Thu. Feb 25th, 2021

María Clemencia Herrera Nemerayema did not get a diploma when she finished primary school at the Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús boarding school in the municipality of La Chorrera, in the southern Colombian department of Amazonas. Instead, at her graduation, a priest gave her a Bible and a crucifix with the figure of Christ. “This is so that one day you will convert,” he told Clemencia, who was barely 15 years old. Throughout her time in school, Clemensia had refused to forget her mother tongue, Uitoto minika. In every class she did everything possible to remind her classmates about their culture, what the Chagras — the spaces where they grew crops — were like, what the communities in her territory were like, and what the role of Indigenous Amazonian women was. When Clemencia remembers the interaction with the priest, it makes her laugh and, perhaps, leaves her a little curious. She says she doesn’t understand why the priests and nuns who came to impose Western religion and education on that untamable territory were so insistent on demonizing Indigenous culture. She was not rebellious; she was just opposed to forgetting what was hers. “Is that where your leadership began?” I ask her. “I don’t know if that was the beginning of being a leader,” she answers. “I just knew that for me there was nothing else but the Indigenous people who surrounded me.” And yes, that is how it all started. A 1989 image of Clemencia (right) at the Viotá school,…This article was originally published on Mongabay
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