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Cares Of The World’s Indigenous Communities. Acculturation And Sustainability

Becoming aware of when and how we transmit our culture could mean a great change in the way of teaching, acculturating, and seeing the world societies and communities; in short, a change towards a more respectful and sustainable behaviour with other cultures

Currently, the concept of sustainability and all the concepts that emerged as a result of it, are increasingly spreading throughout the world. The concern to improve the living conditions of human beings and to help their development in a sustainable way is real; a clear example are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, whose 4.7 goal mentions the need to ensure an education that values ​​and promotes sustainability in terms of cultural diversity [1]. According to UNESCO, there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who are part of indigenous communities [2]; these people represent most of the cultural diversity of the planet who are living in fragile communities; their low human development index [3] and the influences that the most developed world's cultures exert on them are certainly something to pay attention to. The cultural differences between these two extremes are many, and the acculturation actions carried out in these indigenous communities are also numerous. Having said that, there is a clear need to worry about the respect for each culture and be careful how we interact with them, because we can unintentionally be the protagonists of important cultural losses, or other types of damage, including health.

For example, the Colombian newspaper "El Tiempo" published a story (2009) where an investigation revealed the great cultural shock suffered by young indigenous people who travelled to study in the city [4]. They did not adapt to Western customs and faced such a strong and outrageous acculturation that they sank into depression, even going as far as suicide on more than 20 occasions. They related and justified the frenzy of the city and the unintelligible and illogical context with supernatural motives. Experts were alarmed by the situation since it was an unprotected and helpless group and they found them in poor health and nutrition conditions.

Another example published in the Spanish newspaper "El País" (2016), shows the great addiction suffered by many indigenous communities to packaged soft drinks, specifically Coca-Cola, which has led the population to change their drinking habits, facilitated by the fact that some of them don’t have access to drinking water in their towns. Traditional corn-based beverages have been devalued, and obesity, malnutrition and diabetes have increased dramatically [5]. This is what Olivier De Shutter (2017), former official rapporteur of the United Nations for the Right to Food, noted when he verified the unfortunate situation in which many Mayan Communities found themselves in Chiapas, where there had been “a Coca-Colonization” [6].

Photo: Maya Community in Chiapas /

Given the above, it is important that we begin to pay attention to the influence we exert on others; how our convictions, those that are part of our culture and traditions, can cause unwanted changes in the habits of other cultures. It’s not enough to have good intentions, we have to be aware and be well trained, because we could inadvertently cause valuable patrimonial losses, cultural costumes that stop being passed down from generation to generation. We don’t know all the cultural circumstances of other territories which may form an important part of a cultural heritage, and which we can unintentionally endanger, having contributed to modifying these dynamics. There is a habitual vertical thinking in many developed societies with respect to social groups that are not considered developed: the knowledge on all subjects is considered richer and better, they are universalized and sometimes treated as absolute truths, therefore hegemonizing their culture.

On the other hand, we have an example of good practices at schools; we might observe teachers, who are always worried about how they are influencing their students, even if they know or not about the acculturation concept. They always have to be aware, because on many occasions, they have in their classrooms people who belong to different cultures, or have different beliefs or convictions; most teachers think about what changes they could inadvertently promote. Like all people, teachers also have their own personal customs, and they have the hard challenge to be themselves while making it clear that there are other cultural ways of being, as much as there are different cultures in the world, and everyone should respect and take care of them.

And, what about when you are a volunteer in a social institution? Yes, there is also a possibility of unsustainable acculturations happening in these settings; adequate prior training could go a long way towards avoiding problems related to the clash of cultures. In the case of NGOs and CSOs, it is the same; more than 12 thousand entities of this type are registered in the UN from all over the world [7] or, for example, the United States government communicated in 2017 that more than a million of these entities operated in the country [8]. en

It would be necessary to see how many have adequate training, but knowing that the law doesn’t oblige them, it is likely that there are many shortcomings. In 2019, an investigation was carried out in Chiapas, where a survey was made to see if the CSOs that operated in indigenous communities of said territory took into account their ways of acculturating, and if they had training in this regard; unfortunately, most of them didn’t even know the meaning of this concept. DESMI, with based in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, one of the few CSOs found with correct training, and which has among its members people born in indigenous communities, commented on the great lack of support and laws on the part of the public institution in this regard.

In addition, they recognized the great shortcomings in the vast majority of CSOs that operate in the territory, in terms of forms of acculturation, and the lack of professionalism, among other things, due to not having adequate training [9]. It’s urgent that we begin to give due importance to having knowledge that favours the elimination of the trial-and-error method to which many entities of various kinds are accustomed, both public and private; addressing content related for example to sustainable acculturation or Corporate Social Responsibility could avoid many evils derived from unconscious bad practices. If we have an open mind and work with a more horizontal mentality, value other cultures, and acculturate each other in a sustainable and healthy way, we could co-exist with all identities and cultures.

Written by Fayna Sánchez Santana. Cover photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.

4. News from EL TIEMPO and an article about suicidial behavior y colombian indigenous people:


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