Pueblos indigenas

Walking in the shoes of 42 million indigenous Latin Americans


To experience what life is like for Antonia, imagine that you actually are Antonia. You were born in a rural area of ​​Silvia, a small town about an hour from the city of Popayan. You are part of the Misak ethnic group. The name of your people means "children of the word, of the water and of the dreams," in your traditional language. You are one of 42 million indigenous people in Latin America, 8% of the region’s total population. 

Since childhood, you have recognized that being a Misak is an essential part of your identity--a source of pride, even when you’ve been denigrated for it. It has not been long since your community recovered their ancestral lands from settlers and, at the school you attended, you repeatedly heard classmates call you “land grabber” or “Indian thief.”

At first, interacting with people outside of your community was hard. Some made fun of you for your broken Spanish. But you learned to deal with situations like that by being respectful to others. Your grandmother taught you to treat all people equally. Over time, your Spanish improved and you worked hard to position yourself as a community leader. 

One of your biggest dreams was to obtain a university degree. It was a pleasant surprise when you got accepted to study communications in Bogota. To decide whether to accept the offer, you sought advice from your family and community. You have a seven year old son and going to study outside your community would mean leaving him behind so he could continue being raised in Misak lands.

On Misak lands: Where is Popayan?


But your community has concerns about your plans. It has always been clear to you that, among the Misak, it is important to learn from the experience and worldview of elders. The Misak also prioritizes the communal development of leadership skills over a formal classroom education. Some in the community don’t want you to go to Bogota because they have seen that those who leave seem to lose both their language and their identity.

What would you do? Decide on Antonia's shoes through our EOZ platform.

And those community members would not be wrong. Educational attainment has an inverse relationship with the retention of the indigenous language. Despite the widespread dissemination of laws and regulations that protect indigenous languages ​​and cultures, less than 32% of indigenous people continue to speak their native language at the end of their primary education, while only 5.3% do so at the end of secondary education, and less than 2% after they’ve earned a university degree.


Idioma Indígena



You know the decision is difficult, but you choose to pursue your education. At first, the experience feels totally foreign. You find it difficult to use public transportation, you dislike the feeling of pollution in your lungs and you perceive a certain degree of hostility from people. But you are not alone. You move to Casa Misak, a space founded by other community members living in Bogota. 

Although traditional territories are a source of continuity, identity and self-determination of indigenous people, 49% of indigenous people have migrated to urban areas. For your people, having a community space in Bogota is a way to stay connected with their ancestral lands because, as your elders used to say, "the indigenous without land are nothing."

When you talk to the other members of your community in Bogota, they tell you how hard it is to get a good job. In cities, most indigenous people work in poorly paid, low-skilled jobs. In countries with high concentrations of indigenous people in urban areas such as Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico, the percentage of indigenous people in stable, high-skilled jobs is between two and three times less than it is for non-indigenous workers. 


Trabajo indigena



Your experience in college is not easy either. The classes use a higher level of Spanish than what you are used to and your daily phone conversations with your child usually end in tears. You miss your family and community, and the open fields. You also miss the relative tranquiitly of life without such a stressful schedule. In the city, it feels like you don't have time for anything and your whole life works around the clock. On more than one occasion, you consider dropping out of school.

But you persist. With help from classmates, your grades improve. While they aren’t great, they are good enough to pass your classes. Your son sends you a drawing so you can stick it on the wall and know that, even if you are far away, he will always love you.

Antonia’s story seems to turn out well. But imagine if things had turned out differently. What would her life have been like if she had never left her village? What would it be like if she had dropped out in the middle of the first semester?

In the IDB’s interactive experience, En Otros Zapatos, you can see how all these possible paths play out and experience the life-altering consequences of each decision you make. All roads are built from real stories from Misak community members and compiled by a team of journalists in collaboration with indigenous groups. 

What is En Otros Zapatos? The platform explained in 120 seconds


For some users of En Otros Zapatos, experiencing Antonia’s story was transformative. “I loved being Antonia, who was a woman with very different customs and who didn't get carried away by others. Putting myself in her shoes taught me to be more humble with people who are different from me,” said one person, Sandra, who wrote in the comments section of En Otros Zapatos.

Getting to understand indigenous communities is critical to improve development in those communities, according to Ana Grigera, a consultant at the IDB’s Gender and Diversity Division. “The knowledge of who they are as indigenous people, what their governance structures are, their ways of life and their cosmologies ... are indispensable assets for their development that are frequently ignored,” said Ana.


Facebook Live: Including Indigenous People in the Decision-Making Process (in Spanish)
Incluyendo la visión de los pueblos indígenas en su desarrollo

En el Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas conversamos con Rodolfo Cunampio, Cacique General de las Tierras Colectivas del Alto Bayano (Panamá), sobre la importancia de promover la participación de los pueblos indígenas en la toma de decisiones que afectan su bienestar. http://Iad.bg/d5eL30ll7mx

Posted by Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo on Thursday, August 9, 2018



In the week where we celebrate the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, we want to celebrate the enormous value that their teaching brings to our region. As one of the people we interviewed to build Antonia's story commented: “KӨllikelӨ wamintikwan mӨra, kӨrik pala pasraikpe, misak utu chi wam kaik, misakmisak tsumik kӨn” which translates from the Misak language in: “The councils of our ancestors are eternal because they are the axis that will guide us to reach bigger things”.

To experience the life of Antonia and other groups, go to En Otros Zapatos (in Spanish) here.

To know more about how the tax system can help close the racial and ethnic gap in Latin America, you can download Splitting the Bill: Taxing and Spending to Close Ethnic and Racial Gaps in Latin America for free, here!
To learn more about diversity and indigenous peoples, visit our blog ¿Y si hablamos de igualdad? here.


Improving Lives