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Global Indigenous Movements and Activist Research

I. Project Abstract

Over the past three decades, Indigenous activists have advanced their concerns on a global scale through network building, the development of common political agendas, the creation and appropriation of spaces of encounter, and the negotiation of discourses of indigeneity. The purpose of this research is to contribute to a critical evaluation of the role of academia in studying and working with Indigenous movements on those concerns. An objective of this study is to identify significant issues inherent in collaborating horizontally and in a respectful way with Indigenous activists. It employs a methodology called trabajar haciendo, a type of activist research that contributes to dialogue between academics and activists. The impact of the project includes an enhanced pedagogical approach to my classes at Truman, presentations to the University community, journalistic reporting on an Indigenous meeting in Ecuador in June 2010, academic conference presentations on collaborative activist research, and finally an academic article on Indigenous mobilizations for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

II. Project Narrative

During the First Continental Encounter of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas (Quito, Ecuador, 1990), Indigenous intellectuals and activists criticized the role of anthropology in rural communities and asked scholars to reconsider their academic interests in order to accompany Indigenous struggles. As Indigenous movements became increasingly visible and empowered, Indigenous intellectuals and activists demanded closer commitments from academics in promotion of horizontality and collaborative relationships rather than accepting hierarchical structures. Many scholar/activists now recognize that it is not sufficient to place research at the service of social justice, but it is also necessary to recognize and analyze the power differentials that affect the relationships between academia and marginalized peoples. Movements toward critically engaged scholarship emphasizes collaboration with Indigenous movements and prioritizes their voices in a struggle for their liberation.

Global Indigenous gatherings provide spaces where activists produce and legitimize knowledge and interpretations of key issues. From June 14-16, 2010, Indigenous peoples from across the Americas will once again gather in Ecuador to commemorate the historic 1990 encounter. This grant will facilitate my attendance at this meeting, and allow me to interrogate questions of what it means for activist researchers to collaborate with Indigenous struggles. The purpose of this research is to contribute to a critical evaluation of the role of academia in studying and working with Indigenous movements in order to build a constructive dialogue around hotly contested issues of sovereignty, autonomy, militarization, climate change, and economic development as they relate to Indigenous cultures and cosmologies.

This project holds key importance for facilitating broad discussions of how academics in the field of Indigenous studies relate to Indigenous movements for social justice. At the University, this research will help me deepen my exploration of themes of ethnic diversity and class divisions in my classes in order to understand how cultural differences are negotiated. In an increasingly globalized world, these insights will help students understand cross-cultural contacts in their own lives.

An objective of this study is to identify critical issues inherent in collaborating with Indigenous activists in order to create a responsible, accountable, and ethical academia at the service of social justice. Through participation in the June gathering of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador, I will examine challenges to Indigenous peoples’ organizing and activism, seek to identify academia’s responses to such challenges, and analyze how decolonizing practices can help Indigenous peoples’ organizing and activism.

This project employs a methodology known as trabajar haciendo, a type of activist research that works especially well for accompanying and collaborating with global Indigenous movements. Trabajar haciendo is about creating respectful and horizontal dialogues between academics and activists in order to create strategies and instruments that can be used and managed at historical conjunctures to assert Indigenous peoples’ rights and dignity, and to make possible their physical and cultural survival on their own terms. Trabajar haciendo forces academics to be accountable and ethically committed to the communities with which they work. Furthermore, trabajar haciendo as a methodology in activist research involves the “intercultural construction of knowledges”; that is, it allows the comprehension and creation of realities shaped in the dialogue of different cultural logics.

Dissemination of the results of this project will include the immediate publication of journalistic reports on Upside Down World (, an online magazine covering activism and politics in Latin America, and on Free Speech Radio News (, an independent news show that broadcasts on more than 100 radio stations across the United States. I look forward to sharing the insights from this research in venues such as the Truman Faculty Forum, Global Issues Colloquium, and the Weekly Faculty Lunch, as well as activist and multi-cultural communities on and off campus. Through these various venues, this project will expand understanding in the University of historical, cultural, political, and sociological aspects of intercultural contacts and organizing practices with direct relevance to the expansion of our mission to provide excellent educational opportunities for our students. In addition, I will present the preliminary results of my research at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA, congress that will be held in Toronto, Canada, from October 6-9, 2010. I am scheduled to be a discussant on the panel "Academia and Indigenous Activism: New analytical models and strategies for mapping anti-colonial and decolonization in the Americas," as well as a presenter on the panel "Classical Left, Post-Neoliberal Left, and Indigenous Peoples." These panels will bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists and scholars representing different genders, generations and geographical origins in order to provide a careful examination of the efficacy and weaknesses of current trends in international Indigenous networks, and how to generate new analytical models and strategies for mapping anti-colonial and decolonization projects within academia and Indigenous activism. Drawing on the feedback on my work at this conference, I plan to draft an academic article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal such as the Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, with a goal of submission by the end of 2010.

III. Budget

The budget for this research project totals $1500, and will be dedicated in its entirely to direct costs for transportation, lodging, meals, and registration for my participation in the June 14-16, 2010 Encounter of Indigenous Peoples in Quito, Ecuador. I have long collaborated with the Instituto Científico de Culturas Indígenas (ICCI), the lead organizer for this event, in the publication of their monthly bulletin ICCI Ary-Rimay, their bi-annual journal Revista Yachaykuna, and their website This history provides me with not only an unprecedented level of access but also a depth of commitment that will guarantee the success of this project.

International Transportation $1000
Local transportation $75
Lodging $250 (5 days x $50/day)
Meals $125 (5 days x $25/day)
Registration $50

Total $1500

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