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Brazilian delegation visits Trent University

Issues central to the education of indigenous people in continents separated by great distance brought a Brazilian delegation of five and Native Studies department faculty and staff members together in discussion Wednesday morning at Trent University. The discussion, at times emotional, focused on what one Brazilian delegate called "the essence of the human being" in relation to the advancement of indigenous people through art, communication and education.

The delegation, with representatives from the Federal University of Mato Grosso, the National Foundation for Indigenous Issues, the Federal Government of Brazil and the Indian Museum, arrived from Sao Paulo, Brazil on September 27.

The participants, accompanied by Mr. Keith Smith, of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and interpreter Ms. Gabriela Sant’Anna Rangel, came to learn about this country’s technologies, models and experience in education, digital connectivity, and distance education with indigenous people.

"We can never know enough about Trent University, but we know that it’s very important; that’s why we requested a visit with you," said Dr. Maria de Fatima Machado, initiating the discussion.

In the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, there are 38 indigenous groups with different cultures and languages while in Brazil, there are more than 700,000 indigenous people and an approximate population of 182,032,604. They are on journey of self-discovery, encountering struggles with access to education and within their country, modern communication methods.

Native Studies faculty and staff members profiled the undergraduate and graduate programs and discussed the importance of traditional knowledge and connections to aboriginal communities in the education they provide. They discussed specific initiatives, like the department’s Aboriginal Education Council, and numerous opportunities for Native Studies and aboriginal students.

Mr. Vitor Aurape Peruare, of the Bakairi Nation, explained that it has been only 15 years since there has been a constitution in Brazil that allows indigenous people to live off their reserves.
"We are early in the battle of gaining momentum in Brazilian society; we are raw still," he said. "We hope to get to the same place you are today - someday…It is beautiful to watch what you have achieved."

Mr. Aurape Peruare, who will graduate as a journalist next year, explained there are a small number of indigenous people in Brazil who have graduated from university and not one, who has pursued a social science. However, there are 200 teachers, studying various disciplines, who will graduate in two years’ time. They will go back to their communities to teach in their native languages and in Portuguese.

Dr. Lynne Davis, chair of the Native Studies graduate programs, said the knowledge of these languages provides an opportunity for the indigenous people of Brazil to conserve them and pass them along.

"Congratulations, on having teachers who can teach in their native languages," she said.

Many indigenous educators are teaching untrained, though the state is now offering teacher education that is, for the most part, delivered via distance education - by mail and by telephone. It is offered, free of charge, to teachers, when their students are on vacation.

The delegation met with elders in the Native Studies teepee following the discussion, and were to visit the Canadian Canoe Museum in the afternoon. They have traveled cross-country, from Vancouver to Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa, to visit mainly museums and universities. The delegation will visit Brantford and Toronto before its departure on October 11.

"What you’re telling us teaches us a lot and that’s the expectation that we had," said Dr. de Fatima Machado.

Posted October 10, 2003

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