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Native Peoples: Indigenous Movements in Latin America (LAS 275)

Spring 1999, Gettysburg College
Wiedensall Hall 401, MWF 10:00-10:50
Office: 413 Wiedensall Hall
Student Associate: Rebecca O'Connell
Marc Becker
Office Hours: MWF 11:00-12:00
Phone: 337-6296
Becca's email:


What does it mean to be "Indian" in Latin America? Do Rigoberta Menchú, the Maya Indian from Guatemala who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Zapatista guerrillas, Maya Indians who are fighting against neoliberalism in Chiapas, Mexico, have anything in common? We will discuss challenges to Indian survival, and how Indians have confronted problems which they face. How have these struggles changed Indian communities and ethnic identities? Through a study of cultural, historical, and political dynamics, we will analyze themes such as the role of women, environment concerns, economic development, the formation of Indigenous organizations, assimilation, ethno-nationalism, and demands for territorial autonomy. Hopefully you will leave this class with a better appreciation for the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of Indigenous peoples in the Americas.


You are expected and required to attend every class session, and you are responsible for the material covered in the lectures, readings and films, and for any announcements made in class. Unexcused absences will negatively affect your grade. If you have suggestions for improving the class, please bring these to my attention. In order to improve the quality and value of the class, through consensus the class can modify the syllabus and assignments. I will post class schedule updates and other information related to the class on the web site. If you have a disability or any conflicts which may affect your class performance, please bring this to my attention immediately so that we can make arrangements for this to be a positive learning experience for you.


There are five required books for this class. Read the assignments before class so that you are prepared to carry on an intelligent discussion of the material in class. Lectures will complement the readings and assume the base level of knowledge which they present, so it is critically important that you keep up with the readings.

  • Alderete, Wara, ed. Daughters of Abya Yala: Native Women Regaining Control. Summertown, Tenn., USA: Book Pub. Co, 1992.
  • Díaz Polanco, Héctor. Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1997.
  • Van Cott, Donna Lee, ed. Indigenous Peoples and Democracy in Latin America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
  • Wade, Peter. Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. Chicago, Ill: Pluto Press, 1997.
  • Wearne, Phillip. Return of the Indian: Conquest and Revival in the Americas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.


This course makes use of a web site and a web-based discussion board ( to extend the scope of the class beyond that of the immediate classroom setting. Class schedule updates, additional information on assignments, study guides, and other resources and information related to the class will be posted to the web site. Please use the discussion board to ask questions, continue class discussions, and as a resource to help you with assignments and exams. You are expected and encouraged to make active use of these resources. Please let me know if you need assistance in using these resources.

Assignments and grades

Course grades will be based on the following assignments. I will place more information on these assignments on the class web page. All essays are to be three-pages long, typed, double spaced, include citations and a bibliography, and follow good essay form. The format should follow either the MLA or Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. See the guide "The Writing of a Historical Essay or Research Paper" on the class web page for additional advice on the format of your papers. Grades on late assignments will be penalized one-half of a letter grade for each day that they are late.

  • Ethnic self-awareness study (10%, due January 29). This assignment is designed to lead you to think more critically about ethnicity in Latin America through an analysis of your own ethnic identity and what that means to you.
  • Zapatista essay (10%, due February 19). Analyze the current Zapatista movement in Mexico in the context of historical developments in that country.
  • Environmental essay (10%, due March 5). What environmental problems have Indigenous peoples in Latin America faced? How have they confronted these problems?
  • Midterm exam (10%, March 12). This exam will cover the first half of the class.
  • Women essay (10%, due March 31). How is the role of Indian women different from other women in Latin America? What unique problems do they face?
  • Quizzes (10%). There will be periodic quizzes over the weekly readings.
  • Internet research assignment (20%). Design a web page for the Internet either on one Indigenous ethnic group in Latin America, on the Indigenous peoples of one Latin American country, or a thematic topic related to Indigenous peoples. I will help you develop an appropriate topic for the web page. The specifics of the web page are up to you, but it should contain the following elements: a historical introduction to that particular group or groups, a description of their culture (including food, language, religion, dress, etc.), current issues which they face, their organizations and organizational strategies, and their prospects for the future. You may also want to include links to other sites, maps, graphics, and photos (but be careful not to break any copyright laws). This project is a chance for you to let your creative juices flow.

    This will be a collaborative project which you will develop with several other students. This class has been assigned a Student Associate, Becca O'Connell, to assist you in the planning and implementation of the web page. You should think of this assignment as the extension of a research paper, and include all the appropriate items therein (footnotes, bibliography, etc.). Your audience, however, will be the general public who will access your web page over the Internet. At the end of the semester, we will review and critique the style and content of each other's web pages in class and make suggestions for improvements. There are three important dates for this project:

    • February 26: Deadline to select topic for web page.
    • March 26: Deadline for you to meet with me in my office to discuss strategies and potential problems with your topic.
    • May 3-6: Presentation of web pages in class.
  • Final exam (20%, Wednesday, May 12). The final exam is comprehensive.

Class Schedule

January 22 Introduction

January 25-29 Ancient Civilizations

  • Wearne, Ch. 1 ("Definitions and Diversity") and Ch. 2 ("Before Columbus")
  • Wade, Ch. 1 ("Meaning of 'Race' and 'Ethnicity'")
  • Díaz Polanco, Ch. 1 ("Nation Building and the Ethnic Question")
Ethnicity Essay (January 29)

February 1-5 Conquest and Colonization

  • Wearne, Ch. 3 ("Human Rights, Human Wrongs")
  • Díaz Polanco, Ch. 2 ("Colonial Policy and Slavery") and Ch. 3 ("Colonial Indigenism")
  • Wade, Ch. 2 ("Blacks and Indians in Latin America")

February 8-12 Zapatistas

  • Tresierra, Ch. 8 ("Mexico"), in Van Cott, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy
  • "A Brief History of the Zapatistas" and "First Declaration From the Lacandon Jungle" (Internet)
Special Lecture: Rodolfo Stavenhagen, "The Zapatista Rebellion and Its Political Consequences" (Thursday, February 11, 7:30 pm, Lyceum, Penn Hall)

February 15-19 Assimilation

  • Díaz Polanco, Ch. 4 ("Indigenism after Independence")
  • Wade, Ch. 3 ("Early Approaches to Blacks and Indians")
Zapatista Essay (February 19)

February 22-26 Amazon: Land and Environment

  • Wearne, Ch. 4 ("Land and Environment")
  • Marés de Souza, Ch. 9 ("Brazil") and Prieto, Ch. 10 ("Paraguay"), in Van Cott, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy
Special Lecture: Margaret Kek, "Environmental Movements in Latin America" (Thursday, February 25, 7:30 pm, Lyceum, Penn Hall)
Deadline to select web topic (February 26)

March 1-5 Nationalism and Ethno-nationalism

Read: Wade, Ch. 4-7
Environmental Essay (March 5)

March 8-12 Review and midterm exam

Midterm Exam (March 12)

March 15-19 Spring Break

March 22-26 Indian women

Read: Alderete, Daughters of Abya Yala
Special Lecture: Margarite Guzman Bouvard, "The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina" (Thursday, March 25, 7:30 pm, Lyceum, Penn Hall)
Deadline to meet with me about your web page (March 26)

March 29-31 Bolivia and Colombia: Economic Development

  • Wearne, Ch. 5 ("Assimilation and Development")
  • Albó, Ch. 3 ("Bolivia") and Avirama, Ch. 4 ("Colombia") in Van Cott, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy
Women Essay (March 31)

April 5-9 Ecuador: Pan-Indian Organization

  • Wearne, Ch. 6 ("Organization and Revival")
  • Remy, Ch. 5 ("Peru") and Selverston, Ch. 6 ("Ecuador") in Van Cott, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy

April 12-16 Guatemala: Maya nationalism

Read: Adams, Ch. 7 ("Guatemalan Maya") in Van Cott, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy

April 19-23 Nicaragua: Autonomy

Read: Díaz Polanco, Part 2 ("On the Road to Autonomy")

April 26-30 Globalization

Read: Van Cott, Ch. 1 ("Democracy") and Brysk, Ch. 2 ("Globally") in Van Cott, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy

May 3-6 Class presentations and final review

Final Exam: Wednesday, May 12, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

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