Sarah Augustine Reports from French Guyana
I am writing from French Guyana, or Guyane as it is called by folks here. I have worked in this region on Northern South America with Indigenous Peoples since 2004. Guyane is still a territory of France.
The Doctrine of Discovery is evident in the stories I hear from my colleagues, Indigenous women struggling for self-determination for their people. As she gave us a tour of Norino, a Kalin’a village, my friend Milca Sommer-Simonet explained that the people who live in this community are not permitted by the government to build “permanent dwellings.” She explained that although they live on traditional Kalin’a homeland, they can only use cement cinder blocks to build a portion of their homes, while the majority of materials must be easily removable. The implication is that the people of this community can be removed from their land at any time.
My friend S, also a Kalin’a woman, shared with me that she was recently removed from her job for “communitsic activities.” She worked in a church-based program to provide community services to indigenous youth attending residential schools in the capitol city, Cayenne. Indigenous youth who wish to attend school beyond grade 5 must move to the capital, since public education is not provided in rainforest communities. Indigenous young people often flounder in residential schools, and experience high incidence as victims of abuse and suicide. S. provided the youth she served group-centered services that gave them a sense of community. However, her government-funded job was cut, she was told, because the program she shaped to engage youth using culturally-relevant practices was not focused on assimilation through individualism.
Milca and S., along with a coalition of others called Illupawa, have created a pilot program to bring public education to interior rainforest communitites. Milca, a teacher, is trained in the Montessori-method and aims to bring culturally appropriate, experiential education to rainforst communities in their own language and from their own point of view. Milca’s hope is that education from pre-school through 12th grade can be provided by local practitioners. This is true self-determination, where education is provided by community educators for their own people.
If you would like to learn more about Milca, Illupawa, and their work, email Sarah Augustine: firstname.lastname@example.org