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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998

Literacy and Literary Development of Indigenous Languages and Education: Implications for Broadcasting

Literary Development in Indigenous Languages

While Radio XETAR’s broadcasts promote oral language development activities, other state and federal efforts are developing indigenous languages and cultures via the printed word. It is hoped that these efforts will eventually enhance the status and promote the use of indigenous languages in the Sierra Tarahumara. The INI and the National Endowment for Culture and Arts are two national institutions leading major efforts to develop the literature of indigenous groups in Mexico. To that end, these institutions sponsor a variety of programs, publications, and conferences. Celestino (1991) reports that already there have been two national conferences of writers in indigenous languages where common issues and themes were discussed. Salient themes at these conferences included: the recapture of lost elements of culture, Can Pat (1991); indigenous identity, Romero (1991); the role of indigenous writers in everyday life, Castellanos (1991); and indigenous literary development (Terán 1991). In the 1991 conference, the Declaration of San Cristobal was issued by the writers of various indigenous languages. They proclaimed that survival is the greatest challenge to indigenous peoples in the third millennium. They made demands for government measures to successfully address that challenge and pledged their literary output to that end, including the training of subsequent generations of writers.

The publications Letras Indígenas and Nuestra Palabra are free, nationally distributed bilingual periodicals that promote the works of writers in indigenous tongues. These publications have become leading vehicles for the literary development of indigenous languages (De Val 1994). Their social communication role already promotes a limited, but growing, form of pan-Indianism, as it reaches various indigenous communities in Mexico, including those that receive the broadcasts of the INI indigenous radio station network. The INI radio stations’s efforts and events are often featured in Nuestra Palabra and other government publications disseminated throughout Mexico. These radio stations, in turn, undoubtedly will find in such publications information that will  be broadcasted.

In the case of indigenous literature, its reading over the air waves has the potential to increase demand for printed matter in indigenous languages while developing audiences for its writers, however concerted efforts to disseminate the aforementioned publications to program listeners would be necessary. The development of a self-determined literary tradition can boost ethnic pride and, perhaps, even demand for greater empowerment, which initially may be manifested in a higher demand for government services in indigenous languages, written and oral. Radio XETAR is likely to play a key role in the dissemination of information about services available in indigenous tongues.

Bilingual Education in the Sierra Tarahumara

There have been various bilingual instruction efforts in the Sierra Tarahumara carried out by various entities, secular and non-secular, that date back to the colonial period. The most comprehensive and far reaching efforts that involve biliteracy have been non-secular. The Secretariat of Education (SEP) attempted unsuccessfully to produce bilingual (Spanish-Rarámuri) texts in the 1970s. The effort failed, report local educators, when students and teachers in various linguistic zones could not understand the “standardized” Tarahumar texts or just opted not to “understand” them. Biliterate and bilingual education remained fallow for over a decade, as those texts were eventually withdrawn from use. In the 1990s, the State of Chihuahua’s Program for Indigenous Education Reform (1991) began developing a  bilingual and biliterate education program for the Rarámuri. Macías (1992) reports that a request will be made of Radio XETAR to air programs that reinforce bilingual instruction. Such programs also would be used to inform the Rarámuri about the nature of the bilingual education program and solicit their input. In 1992 there were no bilingual education efforts in store for the other indigenous groups in the Sierra Tarahumara.