Theses Doctoral

Indigenous Participation in Global Education and the Indigenous Navigator in Bolivia

Quezada Morales, Romina

The purpose of this study was to examine the Indigenous Navigator partnership through its Bésiro project in Bolivia to find out whether the partnership approach can enhance Indigenous participation in global education. In the short term, enhancing the participation of Indigenous peoples in global education may help them maintain their unique identity and culture. In the long term, it may enable Indigenous peoples to actively decide on policy that concerns them. The objective of the research was to help policymakers and those working in the field of international and comparative education to secure Indigenous peoples’ right to determine their own education development.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, after the creation of nation-states in Latin America, national education efforts sought to unify populations through assimilationist policies. Those policies used the dominant language as the language of instruction, and the content of curricula responded to the national vision of those in power. Indigenous peoples held on to their culture and language despite the external pressure to assimilate and the lack of recognition and support. In the second half of the 20th century, a global Indigenous movement took place that claimed Indigenous peoples’ collective rights within the nation-state, including the right to self-determine their education. This movement succeeded in garnering international attention, which led to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This declaration served as a framework upon which states were expected to model their laws. While this helped put the plight of Indigenous peoples in the international spotlight, some countries have implemented the Declaration to a greater extent than others. As a result, many Indigenous peoples remain stripped of the power and legal authority to ultimately decide on the education (and other) issues that concern them. The power asymmetries that have been affecting them in international education politics persist. A global education system that does not count on the continuous participation of Indigenous peoples as collective actors fails to meet the goals of inclusion and equality that it intends to achieve. Against this background, the following questions remained unanswered: Who is entitled to participate in global education and in what capacity? How are Indigenous peoples currently participating in global education? Why and how should the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is the international agency tasked with promoting peace through international cooperation in education, science, culture, communication, and information, enhance Indigenous participation in its education politics?

Driven by the questions above, I carried out a qualitative case study involving a multistakeholder partnership–the Indigenous Navigator. The Indigenous Navigator partnership includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous nongovernmental organizations, civil society organizations, and other international and national stakeholders. This partnership developed a framework and a set of tools to produce Indigenous data and track progress toward the fulfillment of Indigenous human rights. When applied to education, the Indigenous Navigator partnership translates the data collected into projects designed by Indigenous peoples for their own purposes. The Indigenous Navigator partnership offers an alternative approach for global education to enhance Indigenous participation in education policy.

The Indigenous Navigator partnership’s project that became the case study was called Revitalization and Vitalization of the Bésiro Language of the Monkox Nation. This project was designed by the Monkox, a people indigenous to Bolivia. The Monkox utilized the Indigenous Navigator’s framework and set of tools, and focused on revitalizing their Bésiro language. This Bésiro project was implemented between 2019 and 2020 in Lomerío, in Bolivia’s lowlands. The case of the Monkox within Bolivia stands out because even though the Monkox are small in number, they have a long history of defending their language and their education. Bolivia, in turn, has drawn regional and international attention because it adopted Indigenous human rights into its political constitution and has come forth with a unique education model based on intraculturality, interculturality and plurilingualism, and in which Indigenous peoples are seen not only as individuals with a right to education, but also as peoples with collective education rights.

To analyze the effectiveness of the Indigenous Navigator partnership and the Bésiro project, I spent 7 months observing the functioning of the Indigenous Navigator partnership prior to fieldwork, then spent another year interviewing 42 key stakeholders, out of whom at least 17 were Indigenous. I also analyzed relevant documents related to Indigenous education in Bolivia, global education, and enhanced participation.

The results of the study offer a glimpse into present-day Indigenous education in Bolivia; an analysis of the Indigenous Navigator partnership and the Bésiro project; and a comparison between local, national, and international power dynamics that interacted throughout the project and can further impact education politics in Bolivia and beyond. The results show that the Indigenous Navigator partnership operated through what I call multisphere Indigenous ownership (i.e., the capacity of each partner to contribute from their own area of expertise while reducing the stratification of power) to ensure the Monkox’s self-determination in the Bésiro project. The analysis also shows that interculturality is difficult to reach if intraculturality, or the reaffirmation of a people’s identity, culture, and politics, has not been strengthened. To reaffirm intraculturality, the active participation of Indigenous peoples in their own education policy processes is vital. Only then will Indigenous peoples be able to achieve sustainable education along with national efforts.

Lastly, the case study revealed that the Indigenous Navigator partnership worked through tacit interculturality between the European Union and Latin America, that is, the implicit reciprocity of two Indigenous systems in both parts of the world. As an outcome of this analysis of the Indigenous Navigator partnership and the Bésiro project, it is suggested that the global education community, guided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, implement multistakeholder Indigenous ownership to allow Indigenous peoples, as collective stakeholders, to participate in education policy processes that concern them. This study closes with a policy and research agenda that contributes to achieving sustainable, quality education for Indigenous peoples.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Cortina, Regina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2023