intercultural Bilingual Education system and existing technical needs in research and development projects drafted by our organizations has highlighted a lack of people specialized in indigenous knowledge. This is the reason that studies carried out by indigenous NGOs have recommended that agreements be made with national higher education establishments according to indigenous people’s needs.

As a first step, it is necessary to identify general aims for implementing the higher education component of the Intercultural Bilingual Education system in order to define the Intercultural University’s specific objectives as well as the system itself.

The Intercultural Bilingual Education system (SIEBI) has the following objectives:

1. To recover knowledge’s integral relationship between practice and theory, which is an intrinsic part of the indigenous worldview. The two should not be separated there should be a permanent feedback between them, always focused and based on social reality.

2. Enable intercultural access to other non-indigenous sectors of society. That is, propose a reading of the world from the basis of intercultural dialogue as a diverse and valid point of view for all of humanity.

3. Gather together all the different realities of Ecuador’s peoples who are involved in the educational system. It is possible to propose indigenous peoples’ knowledge as an alternative to an exclusive system that lacks equality and is responsible for the destruction of society and the planet itself. SIEBI’s proposal will enable knowledge and scientific projects to be generated by our peoples through combining their different knowledge and working towards developing forms of knowledge that are more humane.

4. Participation by everyone, as practiced in communities, in the educational process. This is one of the SIEBI proposal’s main principles. The daily democratic practice of our communities will be a constant element in all areas of the education system.

The systems specific aims that are part of higher education and the Intercultural University are:

1. To offer the whole of society an alternative to the limited and formalistic schooling of existing educational establishments, which repeatedly offer basic skills to their to their students without taking into account people’s cultural differences and needs or the possibility of new knowledge.

2. Become the final academic stage of the SIEBI, which will permanently develop our peoples’ knowledge, starting with mutual learning from the grassroots and communities.

3. To convert the University into one that covers the whole range of indigenous peoples’ knowledge along with western knowledge to enable the potential of our civilizing heritage to be realized.

4. To provide a higher educational, graduate, non-conventional and itinerant system that contributes to multi- and intercultural bilingual education, following on from the existing bilingual preprimary, basic and secondary levels. Access to open to indigenous and non-indigenous people and those with different levels of education, taking into consideration that, in the present exclusive system, education has been biased against indigenous people

5. Provide quality education for students that is directly related to indigenous people’s needs, based on and carrying out their alternative proposals and responding to the country’s needs in general.

The aim of creating an alternative education

SIEBI’s aim, as well as that of the Intercultural University (UINPI), is to establish an area where debate and analysis can be carried out on the basis of indigenous peoples’ different areas of thought. These theoretical formulations will allow us to understand the world from a perspective of harmonious development, the human-nature relationship or “sustainable development” as termed by western society. The aims are:

1. To recover the integral and interdisciplinary vision that informs indigenous peoples’ ethnic and cultural diversity.

2. To recover orally-based indigenous knowledge that has survived and been maintained in indigenous people’s daily life. This knowledge does not always coincide with the western levels of professionalization.

3. To educate new professionals who are committed to putting indigenous knowledge into practice, as well as knowing how to use local resources as a way of generating new sustainable economic development and jobs.


The proposal for establishing the Intercultural University is the result of the Bilingual Intercultural Education process which emerged from indigenous peoples’ political, organizational and strategic work and the permanent process of recovering their cultural heritage and historic memory.

As well as strengthening the proposed SIEBI, this new process also requires establishing this university where theoretical reflection, academic debate and scientific research is carried out on the premises of multi- and inter-culturalism vis-a-vis existing forms of thought.

The task of creating a university that is responsive to our country’s cultural diversity is a felt need. For this purpose it’s necessary to start from new concepts based on suppositions of cultural identity, a subject that is increasingly being recognized and debated in the world today and which serves as a philosophical basis for indigenous peoples who are trying to break out of a form of intellectual neocolonialism. In this context, in those countries that have been subjected to the yoke of European culture, the task of decolonizing the existing educational system that still operates in universities is an urgent historical task that cannot wait.

The new university should encourage debate and self-criticism between modernism and different forms of otherness, that is between people’s cultural heritage and new contributions that lead to social transformation. Also, dialogue between individual creators of cultural goods and the people should be encouraged, that is between subject and object in the process of identification. In this way the quality and levels of research should be improved and increased as a means for critically transforming and regenerating society and historical reality. It is also evident that there is a need to dismantle the dogmatic claims of western scientific absolutism and their corresponding cultural framework. Given the critical conditions in which more than three quarters of humanity is currently living, it is vital to change our way of thinking in order to rescue our cultural creativity and make a contribution to the world’s peoples.

That’s the challenge of Ecuador’s Intercultural University of Indigenous Nationalities in this new millenium!

Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)

Address: Buenos Aires 1028 y Estados Unidos
Quito, Ecuador

P.O. Box: 17-15-50B
Tel/Fax 593-2-2229-093
E-mail: icci@waccom.net.ec

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