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International Indigenous Movements and State Power in South America

I. Project Abstract

In recent years, Indigenous peoples across Latin America have increasingly organized internationally to challenge state power and to open spaces for social movements. The purpose of this proposed research is to examine how and why these significant organizing efforts have emerged at this point in time. An objective of this study is to place the importance of these efforts in a broader historical context in order to gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of how and why they have developed. I will conduct this study through the methodology of participant observation. Building on established relationships, I have the unique opportunity to attend an international Indigenous summit in Peru. Subsequently, I will contrast that summit with local organizing efforts in Paraguay and academic conversations in Brazil. The timetable for the project includes travel in May and June 2009, followed by drafting an article for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Latin American & Caribbean Ethnic Studies, which is the primary outcome. The impacts of this project on the University include expanding historical, cultural, political, and sociological reflections across many academic disciplines on intercultural contacts and organizing practices. The project will also improving my teaching by bringing added content, concepts, and interpretations to the classroom.

III. Project Narrative

Political scientist Alison Brysk (1994: 32) once observed that Indigenous movements in Latin America were “born transnational.” Even as Indigenous demands have historically been rooted in very local issues of land claims and social exclusion, over the past thirty years Indigenous organizing efforts have exploded on a continental level. While both recognizing the importance of rooting struggles in local issues and acknowledging that macro-level organizational structures open up more possibilities for opportunism, co-optation, and repression, activists continue to find purpose and meaning in a search for continental Indigenous unity.

The purpose of this research is to examine how and why international organizing efforts have emerged, and to analyze their significance for broader social movement organizing efforts. This project builds and extends on previous work I have done on the subject, including the forthcoming essays “International Indigenous Alliances for Global Justice”1 and “Indigenous Peoples and Social Forums.”2 This proposal includes participation at an international Indigenous summit in Peru this summer. Direct observation of that summit is a unique opportunity and critically important to witness and reflect on the importance and direction of ongoing international Indigenous organizing efforts.

An objective of this study is to place the significance of recent international Indigenous organizing efforts in a broad historical context in order to gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding for academic and activist audiences of how and why they have emerged in recent decades. Under the slogan “from resistance to power,” Indigenous peoples across Latin America have increasingly organized to challenge state power and to open spaces for social movements. A key debate that runs through these organizing efforts is whether Indigenous organizers should engage state power as a social movement that employees the pressure of street protests to advance their demands, or whether these issues are best contested in the electoral realm. If Indigenous movements enter electoral politics should they do so on their own or in coalition with other social movements and sympathetic allies? These are not simple or easily answered questions, but ones that engender critical analysis of how best to build cross-cultural contacts. This project places me at the center of those debates and is made possible though my years of relationship building and credibility I have earned in Indigenous communities.

This project employs a participant observation methodology that combines participation in an international Indigenous summit with observation of local organizing efforts and involvement in academic conversations. This phase of the project will be developed in three stages:

1. The IV Cumbre Continental de Pueblos y Nacionalidades Indígenas del Abya Yala (Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala) will be held in Puno, Peru from May 27-31, 2009. I have long been involved through NativeWeb ( with international Indigenous organizing efforts, including helping organizations with website construction. I have personally participated in the last two summits in Ecuador (2004) and Guatemala (2007), and am currently involved in developing a website for the 2009 summit in Peru ( I plan to arrive in Peru on May 25 in order to help with technical arrangements for the summit, as well as to observe pre-summit meetings on the themes of youth and women.

2. After the summit, I will travel directly to Paraguay with other academics and activists for a very timely Task Force on the Americas ( delegation from May 31 - June 10, 2009. Less than a year ago, Fernando Lugo was elected president of this South American country. Known as the “Bishop of the Poor,” Lugo campaigned with the support of Paraguay’s Indigenous peoples on the themes of poverty reduction and land reform. We will meet with Indigenous associations to learn about their perspectives on social inequalities and the impact of Lugo’s election on these longstanding problems. This study tour will provide me with an important point of comparison for how Indigenous peoples are organizing for their rights.

3. Finally, I plan to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the XXVIII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA2009) from June 11-14, 2009 ( The interdisciplinary LASA congress meets every 18 months, and is the academic conference with greatest relevance for my work. This year’s theme “Rethinking Inequalities” is particularly important to this research project that examines how historically marginalized Indigenous peoples have inserted themselves into international power structures. Participation in this congress will provide me with a space to reflect with my colleagues on the meanings of the recent Indigenous organizing efforts that I have observed, as well as to gain feedback and build plans for writing an essay analyzing these meetings. At LASA, I am scheduled to participate in three events:

a. I will present the paper “Indigenous Struggle and the Ambiguities of State Power in Ecuador.”3 Over the last two decades, Ecuador has been home to one of the strongest Indigenous movements in the Americas. It provides an important point of reference to understand current organizing efforts.

b. I am a discussant for the panel “Nuevos movimientos y actores sociales: desafíos en el internacionalismo y el interculturalismo.” Presenters at this session will talk more broadly about international Indigenous organizing efforts, providing me with a structured environment both to gain insights from my colleagues into continent-wide developments in social movement developments, as well as to contribute feedback from my considerable experience and expertise on the subject.

c. Finally, I am a participant on a roundtable discussion “Radical Democracy in the Andes” that is being held in memory of my colleague Donna Lee Van Cott. Van Cott was a leading scholar in the field of Latin American Indigenous studies, and her work has had a strong influence on my intellectual development. This roundtable will provide her friends and colleagues with a space to reflect on the significance of her work, as well as provide inspiration for the rest of us to continue on with her legacy.

One direct professional outcome of this research will be the publication of an essay on the Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala in the peer-reviewed journal Latin American & Caribbean Ethnic Studies. I published an essay on the last summit in this journal,4 and they welcome updates and academic reflections on these organizing efforts. I will submit this manuscript by August 16, 2009, the end of the grant period.

An impact of this project for the University will be the provision of new and very timely conceptual ideas and interpretations for my Latin American history classes. This research and learning will help me expand on themes of ethnic diversity and class divisions in my classes in order to understand how cultural differences are negotiated. In an increasingly globalized world, these insights will help students understand cross-cultural contacts in their own lives. This learning will contribute new content and added dimensions to my JINS seminar on Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (JINS 338) where we examine how people use identity constructions to advance political agendas. I look forward to sharing the insights from this research in venues such as the Truman Faculty Forum, Global Issues Colloquium, and the Weekly Faculty Lunch on campus and activist and multi-cultural communities off campus. Through these various venues, this project will expand understanding in the University of historical, cultural, political, and sociological aspects of intercultural contacts and organizing practices with direct relevance to the expansion of our mission to provide excellent educational opportunities for our students.


May 11 - 24, 2009: I will review secondary literature on Indigenous movements in Latin America, and make final logistical preparations for travel to South America.

May 25 – 31, 2009: I will travel to Puno, Peru for the Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala.

May 31 – June 10, 2009: I will continue to Paraguay where I will participate in a delegation with the Task Force on the Americas.

June 11 – 14, 2009: I will participate in the XXVIII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) where I will engage my fellow scholars in discussions on the meaning and significance of International Indigenous organizing efforts.

June 15 - August 16, 2009: I will return to the United States where I will write up the results of my study for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Latin American & Caribbean Ethnic Studies.


Becker, Marc. "Third Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala: From Resistance to Power." Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 3, no. 1 (March 2008): 85–107.

Brysk, Alison. "Acting Globally: Indian Rights and International Politics in Latin America." In Indigenous Peoples and Democracy in Latin America, ed. Donna Lee Van Cott, 29-51. New York: St. Martin's Press in association with the Inter-American Dialogue, 1994.

________. From Tribal Village to Global Village: Indian Rights and International Relations in Latin America. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

________. "Turning Weakness Into Strength: The Internationalization of Indian Rights." Latin American Perspectives 23, no. 2 (89) (Spring 1996): 38-57.

Langer, Erick D. and Elena Muñoz, ed. Contemporary Indigenous Movements in Latin America. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003.

Postero, Nancy Grey and Leon Zamosc, ed. The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Latin America. Portland, Or: Sussex Academic Press, 2004.

Van Cott, Donna Lee. From Movements to Parties in Latin America: The Evolution of Ethnic Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

________. Radical Democracy in the Andes. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Warren, Kay B. and Jean E. Jackson, ed. Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.


The current cheapest price on Orbitz for the itinerary to South America (Chicago to Peru and continuing on to Paraguay and Brazil between May 25 and June 15) for this research project is $2602. In my experience, however, when it comes time to purchase these tickets the complications of acquiring availability of airfares on South American airlines can push the price much higher, perhaps as much or more than the total of this research fellowship. At this point, I will budget $3000 for airfare.

The Peru portion of the trip will be the cheapest for me, as I will only need to cover my costs of room and board.

The Paraguay portion comes with a $1000 delegation fee that includes guides, housing, meals, and in-country transportation.

The final portion at the Latin American Studies Association conference takes place in the expensive Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, where hotels can easily run more than $100 a day. I am currently exploring options to share an apartment with colleagues that would bring down this cost considerably.

This project is important to me, and I will cover the costs that exceed the amount of the fellowship out of my own pocket.

Airfare: $3000

Peru (May 25-31, 2009)

Hotel: $175 (7 nites x $25/nite)

Meals: $140 (7 days x $20/day)

Paraguay (May 31-June 10, 2009)

Delegation fee: $1000

Brazil (June 11-14, 2009)

Hotel: $400 (4 nites x $100/nite)

Meals: $200 (4 days x $50/day)

Airport transfers: $50

Conference registration: $100

Total: $5065

Fellowship: $4000

Out of pocket expense: $1065

Previous support

2008-2010: Innovative Academic Initiative (IAI) grant for developing a new Latin American Experience interdisciplinary course that combines on campus classes with off campus service learning, Truman State University, $10,000. Together with Chad Montgomery in Biology, we are planning a new and innovative semester-long course for spring 2010 that will include taking 20 students to Panama. We are currently working with the provost’s office to develop this project.

2008: Truman Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, Truman State University, for a study of tinterillos in Ecuador, $4000. I returned from Ecuador with a significant collection of archival documents on tinterillos. I have presented several conference papers on this research, and am currently preparing two articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

2008: College of Arts and Sciences Grant in Support of Scholarly and Artistic Endeavors. Declined in favor of a Truman Faculty Summer Research Fellowship.

2007-2008: Civic Engagement Fellowship, The Center for Teaching and Learning, $500. Conducted oral history interviews with immigrants in Milan, Missouri, in my class Race, Class and Gender in Latin America (JINS 338). Students wrote up the results of study and published them in the print-on-demand book Voices of Milan that was returned to the interviewees in Milan.

2006-2007: Sabbatical, Women in Latin American History, 80 percent of salary. Successfully designed a new course on women in Latin America that I am teaching this semester; wrote, presented, and published numerous papers based on research of gender constructions; finished a book on Indigenous movements in Ecuador; and published an edited volume on Indian-state relations in Ecuador.

2004-2005: Diversity Fellow, The Center for Teaching and Learning, $500. Developed Indigenous websites and electronic resources for instruction and research purposes as part of NativeWeb. Project is ongoing.

2004: Scholarship of Assessment Grant, Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, $2,000. Co-authored study to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching Introduction to History and Historiography to first-semester students. As a result, we kept the course.

2002: Fulbright Scholar Program, Ecuador.

2000: Truman State University Funding for Results grant to design a new Junior Interdisciplinary Seminar on race and ethnicity in Latin America.

1997: American Historical Association (AHA) Albert J. Beveridge Grant for post-dissertation archival research in Ecuador.

1994-1996: Social Science Research Council (SSRC)-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for Peace and Security in a Changing World for dissertation research at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and with the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Quito, Ecuador.

1994-1995: Fulbright-IEE award (declined in favor of SSRC-MacArthur Fellowship).

1. To be published in Erin O'Connor and Leo Garofalo, ed., Gender and Race, Empire and Nation: A Documentary History on the Making of Latin America (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson)

2. Co-authored with Ashley Koda, to be published in Scott Byrd, Ellen Reese, Jackie Smith and Elizabeth Smythe, ed., Building Bridges Across Great Divides: Volume II Social Forums - Movements and Networks.

3. I have written this paper for publication in Jeff Webber and Barry Carr, ed., The Resurgence of Latin American Radicalism: Between Cracks in the Empire and an Izquierda Permitida (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers).

4. Marc Becker, “Third Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala: From Resistance to Power,” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 3, no. 1 (March 2008): 85–107.

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