The economic rationality of indigenous peoples is not accumulation, but harmonious relationship with the environment.

During the Minga, an ancient tradition of collective work, people work for the benefit of the community, but also enjoy time together. (Midwives met in Minga for cultivating medicinal plants · Cotacachi · Ecuador Photo Alejo Cock)

From a western point of view, the concept of development is understood mainly as “economic development”, that is to say an improvement in material conditions of life. Whilst for many indigenous cultures, development is the search for harmony.

In the kichwa language there is no word that translates “Development” in the western sense of the world. The translation would be closer to “the fulfilment of a full life”, which is “Sumak Kawsay”.

In the Andean vision, “Sumak Kawsay” is the balance between Munaj [the economical dimension], Yachay [the learning, knowledge dimension]. Thus we can say that “development” and “sub-development” in the western sense are not adequate concepts in the vision of indigenous peoples.

Today “Sumak Kawsay” appears in the new constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador. It is the first time that a notion that expresses ancestral practices of cohabitation, which are respectful of nature and of human beings, is out lined as the “must-be” of a society.

“ I don’t feel under-developed or poor…. because I have my lore, my culture, my behaviour, my environment, my land……so I don’t see how anyone could consider me as being under-developed”
Cesar Pilataxi Ecuadorean leader

In the XXI century, the challenge for the indigenous peoples is to live in this globalised world without giving up their worldview or their identity.

Offering to the "Pachamama" or Mother Earth, to thank for giving us life: water, food and plants for health. (Equinox Day · Cotacachi · Ecuador · Photo Alix de Roten)

Despite centuries of oppression, many indigenous cultures have survived. In the XXI Century native people are still fighting to protect their ancestral lands, natural resources, cultural practices and languages. The exploitation (oil companies, mines, timber industry, gas industry…) on their lands, deforestation, assimilation policies or prejudice are some of the threats facing them.

But this century also carries new hopes: on one hand in some sectors of society, the indigenous proposals on development have been welcomed, as can be seen from the high participation of the indigenous peoples in the World Social Forum in Belém do Pará, Brazil, in January 2009. On the other hand, on a legal level, the approval, in 2007, of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that protects the right of these peoples to “freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”, is an important international recognition of the secular struggle of native people. These changes open new horizons for the development of indigenous models in the field of economics, culture, education, health, politics, etc.

In the next posts, we we will publish examples of current economic initiatives that have their roots in the history and tradition of the indigenous peoples. As well as presenting a major opportunity for the future of these people, and are an effective way of dealing with the global challenges of the XXI century, which unbridled consumerism and the ensuing imbalance in the global ecosystem not to mention exacerbating social inequalities.

The girls at the Intercultural Bilingual School "Amauta Ñaupi" live from young the intimate relationship that a person should have with nature. (Amauta Ñaupi · Puyo · Ecuador · Photo Alejo Cock)

This work on the indigenous approach of developement is part of a global investigation I made for the Red Cross’ campaign “Harmony Peoples” indigenous approaches in a global world.