Reflections: Latin American Indigeneities Workshop by Cian Warfield

As we reflect on Indigenous People’s Day (October 10, 2016), Cian has written a blog about the Latin American Indigeneities Workshop at UCC.


Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Centre for Mexican Studies, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies (UCC) in collaboration with The Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre, The Study of Religions Department (UCC).

The blueprint for this event was established weeks before I was to take the lead in organising the workshop. Both Professor Nuala Finnegan (Centre for Mexican Studies) and Dr Lidia Guzy (MEWSC) had met on a number of occasions beforehand eager to organise a workshop where the sole purpose was to explore contemporary expressions of Latin American Indigeneities. In the context of University College Cork, this had never been achieved before so there was a tangible air of excitement around establishing a workshop of this nature. As a PhD candidate in my second year of the doctorate working within this very field of study, I was quickly invited by both Professor Finnegan and Dr Guzy to take the position of lead organiser of the workshop, a position I was delighted to hold throughout the entire process even when the organisation of academic gatherings tends to involve very non-academic details (what’s the price of a cup of coffee?; when should we have coffee?; should I include wine with the meal?; oh dear, I completely forgot about supplying water, where do I purchase some last minute?).


With all of those intricacies organised and out of the way, the workshop could finally begin. Including our invited keynote speaker, Dra Patricia Torres Mejía from CIESAS in Mexico City (pictured above), there were twelve speakers in total delivering papers on Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. My aim for the workshop, from the moment I took the lead, was to ensure that not only was there a healthy balance between the number of PhD candidates and career researchers presenting at the workshop but that the event itself adopted a hemispheric approach to the study of indigeneity in Latin America, promoting cross-regional dialogue by exploring expressions of indigeneity from a variety of countries in the Americas. This aim, along with a multidisciplinary approach, was most certainly achieved.

Dra Patricia Torres Mejía from CIESAS in Mexico City is an accomplished anthropologist and academic and it was a pleasure to introduce her as the workshop’s keynote speaker and also as the first paper of the day. Audience numbers surpassed my expectations considering Latin American indigeneities is a less frequent topic of discussion in higher education in Ireland. Dra Torres’s paper was titled ‘Indigenous Knowledge and Higher Education in Mexico’ and explored the current state of intercultural education in Mexico today. Her paper was detailed and precise. This paper established significant points of debate and discussion for the remainder of the workshop including, of course, the all important division between Western thought and indigenous worldviews which continues to plague this area of study. The workshop then transition into the area of cyberculture and indigenous cyber activity and resistance, where Dr Thea Pitman (University of Leeds), whom I was delighted could accept my invitation to attend the workshop, followed with an insightful discussion on indigenous cyberculture in Brazil. Dr Pitman’s paper explored netweaving and the virtual poetics of resistance. Eva Cabrejas (PhD candidate, UCC) concluded this session on digital indigeneities providing a very concise and well thought-out paper on the online activities of Zapatista women in defending and promoting their rights including their efforts to podcast and radio broadcast as well as produce online magazines.

After lunch, the workshop resumed with Gillian Watt’s (UCC) first paper of the day which reflected on her recent field work in Latin America, this time in Peru. Gillian brought to the workshop personal reflections of her time spent in Peru with the Ashansinka and her observations of their ritualistic use of ayahusaca, an organic hallucinogenic brew. Before breaking for coffee, I, Cian Warfield (UCC), followed with a discussion on ethnopolitics in Bolivia, particularly noting the changing shape of the relationship between the indigenous and landscape and, in turn, the change in indigenous political activism in the country as a result, noting as a point of reference the construction and development of lavish neo-Andean architecture in El Alto (pictured below).


With the coffee break finished and a keen awareness that the workshop was at least thirty minutes behind schedule (nothing surprising in academic circles), the final session resumed. Dr Lidia Guzy (UCC) gave a wonderful talk on Davi Kopenawa’s monography, The Falling Sky. Her talk reflected on the book as a form of indigenous resistance in Brazil by the Yanomami indigenous group in a country where indigeneity is a backward, almost non-existent concept. The discussion that followed Dr Guzy’s paper focused on the narrative of the book itself which, while written using the personal pronoun, is in fact a co-authored book by Kopenawa and his anthropologist friend Bruce Albert. This debate on the narrative of the book fed into the wider discussion throughout this workshop; the difficult, often complicated relationship between Western academia and the wider indigenous community in Latin America around assisting the marginalised in helping them reclaim culture, language and political rights without colonising their worldview, knowledge and way of life. The final paper of the day was Gillian Watt’s (UCC) second research paper of the workshop which was a further reflection of her recent experience of field work in Latin America however, this time in Argentina. Gillian presented on the co-existence of eco-villages in north-east Argentina and local Mbya Guaraní indigenous communities emphasising the possible benefits of globalising influences or tendencies.


As the first event of its kind in UCC, it is more than safe to say that it was a complete success in what it set out to achieve; to open up a greater, multidisciplinary dialogue between researchers of indigenous studies in Latin America, to promote the unique work that is being done in this area and to foster important and necessary debate and discussion within this field of study. While these boxes where being ticked, attention turned during the post workshop dinner to the possible future collaborations now available as a result of the connections and contacts made during this workshop. As a first time academic event organiser, I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.



About: Cian Warfield is a second year PhD candidate with the Centre for Mexican Studies, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin America Studies, University College Cork. His current research focuses on a comparative analysis of contemporary forms of indigenous political representation in  both Bolivia and Mexico; a regional comparison of state and anti-state forms of ethnic politics.




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