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On-line version ISSN 2448-5799Print version ISSN 1405-1435

Convergencia vol.23 n.70 Toluca Jan./Apr. 2016


Scientific Articles

Ethnicity, gender and higher education. Trajectories of two Arhuaco women in Colombia

Angela Santamaria1 

1Universidad del Rosario, Colombia.


Two main questions are addressed in this text: how have these indigenous feminine leaders faced cultural restrictions to meet the demands of public life? How have they created a diverse amalgam of capital and knowledge as part of their leadership? The main theoretical elements used in this work are: the sociological perspective and field theory of Bourdieu, studies on intersectionality by Lorde (1984) and Pratt-Clarke (2010), the studies on higher education of Gil (2005), Choque (2015) and Mato (2015), and finally, the feminine leadership studies of Lumby and Coleman (2007). Our methodological approach is the reconstruction of two scholarly and professional personal trajectories from an intersectional perspective.

Key words: women; indigenous peoples; intercultural education; leadership; background


Nos preguntamos en este texto, ¿cómo han enfrentado estas lideresas las restricciones culturales frente a las exigencias de la vida pública? ¿Cómo han creado una amalgama de capitales y saberes diversos en el marco de sus liderazgos? Los principales elementos teóricos utilizados en este trabajo son: la perspectiva sociológica y la Teoría de los campos de Bourdieu, los estudios sobre interseccionalidad de Lorde (1984) y Pratt-Clarke (2010), los estudios de Gil (2005), Choque (2015) y Mato (2015) sobre educación superior intercultural, y finalmente los estudios sobre liderazgos femeninos de Lumby y Coleman (2007). Metodológicamente trabajamos a partir de la reconstrucción de dos trayectorias personales escolares y profesionales desde una perspectiva interseccional.

Palabras clave: mujeres; pueblos indígenas; educación intercultural; liderazgo; trayectorias


This article aims to reconstruct the sociological trajectories of two Arhuaco indigenous women graduated from higher education in Colombia. These stories are new in studies on higher education and on indigenous people in Colombia. The experiences of Luz Elena Izquierdo and Ati Quigua, mother and daughter, as many other stories of the Colombian indigenous leaders, have not been sufficiently worked. The analysis of these materials allows us to understand the relationships of domination, ruptures and cracking of male power and action lines inside Arhuaco people, and in the political or institutional places with which they have interacted.

We adopted a perspective of intersectionality in the framework of the struggles of indigenous women at individual or collective level to observe how their school and ethnic capital has allowed them to open a political space at community or institutional level. Having this purpose in mind, we used Works by Lorde (1984), Gil (2005), Choque (2015) and Mato (2015). We utilized the technique of life trajectories, from a micro sociological standpoint, noting the weight of the structural forces and also the actors' unreleased rupture lines in the framework of possible social horizons. The questions that guide this research are: How an indigenous feminine leader faces cultural restrictions before the demands of public life? How does she create an alternative leadership through an amalgam of capital and diverse knowledge?

We start from an analysis of the relationship between higher education, ethnicity, gender and leadership developed by Gil (2005). As affirmed by Lumby and Coleman (2007), the studies on higher education and diversity are very broad, since this category is very vast and even "chameleonic". The studies on the interface between leadership, diversity and higher education exist in several regions of the world. However, the crossing of these studies with the category of gender is severely reduced. This type of belongings appear as resources or restrictions that are important to take into account to generate critical readings of the practices of higher intercultural education, to generate policies as well as viable and relevant action lines.

Similarly, in the framework of these studies, as Drucker stated (1997), people have worked privileging the perspective of the leadership of educators and university officials, their actions and practices. In this article, taking up Mateos' work (2015), we would like to emphasize the graduate's perspective. Additionally, it is important to highlight that many of the studies located in this overlapping are crossed by the tension between two antagonistic poles.

The confrontation is given between perspectives, such as those of radical feminism and critical ethnic and race studies, and the ones of popular education. For this group of studies, the meta-narrative of patriarchy is the representation of the oppression of all women and their role in primary structures (such as family, society, sexuality and work). These roles can only change through disruptive practices into the traditional trajectories of women and the incorporation of practices such as planning, access to higher education and the option of divorce.

Authors such as Lorde (1984) and Pratt-Clarke (2010) talk about the need to understand the structural implications and the dynamics of operation when two or more practices of domination concur: as sexist and as racist. This results in tension between educational experiences of inclusion/exclusion. This thought goes hand in hand with the need to strengthen policies and affirmative actions, by means of educational perspectives with intersectionality approach. This vision has been poorly developed from the standpoint of exclusion of vulnerable groups in higher education such as the feminist and indigenous perspectives or studies on race.

At this point, it is necessary to highlight the important historic work developed by Bermúdez (2015) on the education of women in the Andean countries. Some Colombian authors such as Ulloa et al. (2005) and González (2013) have analyzed mainly the processes of resistance and construction of memory of indigenous women. González works from the biographies as used by authors such as Ken (2008), Rabouin (2000), Wing and Willis (1999) in other contexts. Other authors such as Gil (2005) have worked on the life histories of indigenous students in the city of Bogota, originally from Wayúu and Kamentsa peoples. However, the field of studies is just taking shape.

According to Wade (1997), we will start from the category "indigenous" from a specific local history: the one of Ati Quigua and her mother Luz Elena Izquierdo. It is interesting to highlight that the official vision of the "indigenous" appears disembodied and sexless, recognizing special rights to culturally, sexually and economically heterogeneous groups. Other Latin American authors such as Arturo Escobar, Sonia Alvarez and Evelina Dagnino (2001) have shown in their work how for the last decades the conflicts faced by the new social movements have led to imagine and propose practices in search of more radical democracies that transcend the formal institutional level, through collective actions that question political and constitutional systems.

The history of these women shows a constitutive link between culture and politics. Bourdieu's work (1989) offers very relevant theoretical and methodological tools to analyze the case of this group of indigenous women. The notion of "field" as a relatively autonomous space, as a microcosm endowed with its own rationales of operation turns out very useful for us. The notion of a symbolic field (educational, political, of knowledge, of the State, ethnic) is fundamental to our analysis as it allows us to be at the crossroads of different disciplines and objects of study.

The concept of field(s), and the interactions between its various expressions allows "the indigenous cause" not to be reduced merely to the cultural, legal or political. The theoretical tools of field become concrete from the use of the methodology of life trajectories. The author was very critical about the notion of life history and biography, and its tendency for the apology of major actors.

From this point of view we emphasize the need to sociologize them using trajectories. In like manner, we utilized long lasting ethnographic observation for their construction. Authors such as Bosa and Wittersheim (2009) have been inspired by these proposals to discuss indigenous issues relating to education and the entrance to the political field in postcolonial scenarios.

In this regard, the reconstruction of the trajectories of these two Arhuaco women, atypical from our point of view, seeks to articulate the macro and micro processes of entrance and exit from the political field. We have worked with them sharing their everyday life and observing their political processes1for approximately five years. This in-depth work has been carried out thanks to informal talks and a set of formal ethnographic interviews. Not only do we want to highlight the micro and the macro, but also the tensions, the relationships of power, the possibilities and successes that accessing higher education has made possible for them.

The ideas of the Network of Modernity/Coloniality are very important here, to revisit the issue of power in modernity through the location of its origins in the conquest of the Americas, paying special attention to the structuring of power through colonialism and the dynamics that constitute the modern/capitalist world-system. We want to highlight in particular Quijano's work (2000) on the need to subvert the category "indigenous" as a form of colonial control. It becomes a necessity, since in spite of the subversion of the stigma mobilized by the category using the official recognition of indigenous rights and the process of constitutionalization of the right to ethnic and cultural diversity and indigenous education, in the decade of 1990, in Colombia, women have been the great absent in political history.

The memory reconstructed from organizations and peoples has left their women overlooked, as a reference or a footnote. Returning to Korol (2007), we believe that the "coloniality of power" is reproduced indirectly, by authors such as Le Bot (2004), Gros (2000) and Laurent (2005), who strengthen it when focusing on the history of male leaders, as a succession of staggered actions of great leaders.

There are some very interesting works such as that of Gil (2005) about 14 indigenous students and graduates from higher education institutions in Bogota. However, the author's emphasis is not centered on the indigenous women leaders. We therefore propose a reconstruction of these two Arhuaco leaders' sociological trajectories, which have been articulated with ethnographic observations in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta and in national scenarios.

Luz Elena Izquierdo; first Arhuaco woman to access high government

Higher Education and Missions

Luz Elena Izquierdo Torres was born in Ɉeurwa, in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. She was the first university female student in the Arhuaco people. Her family on the maternal side maintained the Arhuaco tradition thanks to the fact that they remained far from the Capuchin Mission in the snows of the Sierra. According to Bosa's studies (2012), the Capuchin monks settled in Nabusímake and built an orphanage. From 1914 until the beginning of the decade of 1980, they applied strategies of evangelization by means of the abduction and forced internment of Arhuaco boys and girls initially.

This topic has been worked by Gil (2005) in other areas of the country such as La Guajira and Putumayo. As Bosa stated (2015) for the case of the Arhuaco people, subsequently the internment was made voluntarily by families, "daughters" of that institution. Authors such as Bosa (2012) have made comparative studies on the history of the "stolen generation" in Australia and in Colombia.

Luz Elena's case perfectly illustrates these global missionary thoughts at local level; her grandmothers had very diverse social destinations and trajectories. Simeona and Cornelia were raised in their culture. In the archives of the Colegio de Nabusímake prepared by Bosa (2012), these Arhuaco women were, in turn, very different from each other. Cornelia escaped from the Mission and grew up in Las Nieves away from the influence of the priests. Simeona, in addition to caring for her children and her farm, performed economic activities such as the sale of her animals, made complaints to police authorities and to the Council of Elders, which means she acted as a contemporary leader. Eloisa, on the other hand, was abducted and educated in the Capuchin Mission, as Blacina. These historical events generated an internal division in the family.

Mita, Luz Elena's mother, daughter of a marriage formed in the Mission, entered that institution voluntarily, since her mother Blacina had been educated by the priests. The Izquierdo are from Ɉeurwa, where the hills to pay homage to water are.2 However, the Izquierdo are very different from each other and have had differential access to missional education. In Luz Elena's words referring to her aunt Cornelia:

She and her family were afraid to come to see us in the area where we were, they did not speak Spanish and said that "we were already civilized". On the other hand, my grandmother who was raised in the Mission, had the cruelty of the priests. Narrated when she was stripped from her blanket, she was banned from speaking the Ika language. Even though she learned there how to read and write, what they taught her more was religion. In her adulthood, she was found a couple, and they were married in the Catholic Church. They used to leave married, with a new family to defend that culture of the priests. But it is complicated, she was married with my dad who is a Mamo, but he did not go to the Mission. They were locked to the Mamos, her grandfather and great-grandfather had been Mamos. She has always been an Arhuaco woman concerned with her traditions (Interview with Luz Elena Izquierdo, Bogota, 2013).

According to tradition, Arhuaco women were not allowed to study. However, the topic was almost an obsession for Luz Elena since she was very young. Books and study were a refuge to tackle many of her conflicts during childhood. Her father neither fostered this vocation, but most importantly, nor he banned it. Nevertheless, Luz Elena had to face another cultural dilemma, as she was chosen from the womb by one of her grandmothers to stay with her to learn their language and culture.

Formal school vs Culture

During her stay with her grandmother, Luz Elena girl shepherded sheep in the hills. Despite that she enjoyed her grandmother and her teachings, she wanted to go to school. One day when her father visited her, she escaped, and waited on the road for him to take her with her mother. She studied her primary in Ɉeurwa. Some Spanish laypeople were her teachers; when she was ten years, they proposed Luz Elena's parents to bring her back to Spain to study. In spite of the enthusiasm of mother and daughter, her father said flatly no. She was sent with a group of girls to study high school in Manaure. The milestone was perhaps the arrival of the priest Javier Rodriguez. This single event was due to structural changes that were gestating at national and international level. As we have worked in other investigations (Santamaria, 2008), the figure of the priest illustrates processes of recognition of indigenous rights at an international level, in the framework of the Barbados Declaration and the ILO during the decades between 1950 and 1970. In the words of Luz Elena:

I remember that a very young priest came and quickly understood the topic, identified the problems and the culture. What the Capuchins were doing was neither regular nor well for him. The arrival of the priest Javier coincided with that I was going to make the high school and he got us a place in a boarding school near Valledupar. To support us the priest went and sold the cattle of the Mission because he saw how it continued to accumulate, and the indigenous working for the missionaries and none was making a progress at school. Thus, he took the first group of Arhuaco people to study at schools in Manaure. All of us were children of indigenous peoples who worked for the Mission or had been there (Interview with Luz Elena Izquierdo, Bogota, 2013).

Thus, paradoxically, this woman becomes one of the first Arhuaco graduates3with the support of Priest Javier, who arrived as a director of the Mission. However, the difficulties and enormous sacrifices to finish her studies did not exempted her from her family and cultural commitments and obligations. The leadership of Luz Elena was born at the side of the stove, listening to her father's stories, helping in the family kitchen and working in the Community events, where there are more than 300 people. But this leadership does not end there. It is also woven into the classrooms, in visiting the most remote communities to provide health care, in working with consults and in the spiritual work with the Mamos. The female leadership is associated with community work, to be a speaker of her native language, or have equivalent cultural equivalences, motherhood, care of her husband and family. In like manner, the weaving of backpacks for her husband and children. It is there, through backpacks, as the man shows status, power.

The indigenous activism is crossed by a social and sexual division of political work, which in its interior generates a hierarchy of objects and social causes. The division of gender roles and their relationship with education has been studied by Gil (2005). However, the Arhuaco people have specific characteristics in relation to leadership, because the leaders come with their children and companions to meetings. Only those who are in a couple, who have children, generally have legitimacy to the eyes of the community to talk, to lead.

In Geremías Torres's words, the representative at the national level of the Arhuaco People, "a man, a woman who does not have a family, who has not been responsible for children, farm (...) cannot be a good leader" (Field Diary, Nabusímake, December, 2013). For all the aforementioned reasons, we analyzed some dimensions of Luz Elena's emotional trajectory in the following section, to show how throughout her life she has had to play multiple roles and "double shifts" to be the leader she is today.

Admission to Universidad Javeriana of Bogota

Luz Elena settled in Bogota at the end of the 1970s in the full awakening of the indigenous movement, as claimed by Le Bot (2004) and Gros (2000). At that time there were no agreements between indigenous organizations and universities, or scholarship programs, as currently exist in Colombia and other countries. The current processes have been studied in depth by Gil (2005). For Luz Elena, the perspective of graduating was minimal, and more for an indigenous woman with children. However, she did. Luz Elena marries a Guanano man from Vaupes, Quigua, original from an indigenous family exploited by rubber tappers. In these circumstances the processes of socialization and education of the couple took place in different regions, but under the "colonization of minds" by the missionaries.

Luz Elena started her university studies in the 1980s. Discrimination in the big cities was very strong, and especially in a context such as university. The missionaries generated in their processes of systematic education the formation of "colonial powers", still in force in Colombia, to consider the terms of African-American Pratt-Clarke (2010). There is continuity in the permanence of these patterns, as shown by Gil (2005) for the cases of the Wayúu and Kamentsa students in Bogota.

To bring up her first daughter, Luz Elena returns to the Sierra. She sets in Ɉeurwa, where Grandmom Mita lives. Then she returns to continue her studies and has a second son, who is also brought up by the grandmother. Mita never lost the language, but did not teach it to her children, because the Mission prohibited it; she also lost her traditional dress despite coming from a lineage of Zagas4of black belt. To finish her studies, Luz Elena had to separate from her children and leave her territory for several years.

Life in the capital of Colombia without scholarships or family support was not a possibility to be with them. After completing her studies, Luz Elena moved to Vaupes for approximately ten years with Quigua. After facing the jealousy, physical and psychological violence of her husband, she decided to leave for the Sierra with her children. During her stay in the Amazonia she worked in a hospital. At national and international levels, the preliminary discussions of ILO Agreement 169, which would be adopted in 1989, were gestating.

In previous works we have analyzed how at national level, during this period, the first outlines of the ethnic education and "self" health consolidated (Santamaria, 2007). Luz Elena's children: a girl, ATI, and a boy, Norey, grew and were taught between Sierra Nevada and the Colombian Amazonia. Here is one of the strongest biographical and cultural ruptures in the trajectory of Luz Elena: her divorce and raising her children as a single parent. Before the grandmother's worst predictions: "nobody would want her, she had to withstand" very common perspectives in indigenous women her age, the leader reconstructed her working and emotional life. Luz Elena subverts the control device of marriage and preservation of family, used firstly by the missionaries and then by the indigenous authorities for the control of women and men, as a privileged space for the reproduction of culture.

Her trajectory allows us to delve into the issues of the patterns of "coloniality of power" through a concrete experience. By accessing education and work, this woman makes unprecedented biographical ruptures in her family and society. This way, she continues her university training as a nurse at Javeriana University and then her master's degree in Public Health, which allows her to contribute to her community as a member of the Committee of Health and subsequently, as the founder and first manager of the company Dusakawi Indigenous Health. Then, she marries again with an indigenous man from Cauca Colombia, who will be the father of her last daughter some years later: Dunen Muelas. Because of paramilitary groups' threats, she has to resign and move to Bogota.

The analysis of Quijano casts light to understand the "subalternization" of Luz Elena's subjectivity (Quijano, 2000). However, we are interested in highlighting, as we will show, the possibilities of autonomy and the obstacles that emerge in this environment, from her personal experience.

Incursion into high government

This leader was the first indigenous woman in making a foray into the national government. Her ethnic and school capital were fundamental in the time of her appointment. She was one of the most formally educated indigenous women in the country. In addition, very close to the first two former constituent peoples of Colombia 1991. It was a time of difficult dialog between indigenous peoples and the national government. Bush et al. (2005) have called this process "institutional racism". However, the entry of the leader to the government is given in the context of the application of the Constitution of 1991; which recognizes the special rights of indigenous peoples and becomes one of the most progressive constitutions in Latin America. However, while at the macro level these changes were taking place, in everyday life the reality was different. In terms of the leader:

I remember when Human Resources led me to my office and said: "Here she is! this is the new director", and that was it. And when I saw I had around twenty people to my charge. In the management of Dusakawi I managed 120 people, I am trained to organize human teams, that part does not seem complicated to me. However, the Direction of Ethnic groups was different. There was a discrimination against the entity, it was the Cinderella, a burning place, since it had a lot of demands from the indigenous movement. Today the level of the entity is different, I was about to quit many times (Luz Elena Izquierdo, Bogota, 2013).

And so it was, after a year and a half she resigned. Today she serves as an advisor to the director of ethnic groups at national level. From her experience as an indigenous woman, she states that the various national and international actors have claimed in recent years the presence of indigenous women in political scenarios; however, the situation has not changed much, and there are only two other women with her in positions of visibility.

Ati Quigua; the first Colombian indigenous Councilor

The school in Ɉeurwa and the Boarding School of Nabusímake

The school of Ɉeurwa was the first founded by indigenous teachers and graduates from the Mission, the maternal uncle of Ati was one of the first teachers. However, when she arrived at the school, the Mission had been expelled from Nabusímake and the Arhuaco people had assumed indigenous education. As Choque states (2015), they were working at national level in the Andean region on the implementation of policies of ethnic education or of indigenous education, while at international level the consolidation of the working group for indigenous peoples of the United Nations was brewing.

This entailed implementing curricular settings for the Arhuaco boarding, the autonomy of indigenous teachers and the departure of Spanish ones. Ati lived then a very different process of schooling from her mother's. It was developed in the Arhuaco territory and in Vaupes, deepening into the history of the Arhuaco political process the historic struggles of leaders and during a pre-Constitution period in 1991,5 in which "being indigenous" started learning about the subversion of the stigma. For her secondary education, she was an internal, for six years, in Colegio Agropecaurio Arhuaco, in the old facilities of the Capuchin Mission.

We were 45 female internal and some 60 male internal. The buildings in the Mission were being demolished. We went from Spanish architecture to a Swiss building donated by the cooperation and contributions in labor and material from the inmates' families. At five in the morning a bell rang to go bathing in the river. We had professors from outside and from the community, for example the one who taught mother tongue. At one we finished the school day and we went to the orchard and took care of the animals, rabbits, pigs, sheep, cows. We learned to deworm them, to inject them, to castrate them, to rope them, to milk them. We also grew vegetables and potatoes (Interview with Ati Quigua, Bogota, 2012).

Education in the Sierra was directed by the Mamu Kunchana Bingumu. Ati Seygundiba means "Mother of the good thoughts". The discipline of the Arhuaco School repeated much of the missionary culture. Even today in the Coexistence Handbook "it is forbidden to flirt", under penalty of expulsion. This situation reminds us of Foucault's words, when he says: "if sexuality is repressed, aimed at the prohibition, at the absence and the silence, the only fact of speaking about it and its repression, has as an idea of deliberate transgression" (Foucault, 2002). One of the Arhuaco students from Ati's generation, who was already finishing her secondary school to be perhaps the first Arhuaco doctor, was expelled because of a love letter. The customs compared to couple relationships are imbued with the inherited strong religious morals and their hybridization with cultural understandings about women.

For the Arhuaco community, a woman's body belongs to the community, not to the woman. Therefore, the Mamo generates knowledge-power devices of control over sexuality. Recalling Longo's words (2007), it establishes forms of discipline in the body hexis (how to sit, talk, look at). The weaving of the backpack, for example, is a practice of silent concentration. In Ati's words:

The woman is always looking down. A woman who looks to the eye is considered as someone who is establishing an intimate exchange. Women carry the backpack on the head and are focused on that, no woman stands in front of a man, that is considered a bad behavior, an insinuation, everybody stands by side, everybody step aside on the way (Ati Quigua, Bogota, 2013).

The spaces of responsibility require men and women to be married. There is a belief that the responsibility for managing the house and the family ensures good leadership. However, the organization and the community do not offer guarantees for the participation of women in educational or decision spaces. As Chisholm (2001) has observed in other regions of the world, marriage does not guarantee participation. After several years of following Ati's personal and political trajectory, we have been able to observe the birth and consolidation of a female leadership from the "care", in Gilligan (1982) and Noddings' words (1988).

Politics and marriage: tensions between domination and opportunities

From Ati's experience, it is clear that higher education is an opportunity for short-circuiting the dynamics and the role of women in the Arhuaco society and generate leadership in diversity. It is important to highlight that in some cases the school and political capital accumulated, as in the case of Ati's campaign for the Senate of the Republic, and a collaborative work with indigenous men of her family, as her brother Norey Quigua, and Majors Jeremías Torres and Alvaro Torres, have generated possibilities for her process to have the endorsement of the Arhuaco organization. This experience of subversion of the traditional division of political work between sexes, from an "affirmative action of the everyday life", is important to think how similar cases can be generated for other indigenous women and how to move from the individual to more collective actions.

In this regard, Norey, Ati's brother and part of the Arhuaco organization, asserts that both his mother and sister have had "a great man behind "at crucial moments. The foregoing indicates that without the "patronage of a leader" it is difficult that leadership of women emerge, because they are the ones who still have the power.

This opportunity, additionally, is not within the reach of all Arhuaco women nor for those from other ethnic groups. Access to education and support of indigenous leaders is in many cases reserved to the daughters of families of leaders. In the case of Ati, her first marriage with Moisés Villafañe allowed her to break into the field of electoral politics. It is important to highlight Laurent's work (2005), because the political participation of Ati is given in the context of the recognition of the indigenous constituencies. Her leadership is mainly built outward, which paradoxically benefits the process of interculturality, but does not generate transformations in the access to education and leadership of women at community level.

The experience of the leader shows an emerging theme that should be analyzed. The theme, for example, marriage and finishing higher education and entrance to the labor sphere. In Ati's case, marriage was an opportunity to initiate a political process; however, the emotional costs were very high due to the very traditional profile of her husband. Since the indigenous leadership needs to be recognized by other men leaders, in her case an effect of reproduction of the leaders and the leadership by lineages and sex was observed.

Despite having participated in politics before going to university and having more experience than many men, she is not chosen. In this regard, her brother Norey says: "I do not believe in these issues of gender inequality. For example, Aida Quilcué, a great indigenous authority. When I see her, I do not see a woman, I see an authority". This is to say, in the best of cases he admits that a courageous, fearless woman, becomes an "authority", who, however, must hide the woman. This occurs in Ati's case, who holds a political profile that looks for the recognition of indigenous and peasant women. After her divorce from her first husband, Ati restarts her life with an indigenous political (Gerardo Jumí), with whom she has her first daughter: Gunnavia.

Entrance to University

Ati belongs to a second generation of women for whom going to the University was necessary and obvious. When she started her studies, there were different opportunities in the country and higher education programs for indigenous peoples.6She started the undergraduate courses in Public Administration at the Higher School of Public Administration (ESAP). For Ati, at the end of her career, divorce was already a possible destination, and not to grow under the figure of an authoritarian father, but of an empowering and liberating mother, allowed a less traumatic vital transit toward her second divorce. Just as her mother, she must assume the upbringing of her daughter on her own.

During our conversations we were able to observe that in the School of Administration where she graduated, as in most of the institutions, there was strong institutional racism. This type of practices have been studied by Allard and Santoro (2006), and called "dysconscious racism". This is to say, a form of racism tacitly accepted and dominant compared to standards and privileges that involve the middle class white-mestizo, in the form of individual successes, ignoring how the dominant discourse crosses curricula, pedagogical models, excluding other forms of knowledge.

However, the university becomes a tool for Ati, who decides to run for the Council of Bogota during her university process. Her expertise enables refuting the essentialism on the determinism of gender roles and the predominance of the "pastoral care of women" analyzed by Lumby and Coleman (2007).

At a personal level however, she divorces for the second time, appearing thus a profound tension between career and family. But for cultural reasons, the care of children and family does not appear as a radical obstacle, since the grandmothers and other women of the family, as aunts and sisters, play a fundamental role. Even though this depends on the economic autonomy of Arhuaco women, which allows her or not to pay for the care of her family.

"Entrance into politics"

The majority of the presidents of the country have passed through the Council or have been the mayors of one of the big cities like Bogota or Medellin. The entry of an indigenous young woman in this scenario, for a newly founded party, involved many difficulties but also a structure of political opportunity. Her first obstacle was her age. According to the Organic Statute of Bogota, to become a City Councilor it is required to be 25 years old. Ati was elected at 22, so the day after the election there were charges against her. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of her, protecting her fundamental right to the identity of an indigenous culture and be represented by a member that was culturally considered suitable for the post.

However, the Council of the State did not consider the same. Despite not entering the Council, for Ati this process involves the beginning of her political career. This experience makes us relive many of the experiences described by Lumby and Coleman (2007), on the existence of a structural racism in power structures such as politics and education. That time, as for her current candidature to the Senate, the Arhuaco organization gave her its support.

Ever since, Ati emerges as the representative of women and men, defenders of ecological, environmental and causes of women. But the articulation with local processes is very complex. Her speech, her image, her history is turned into an icon for non-indigenous groups, but as the saying goes: "No one is a prophet in their own land". Ati is elected after her second campaign, always supported by her mother, twice as Councilor of Bogota.

The next campaign was very difficult but we got a seat in the Council of Bogota, it was not easy, because in that same year the political reform was approved in Colombia and the political reform punished political minorities, meaning, it placed high thresholds and to be able to get a seat in the independent movement as an indigenous it was very difficult. Then, the Indigenous Social Alliance decided not to participate in these elections and so I arrived in representation of the indigenous peoples to the Independent Democratic Pole that was emerging in that moment as a movement of the left, then I was elected. Bogota has in the census more than seven million inhabitants, but on average arrive annually about two million people, floating migrants from all over the country, within which are the indigenous populations, and 45 councilors are chosen (Interview with Ati Quigua, Bogota, 2013).

During her passing through the Council of Bogota, as part of the movement "Todos Atierra, la común-unidad por la vida y de la red de Arte para la Tierra" [ Everyone totheground, the common-unity for life and the Art network for Earth],7 Ati made alliances with artists and musicians of international recognition, with the aim of creating spaces of interculturality, where indigenous communities present in Bogota could obtain recognition.8 In this process, her boyfriend, the rocker of Doctor Krápula, was fundamental for the combination with these actors.

In the year 2010 she called a referendum for the rights of nature, an initiative that has been echoed in many sectors of culture, social movements and environmentalists in the country. Sé, seed of life and peace, is her current political project, which takes place in a political and international context very different from his mother's. Her university training and her political work is given in the framework of the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of United Nations by Colombia in 2007.

These legal and political developments have been worked by authors such as Bellier (2013) and Choque (2015). Similarly, at national and international levels, various legal pronouncements and public policy advocate for the protection and defense of the rights of indigenous women. However, it should not be forgotten that the relationship between law and reality is paradoxical, and the experience of Ati continues showing discriminatory practices at different levels.

Leap to the Senate

After the third campaign for the Council, in which she was not elected, she decided to run to the Congress of the Republic for the special indigenous circumscription in 2013. She constitutes an alliance with the Amazonian indigenous Jaime Estrada of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC). During her political recess, Ati had initiated her Doctorate in Law from the University of Rosario. She had obtained a scholarship to study, and her objective was to work on the recognition of the rights of nature in Colombia. She started her first semester.

Immediately, there are two types of reaction that vary according to the professors and students' profiles. Those who see in this experience a challenge to generate changes in one of the oldest and most conservative university structures in the country. Other just think that this is not the place for an indigenous belonging to the political world to use a space that should be "exploited by an orthodox jurist". In addition to the strong practices of racial discrimination, as experienced by other indigenous peoples,9and that are of course reproduced in her case, her experience shows how at the highest levels of knowledge production it is impossible for indigenous know-hows to penetrate knowledge on the basis of intercultural studies.

In this case, the studies of constitutional law and protection of the rights of nature, it seems that only the researcher who objectifies, and whose school capital is legitimate can produce valid knowledge (Bourdieu, 1979; Poupeau, 2007; Mato, 2008).

To complete the reconstruction of trajectories, it is important to highlight some of the equivalences and differences between the experiences of mother and daughter. From the point of view of access, the first generation represented in the mother must overcome more barriers in terms of exclusion, discrimination and lack of opportunities. However, at the emotional level, the mother, unlike her daughter, married twice with indigenous peoples from different regions of the country.

Nowadays, she has begun a third marriage with an Arhuaco leader. The daughter, after attempting twice to constitute a family with indigenous partners, chooses to build relationships with non- indigenous men. Similarly, she decides to have only a daughter so far. Access to education for the second generation is easier and has better opportunities.

But cultural barriers persist from the Arhuaco world to recognize processes of leadership of Arhuaco women with atypical trajectories. The amalgam between school and ethnic capital is very important and necessary. This emphasizes the case of Arhuaco women in the private dimension of culture and requires the sponsorship of the men of the family.


The stories of these leader women have allowed us to provide data and reflections for the reconstruction of feminine Arhuaco leadership, showing the role of higher education in the individual and collective struggle of these women. Inspired by the Feminist Popular Education, we believe that if we did not tell these stories of resistance, who would?

From the analysis of these trajectories we can conclude that we are facing educational policies of latent homogenization, both from the indigenous and from academic institutions. However, despite the difficulties, these women offer practical and life policies that have cracked the model of Arhuaco leadership today. The experience of these women is an example of innovative collective action which must continue to be analyzed in depth.

For this reason, we propose the notion of ethnic capital as a subspecies of militant capital to understand the Arhuaco feminine leadership that consolidates after leaving higher education and the passing through certain cultural processes. After rebuilding the trajectories of mother and daughter, we see that if for an Arhuaco man leader, school capital does not play a fundamental role, in the case of a woman it does.

However, in the case of women there are important variations. The scientific or technical knowledge learned in universities must be complemented by an ethnic capital founded on the knowledge of the culture and organizational processes and the management and care of the family. In addition women must be married to exercise the functions of community responsibility. On the contrary, the crossing of Arhuaco leaders to the universe of indigenous women is non-existent. It is observable how these Arhuaco female leaders live like the majority of women in Colombia the "double shift", or on the contrary when they are able, they promote unconsciously the domination of their younger daughters or other Arhuaco women, who require their own resources for their survival.

Similarly, institutional racism and exclusion of Arhuaco women from the academic and political world survives after almost 25 years of recognition of the especial rights of indigenous peoples in Colombia. Despite the enormous emotional costs, these women have taken advantage of the structures of political opportunity that their school career and policies have offered. As shown by Gil (2005), these women lead articulated community processes at national and international level.


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A Luz Elena Izquierdo, indígena arhuaca de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, asesora del Despacho del Ministro del Interior de Colombia, Bogotá 2012, duración: dos horas. [ Links ]

A Ati Quigua, indígena arhuaca de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, ex concejala de Bogotá, Bogotá abril de 2010, duración: 1 hora y 40 minutos. [ Links ]

A Ati Quigua, indígena Arhuaca de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, ex concejala de Bogotá, Bogotá 2012, duración: 1 hora y 30 minutos. [ Links ]

A Norey Quigua y Dunen Muelas, estudiantes arhuacos de la Universidad del Rosario, hijos de Luz Elena Izquierdo, Bogotá, duración: 1 hora y media. [ Links ]

1 Since the year 2009, we have co-organized four courses on intercultural education and leadership in Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta with them. They have participated as trainers in the processes. This scenario has been a platform for observation and data collection.

2 Arhuaco people base their worldview on four elements (water, fire, air and earth). Every member of the community should pay tribute to these elements. One of the ways to do this is through ceremonies of energy cleaning in the hills and mountains that represent them.

3 To achieve their support, she lived and took charge of the care of children in the Vallenato family home of the political elite: the Villazón. In this way, she succeeded in completing their secondary studies.

4 The Wiwa village, also in la Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, has women spiritual authorities who play a role as the Mamo in the Arhuaco people.

5 The Constitution of 1991 was one of the first in the region, after the Brazilian to recognize indigenous peoples as special subjects of collective rights. It also acknowledged the Colombian State as a multicultural and multiethnic.

6 In the Colombian case, there are several processes from indigenous organizations and through alliances with "conventional" universities (Mato, 2011). For example, the Autonomous, Indigenous and Intercultural University (UAIIN) as a result of more than thirty years of indigenous education of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC). This institution, created in 2003, offers undergraduate courses (Administration and Management and Self-Development and Community, Pedagogy, Law) and other programs (Community education, Self-curriculum, ethno-educational Management, Family and Gender Equity and Health Policy). From these programs, according to Graciela Bolaños, Libya Tattay and Avelina Pancho, graduated about 859 students, 349 women in 2007, compared to 510 men (quoted in Mato, 2008; 2011). The Antioquia Indigenous Organization (OIA), specifically from the Institute for Indigenous Education in partnership with the Pontifical Bolivarian University and the University of Antioquia, consists of three main lines of work: 1. The Degree in ethno-education; 2. The School of Government and Indigenous Administration; and 3. The Degree in Education of Mother Earth (Mato, 2008). However, the participation of women, despite being stimulated from the directives of the OIA, remains very low in relation to that of indigenous men (about 70 participants in undergraduate studies during 2001-2007, only 15 women graduated [Mato, 2008]). There is also the program of Ethnic Education at the University of Cauca. According to Axel Rojas, responsible for the reconstruction of the experience, there is a degree in Ethnic Education in the Department of Intercultural Studies of the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of the University of Cauca. Graduates on Afro-Colombian studies have also been developing environmental education, cultural management, ethno-educational management (Mato, 2008). The figures submitted, unlike other experiences, show how in the Cauca more women than men have graduated between the years 2000-2007 (of 115 graduates, 68 are women and 47 men [Mato, 2008; 2011]).

7Initiative with the guide of mamos koguis, Arhuacos and spiritual authorities in the continent who have met with 52 artists from Colombia, Spain and France.

8 Prompted proposals as the "Statute of the water for Bakatá-Bogota", the indigenous public policy, reform of the district environmental statute, the implementation of the ancestral Andean crops as a nutritional supplement and the policy of food sovereignty based on the indigenous and peasant economy.

9 Norey Quigua, student and leader Arhuaco chosen to make part of university government, was dropped in the final phase because of its indigenous origin.

Received: October 21, 2014; Accepted: August 26, 2015

Angela Santamaria. Doctor in Sociology, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS). Professor and researcher in Universidad del Rosario. Research lines: collective action, indigenous peoples and intercultural higher education. Recent publications: "Retrospectiva sobre la campaña de solidaridad con las víctimas de Bahía Portete: Un estudio etnográfico del activismo transnacional (2006-2007)", in Análisis Político, no. 74, Bogota: Universidad Nacional de Colombia (2012); "Retrospectiva del proceso constituyente: Un estudio de caso desde la trayectoria de Lorenzo Muelas", in Revista Colombia Internacional, Bogota: Universidad de los Andes (2013); as co-author in: Acosta Mónica, Naranjo Edgar, Rodríguez Catalina, Rojas Pedro, Santamaria Angela, Identidades porosas, Bogota: Universidad del Rosario, (2012); Rodríguez Catalina, Rojas Pedro, Santamaria Angela, Memoria, Derecho y Participación: Escuela Intercultural de Diplomacia Indígena: Nabusimake, Sierra Nevada de Santa Martha, Bogota: Universidad del Rosario (2012).

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