Linete Serves Funai in the Regional Coordination of the Middle Purus. PHOTO: Celia Santos/Caravan of Sport and Arts

Indigenous school education in Brazil has been provided for by law since 1997. The pedagogical issue, however, which aims to reconcile the national curriculum with an indigenous program, is still being diagnosed in the country. So says Linete Ruiz Ferreira, a Funai employee at the Regional Coordination of Medio Purus, in southern Amazonas, who has been working with indigenous education for 20 years.

The lack of knowledge to develop an appropriate educational project, both among indigenous people and among technicians from municipalities, states and Funai makes it difficult to implement their own curriculum, says Linete. In addition, the legislation guarantees that each people decides on its own educational process, which preserves the diversity of different indigenous cultures, and makes the implementation of a program even more complex.

The region where Linete operates comprises 4 municipalities, around 9 indigenous people, more than 150 villages and 27 regularized indigenous lands. Check out below the interview that the Funai employee gave to Brasileiros/PágianB!, after a debate organized by the Caravan of Sport and Arts, in Lábrea.

Revista Brasileiros/PáginaB!: Indigenous education has been provided for in Brazilian legislation since 1997. What are the difficulties in advancing this issue and getting it off the ground?

Linete Ruiz Ferreira: Since 1997 we have had opinions from the national chamber of basic education, we have had resolutions, the most recent is from 2012, resolution 005, and they guide indigenous teachers themselves to implement intercultural education in the villages, which addresses indigenous particularities, but also the national curriculum. An indigenous school is very difficult to implement because it has twice the content of a regular school. It has all the contents of the common school and still has to attend to the different specificities and different languages ​​that each people have. There are villages with seven different languages. FUNAI did this in past times, it brought together several peoples in the same village and now has villages with seven languages ​​spoken. How do you manage to have a curriculum that caters to all people? Today we have many difficulties because there are few technicians who understand the indigenous issue, both among the indigenous themselves, in the government or even in FUNAI. We are in the educational diagnostic phase. We haven't left it yet because every day we are trying to learn from the indigenous community and in this learning trying to find the best direction. There are many bilingual communities where the indigenous people have already learned to wear clothes, to use salt, oil, soap, items that are not produced in village. So the Indian can no longer live from the usufruct of the forest's resources. He needs to have an income to be able to buy these things. And how is he going to market if he doesn't know how to speak Portuguese, if he doesn't know math. There are bilingual communities asking to learn this at least, so as not to be deceived in this trade that he is forced to enter. As a result, we have a number of other problems. The Indian comes to the city, receives the Bolsa Família, he goes to the market to buy something. If this thing costs R$ 5 for non-Indians, it costs R$ 10 for Indians. Then the Bolsa Família money is not enough, the merchant says: leave the card here, stay half here, half next month. In several commercial establishments you can see blocks of Bolsa Família, of retirement of indigenous people.

The project Eu sou bilingual intercultural is an initiative of the indigenous people, today it has the support of Funai. It has two classrooms, one Paumari and the other Apurinã, to try to keep alive the indigenous languages, which came to the city out of necessity. In labrea there are a very large number, who already live in the city, have settled, have jobs, it is not part of the perspective of these families to return to indigenous lands.

Professor Edilson, from the project I am intercultural bilingual, who teaches paumari and apurinã, said that it seems to be forbidden for an Indian to study. Which he considers absurd, since every human being would have the right to develop his abilities.

Yeah, as if an Indian wasn't a human being. Indians cannot have a cell phone, cannot have a blog, cannot be on Facebook. O I am bilingual works precisely on interculturality because, in addition to valuing the mother tongue, it also makes the indigenous people aware that they need to speak English, be well in Portuguese. I think it's very cool, they work very well with their mother tongue and recognize the need for this interface with other cultures. In Purus there are many indigenous people in the city. In the same way that there are Apurina and Paumari developing the Eu sou bilingual project, there are the indigenous people of Jarawara demanding secondary education within their villages. This means that there will be the IPTV, which is television putting white people to speak in Portuguese, within a village in which everyone is monolingual. This will kill the indigenous language. It's that thing of wanting to imitate what's in the media. It has the same power over all people, indigenous or not. I have seen this happen in other indigenous communities and it is very sad. The indigenous person falls into a beauty tale, sees that beautiful thing on television and suddenly it's not just the student who is learning Portuguese, but the entire village. We have examples of some peoples who are making media in their languages. The Paumari will have the Indigenous Language Championship in September where they will have various activities. The final product will be material to make a video, cd and book in the language. They are strategies to make the relationship between national culture and indigenous cultures fairer. It is not to deny one or the other, both are important. But we need to have a balance. Sometimes we fall into traps, you have to police yourself all the time.

Given the complexity of the different indigenous peoples, is it possible to think about an indigenous education?

The legislation speaks of the autonomy of indigenous peoples to design their specific education model. Look how complicated. How can an indigenous person, who has never had a school in his community, conceive of such a school? Education for all indigenous peoples takes place on a daily basis. You see children from an early age going to the fields, hunting, fishing. They have contact with weapons, tools. The Indian's game is imitating the adult. My son is indigenous, so is my husband, and I often found myself afraid of my son messing with an arrowhead or bow. And today I see that he is 17 years old and has never been injured in the bush.

Indigenous education in Brazil is in this process: of discovering what is best for each people.

Nobody thinks that Indians need to stay in the museum, that doesn't exist, human beings have developed. We meet the indigenous people in one step. From there they go forward, one way or another. We have to be careful about how to influence so that this move forward is good for them. It is a constant exercise in questioning yourself. Unfortunately, we have few people at Funai to discuss this.

And what is the perspective going forward? Do you see it as a priority for the government to address this issue?

It is not a priority, it is far from it, because there are few people with the knowledge and willingness to discuss these issues. In education we are formed with pedagogical models, which we have to let go of and think about an education for each people. This is a lot of work, it takes a lot of time. You have to learn to listen to people. Creating a calendar, for example. There is a community that, during times of storms, with game animals spawning, stays on the beach to enjoy. So how will the student attend the classroom during this period? Not to mention that up to 10, 11 years old, the age at which the child is being raised by the grandparents, the school cannot enter Portuguese, it has to register the knowledge that the grandparents are transmitting. You need to have insight, patience to formalize these processes that already exist. There are many municipalities that are open to this, but they lack technicians. It's a very big challenge. We can't keep up with everyone, but that's why we do education seminars.

Is there a working model that you rate positively?

Each case is different. What happens in Rio Negro does not apply to our region. Rivers have different characteristics, people who live in different ways. The conception of this education is not ready, I hope it never will be – otherwise we will fall into the chaos that is public education with all its problems. We do not want the indigenous school to move away from the reality of those who live there, it cannot be a foreign element, it has to be built from their lives. Is slow. I will expire, so will my children and the indigenous people will still be building. Their lives are very dynamic and this is reflected in their education as well. It's really cool to work with communities that give importance to education that we don't, precisely because education is something of everyday life. Thank God they didn't separate one thing from the other, like we did.

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