Ibero-America continues to advance in the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages

Through the Initiative Ibero-American Institute of Indigenous Languages (IIALI by its Spanish acronym) the region carries out actions for the protection and revitalization of indigenous languages.

According to the report “The Revitalization of Indigenous Languages”, more than 500 of the languages that are still spoken in Latin-America face some kind of threat. This, in turn, represents a risk even to the existence of Indigenous Peoples:

It is crucial to understand that indigenous languages have been and still are the means for the transmission of traditional knowledge from generation to generation; the memory; the unique ways of thinking; meanings and expressions our peoples keep; the fundamental knowledge for feeding, for health, education; organizational models; cultural essence; and cultural identity (IIALI, 2024a).

As part of the regional approach to this challenge, the Initiative Ibero-American Institute of Indigenous Languages (IIALI by its Spanish acronym) was approved in 2021. IIALI seeks to promote the use, preservation and development of indigenous languages spoken in Latin-America and the Caribbean (LAC), and to support indigenous societies and States in the exercise of cultural and linguistic rights (SEGIB, 2024).

Thus, the Institute provides technical support in the “design and implementation of linguistic and cultural policies for indigenous peoples and will facilitate informed decision-making on the use and vitality of their languages” (OEI, 2022). Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico are part of this Ibero-American Initiative, with Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru as observer countries. The Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin-America and the Caribbean (FILAC by its Spanish acronym) plays a key role in this Program through its coordination and facilitation.

The Institute was officially launched in February 2022, year which marks the beginning of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. Since then, it has developed several processes and steps to achieve its goals. Specifically, different initiatives have been developed in 2023 and 2024, such as the Trinational Kukama Project in the Amazon or the Multinational Qhapaq Ñan Project for cultural and linguistic revitalization in the Andes through innovative means such as art and technology.

Technical assistance was also provided to the Central-American Integration System (SICA by its Spanish acronym) to design the Global Action Plan of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032). Additionally, IIALI contributed to the preparation of the Latin-American Atlas of Indigenous Languages in Danger and the Laboratory on the Vitality and Use of Indigenous Languages in LAC (IIALI, 2024a).

In April 2024, the Atlas of Indigenous Languages in Danger began its implementation in the Bolivian Amazon, the results of which would be available in early 2025. In addition, actions were carried out to launch the Saq B’e Project -with five Mesoamerican countries-, which revalorizes indigenous child-rearing patterns and highlights the role of indigenous mothers in preserving the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, wisdom, culture and language.

Apart from the aforementioned projects, a series of regional and international meetings were held, bringing together a wide range of stakeholders, including government offices, indigenous organizations, academic institutions and international cooperation partners. For example, high-level government authorities of Guatemala, together with the Directors of UNESCO and OEI in that country, carried out a working visit to promote intercultural bilingual education, cultural and linguistic revitalization and intercultural health.

Additionally, the event “Native Languages: Protectors of the Thought and Memory of the Peoples”, organized by the Government of Colombia, was held in Bogotá in order to highlight the role of indigenous languages in the fight against racism and discrimination. In this activity, IIALI Coordinator, Luis Enrique López, shared worrying figures on the vulnerability of languages in the region, but also stressed that work is being actively carried out to address these threats.

For example, he highlighted the role that second and third generation youth are playing by using information technologies to strengthen their languages, recover them and even teach them (IIALI, 2024b). Some of these efforts are, for instance, the initiative “Ojos del Monte: Revitalization of the Ticuna language and culture”, and a set of twelve technological, artistic and cultural projects aimed at the preservation of the following languages: Huarpe (Argentina); Aimara, Pukina, Takana and Uru (Bolivia); Chedungun and Mapuzugun (Chile); Awapit, Desano, Judpa and Maicoca (Colombia); Kichwa and Shuar (Ecuador); and Aimara and Tikuna in Peru (IIALI, 2023).

FILAC gave the following message on the International Mother Language Day, celebrated last February, during which a recognition was given to the heritage languages of the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (meaning “land in full maturity” in the Guna language):

April 2024

Source: SEGIB based on Agencies and Directorates-General for Cooperation and the Initiative Ibero-American Institute of Indigenous Languages (IIALI, 2024a) (2024b) (2023), OEI (2022) and SEGIB (2024).

Photos: Qhapaq Ñan Project of the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin-America and the Caribbean (FILAC).