Education for indigenous people has been embedded in socio-environmental and cultural relations. The transfer of knowledge, values and notions, and the construction of the social subject occur in daily spaces through subsistence activities, rituals and ceremonies, mythology and collective nocturnal talks in the mambeadero, amongst others. The challenge of defining an intercultural formal education plan has thus implied engaging several actors (from students, teachers, parents, shamans, men, women, Maloqueros, Maloqueras) in a diversity of spaces (classrooms, Malocas, rituals, the forest, chagras, rivers) and in relation to the ecological calendar in order to construct the social subject according to the indigenous reality and world-view as well as in relation to the interculturality with non-indigenous society.
“(We) The sons of Tobacco and Coca, understand education as much more than schooling. Its roots are in the laws of origin that have been passed from generation to generation. It is thought and defined collectively from the Maloca, the Mambeadero, the Chagra, Rituals, Ceremonies and each and every space of the every-day life. This knowledge is then further expanded and organised in the spaces of formal education (…)”
– “Official statement of the AATI of ACIMA to the Ministry of Education, 2004”
Over the decades, hundreds of indigenous leaders, both men and women, have engaged in a community based processes where by the history, geography, and world view of each ethnic group has been researched. As a result, non formal spaces of education have been generated where the transition of knowledge from one generation to another has been strengthened. This has enabled on the one hand the strengthening of local strategies for environmental conservation and social development based on traditional knowledge. On the other hand, the results of these collective efforts have generated a wealth of knowledge that today is the core of the community school study plans. Furthermore, the leaders that have engaged in these community based processes of research and the construction of the education plans are today the teachers and administrative staff which has been empowered and trained through a learning by doing approach.
Gaia Amazonas has been supporting 14 indigenous local governments in these processes since as early as the 1970s, innovating methodologies and pioneering the development of intercultural education hand in hand with indigenous communities. As a result, 14 educationn programs have been decentralized in the hands of indigenous peoples while the underlying structures of knowledge of public education have been redefined in an intercultural context according to the reality of each ethnic groups involved. Gaia´s support ranges from community empowerment and research processes to capacity building in administrative, pedagogical and political terms and up to the negotiations with the State for the decentralization of education and the establishment of pertinent inter-institutional frameworks.
Today with the support of Gaia, over 100 community schools are being managed by indigenous communities with over 3000 indigenous children belonging to 20 ethnic groups.