Mission with Indigenous Peoples of Latin America
By: Loudeger Mazile, OMI
General Councilor for Latin America
The indigenous peoples are as many and as varied as the countries in Latin America where they are the original inhabitants. There is but one word to describe their condition: misery. The indigenous nations are considered second-class citizens in their own homeland – what a contradiction! This is the reality, at present, of the indigenous nations in Latin America. They, with the Afro-Americans, are the visible faces of poverty in the continent. This poverty is a product of more than five hundred years of exploitation, discrimination and exclusion on all levels.
The “re-awakening” of the indigenous masses is symbolized by the take over of political power in Ecuador and Bolivia by indigenous candidates. This is the culmination of a slow and long process of formation and “conscientization” in which the Oblates have played a part. In various countries of Latin America, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have continued to help the indigenous peoples, particularly in evangelization that restores their dignity, respects their cultures and traditions, and in organizing the indigenous masses in various groups and associations to defend their basic human rights.
In Paraguay, the first “land fall” in Latin America, the Oblates have helped the indigenous people educate themselves in their own tongue. They transcribed their native language in an orthography that is still in use today in the country.
In Bolivia, the OMI mission with the indigenous people consists in formation and conscientization. They also help in the establishment of associations and unions that will assist the masses in defending their human rights. This work is especially facilitated by a community-based radio network that through the years has given a voice to the poor “campesinos” and workers in the mines.
In Peru, amid persecution and massacre of the indigenous people by the rebels and the regular army, in the far flung zones of the country, the Oblates have taken their side to help them defend themselves and to denounce abuses against the victims. This help is also extended to the people who have sought refuge in the city. The Oblates have helped in placing a mantle of protection to sustain the indigenous people in a hostile and alien environment.
In Mexico, the Oblates offer to the indigenous people opportunities to educate themselves and to have access to basic health services. Through a solidarity campaign led by more enlightened members of the community, they are able to construct schools and clinics that give free access to health services with the help of medical volunteers who are friends of the Oblates.
Whether in Paraguay, in Bolivia, in Peru or in Mexico, the OMI missions with the indigenous peoples are many and varied. Evangelization is always accompanied by self-organization towards education and conscientization of the masses – both respecting their cultures and traditions and defending their basic human rights.
Today, the Oblates can be proud of the fruit of their labor. Together with other missionaries and with the indigenous peoples of Latin America, they affirm gradually and unequivocally the struggle of the indigenous peoples in reclaiming their rights on all levels, especially in the political sphere. No doubt, this political and social “re-awakening” is the prelude to the disappearance of misery in Latin America.