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Traditional Mapuche Educator: “Interculturality is built with respect, tolerance, friendship and solidarity”

"The rescue of the indigenous language helps the boy and girl to recognize their culture, learn a language that belongs to them, which is not borrowed or copied. That is to say, they regain their speech, and also facilitate the coexistence and integration between different cultures, helping children have their own identity".

Traditional Mapuche Educator: “Interculturality is built with respect, tolerance, friendship and solidarity”

Nevenca Beatriz Cerna Cayullan is a traditional Mapuche educator. She defines herself as a diligent woman, hardworking youth of Mapuche origin, student of continuous effort and mother of two children. She was born in the Araucania Region, in the rural zone of the Melipeuco commune and learned the language from her grandfather a lonko (community leader) of the zone.

Since 2010 she lives in Santiago and is employed as traditional wducator of the Mapuche language and culture with the Ministry of Education of Chile’s the PEIB Program, working in several educational institutions in the commune of La Florida. This year she joined efforts with other lamngen (sisters of Mapuche origin), and formed the first Organization of Traditional Educators of the Commune of La Florida, a pedagogical space where ancestral knowledge is refined and supported in its preparation of other lamngenes so that they may be trained as traditional educators in the Metropolitan Region.

What role does intercultural education play in peace building?
To me, education is the fundamental base of a human being, it is through the recognition of our culture that we are able to value and respect the rights of others. Education is a sign of its own values for human social development and it is for this reason that we place emphasis on intercultural respect. Our mission is to implement values such as dignity, tolerance, solidarity, respect. We are diverse in culture, but similar in essence.

What does your work as traditional educator involve?
It involves imparting knowledge to boys and girls on the culture, language and customs of our Mapuche people.

I understand that traditional educators are only present at schools with a percentage of its students from the indigenous population. Do you believe that is enough?
Today, in order for a sector of the indigenous language to exist as part of the official program of the institution and of Chilean education, it needs a certain percentage of Mapuche children. That has not yet happened on a large scale and therefore, up until now, it works with workshops on the culture of the Indigenous Peoples and for this we depend on the willingness of the Principal of the school. In my case, I give workshops on the time table of the relevant topic subsectors, and they are related to the class that they are doing. Classes are for all children, Mapuche or non Mapuche, that is bilingualism to me.

Nevertheless, I believe that the percentage that the Ministry requests for there to be a separate segment or subject area for indigenous language is way too high, as my experience has taught me that in schools there are many children of indigenous descent but they are fourth generation; then they have no idea of who belong to a people, all for not having an visible indigenous surname.

How can we continue advancing in a project such as this?
To advance on this long road is a responsibility of the Chilean State with all the organizations that look after the rights of boys and girls, paying attention to an appropriate school and social integration of the students, parents, representatives and indigenous communities, promoting interchanges among culturally diverse persons and groups regardless of their origin and provenance.

How is Interculturality made?
Interculturality is built with respect, tolerance, friendship and solidarity. If those minimum requirements are not met, then we cannot talk about interculturality, since we have to learn that we are different but at the same time we are alike as persons and as citizens. Therefore, Intercultural Bilingual Education for me is a process of communication and egalitarian interaction between two different cultures, where none is above the other.

What contribution does the rescue of the language make in the training of boys and girls?
The rescue of the indigenous language helps the boy and girl to recognize their culture, learn a language that belongs to them, which is not borrowed or copied. That is to say, they regain their speech, and also facilitate the coexistence and integration between different cultures, helping children have their own identity.

What does your methodology for teaching children to learn or regain their language consist of?
The process of teaching a second language to a boy or girl must be done with stimulation and motivation, with didactics appropriate for biosocial development of the child whose interests may be related with songs, drawings, story, forms of recycling, educational visits to relevant places, such as Ruka, guillatuwe, palihue, among others; boys and girls learn quickly and easily when they are motivated.

What are the first words that you teach them and why?
As a Mapuche female speaker of Mapudungun and in charge of transmitting knowledge to the smallest children, I start with the greeting. The way to greet the family member as fundamental pillar of a child: parents, maternal and paternal grandparents and communities; it is also taught through songs on greetings (ul) and small Epew (stories).

Each language reflects lifestyle and narrate the world what would you say are the peculiarities of Mapudungun?
Mapudungun means language of the earth, of the territory. This meaning for me is very important since it indicates that it is our language, it is the knowledge of our mapu; that is why I feel proud to be Mapuche williche, I say williche since the Mapuche resident here in the city are not able to go out on the street dressed in typical costume. Especially with the men that say they are lonko or Mapuche leader but use a bag strung to their shoulder inside of which they carry their blanket and a trarilonco, and only put on their suit upon entering the ceremony. That for me is not having an acceptance of one’s identity.

On the other hand women, in general, we are aware of our identity, developed belonging and nothing will change our minds.


International Mother Language Day is commemorated on 21 February, what do you believe would be a good way to commemorate this day?
I propose uniting different indigenous ethnicities from our Meli witran mapu (the four corners of the earth) through the media, such as television programs, radio programs, advertising posters, community projects displaying different activities carried out in schools in the commune. In this way, we would recover the value of Interculturality in our country and would increase awareness of our language to persons who are ignorant on the topic.

  • 19-02-2013