• Idioma: Nehluen, Innu language
  • región: Nitassinan - a territory that spreads from the south-west of Quebec, to the north-eastern coast of Labrador, Canada
  • Colaborador(a): Marie-Emilie Lacroix (Missinak Kameltoutasset)
The inclusive ‘we’ - all as equals
El "nosotros" inclusivo: todos como iguales

We know that it is possible to learn a language using a dictionary, a grammar or by taking a course. As we dedicate more time, we learn words, a basic vocabulary and sufficient pronunciation to enable us to understand and speak. We all learned the mother tongue of our family when we were toddlers, but only very few of us looked for the meaning of this language, and of its importance in influencing our lives. To undertake this search is to embark on an exceptional journey which can transform our entire life. This is a journey I have lived in investigating the words of my own language, Nehluen.

This is the common language used throughout the Innu communities in the province of Quebec, Canada, from Lac St-Jean to Labrador, passing by the lower Côte Nord. The Innu alphabet is based on 11 consonants and 7 vowels. It is indeed a complex language to learn by a new student, but so rewarding because it is so pictorial. The words represent more than a simple concept; they create a picture, a scene, animate a thought, define a precise action linking it with the environment. The Innu words are very exact, descriptive, and full of life. 

The underlying reason is that there is one vocabulary adapted for village life and another one for the bush. These nuances are linked with the corresponding environment, which itself is indissociable from thought, and therefore the verbal expression. Since the landscape changes as we move from the South to the North, and from the East to the West, we also see it is reflected in the words used to designate the specific features of each place. It is in fact this precision of the words that enables us to understand the relationships which exist between the flora, fauna and the animals who live there. The human being must adapt to the decor, as he is a part of it. He is included in this big circle where interdependence prevails.

A pen and ink drawing showing the circle of life
À toutes mes relations, Mandala by Ghislain Bédard, all rights reserved

To better understand the base of the Innu language, we have to position ourselves in the context of circular thought. A human being and his environment are indissociable in this kind of thought. The pronoun ‘we’ will serve as an example to better understand the possible shades. If I wanted to speak of ‘we’ which includes me and you (singular or plural), then I would use ‘TSHINANU’. The prefix ‘TSHI-‘ corresponds to you in all its forms. If I wanted to speak about ‘we’ but in a way which is excluding you, whether singular or plural, I would say ‘NINAN’ (with the accent on the second N). Tshinanu – the inclusive form of we – invites sharing, community life, as there are no fences in the word tshinanu. It is a collective ‘we’, an open hand extended to others, inviting them to be a part of the circle. It also correspondingly tells a story, the story of the community of life of the person who speaks or writes. This word brings into relation the land, the animals, the plants and the peoples in the same pronoun.

The exclusive ‘we’ (NINAN) represents the person who is speaking about something, but without the listener or the group of listeners. Take, for example, a hunter who speaks about the moment when he was alone with the deer. He’ll say NINAN because, of course, the listeners weren’t there with him at that exact moment with the deer. The precision of the word thus conveys a very clear picture of the message, defining the role of everyone in the described scene.  Speaking a language is a lot more than using words, as it also defines identity and belonging. It draws a portrait of the person’s native origin.

To speak of the area in Quebec inhabited by the Innu peoples, we use the word Nitassinan (our land), which also speaks to our inside land, our roots. For the traditional land of our families in the bush we say Nutshimit. It represents the land of silence, the inside discourse, the place of personal discovery, without any pressure. When presenting oneself and giving the name of the person’s community, people have an idea of the individual through the territory, which in turn speaks of a particular culture and way of life of the people living there, whether nomadic or sedentary. 

When an Innu person is cut off from his/her territory, it deeply severs the bond to his/her identity. It means a loss of living roots, like becoming a stranger to him or herself. As a result, the words, loaded with context, lose their bearings in the new environment, there is no more silence, there are no roots. It is exactly this kind of broken bond, this deep wound that best describes placing indigenous peoples in reserves and residential schools, and healing will only be found by a return to the tradition. Let’s remember that the survival of our nations following these traumatic events rests on the shoulders of our elders who proudly protected our culture through the oral tradition. Our environment is the land, the forest, the plants, the insects, the animals, the water, the air and the human beings who are the stewards of the creator’s gift. An interdependent circle of life. From generation to generation, our teachings say that the earth doesn’t belong to us, but rather we belong to her, bearing in her our own distinctive roots.

Tshinashkumitin Iame

Missinak Kameltoutasset

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Map of Quebec First Nations communities
Map of Quebec and Labrador First Nations communities from https://www.quebecautochtone.net/en/


  • Idioma: Quechua
  • región: Andes peruanos
  • Colaborador(a): Las comunidades del Parque de la Papa Pisaq y el Parque del Maíz Chalakuy
The practice of barter and exchange
La práctica del trueque e intercambio

La practica de chalay (o chhalay) plasma el concepto y el valor Andino de reciprocidad. Representa un sistema ancestral de economía alternativa que valora personas, la tierra, y el carácter sagrado de los alimentos. Reciprocidad se encuentra al corazón de todas las relaciones, asi que hay intercambios entre las personas y la madre tierra, los apus, las plantas y los animales. 

Históricamente en los Andes, el intercambio no monetario ha estado ligado al ideal de complementariedad económica y ecológica, y aportaba a los fines de auto abastecimiento, no para fines de lucro. Aunque agricultores andinos ahora están integrados al sistema económico monetario moderno, chalay continua a proveer acceso a bienes y servicios importantes sin dinero. Los agricultores que hacen chalay hacen trueque entre alimentos, calculando el valor de los productos. En este caso, el valor no es equivalente a su valor monetario, sino considera el tiempo y esfuerzo para la producción, el transporte, y considera la relación social entre los que hacen el trueque, y las necesidades de los participantes. Fortalecen relaciones entre familiares y amigos entre diferente zonas agrícolas. Los alimentos y las semillas también son miembros de la familia. Cuando hacen intercambio de semillas, las nuevas semillas se hace la “nuera”. Hay que tratar estos nuevos miembros de la familia con mucho cariño para que produzcan bien.

Yo hago chalay de semillas de maíz. La variedad paracay hago chalay con otras mujeres de la comunidad de Rosaspata. Semillas de maíz de la variedad qello uwina hago chalay con mujeres de la comunidades Ccachin. Cuando hago chalay intercambio información de como criar las semillas, los adoptamos en nuestra familia, esto ayuda a que las semillas de otros sitios se adapten bien a la tierra de mi comunidad, asi sacamos buena cosecha de maíz.

Basilia Quispe Fernández

Gente que viven en la zona media, donde hay maíz, trigo y habas, el cultivo de papa es escaso, y en esos lugares desean la papa deliciosa de las alturas, y su chuño y moraya (dos tipos de papa deshidratada). Los de altura anhelan la rica diversidad de maíz de la zona media. De esas dos zonas, también pueden intercambiar para plantas aromáticas, frutas y verduras del valle. De esa manera, las familias de las tres zonas intercambian sus productos para diversificar y balancear la dieta diaria, y mejorar la nutrición de sus hijos. 

Chalay respeta el carácter sagrado de los alimentos. El maíz y la papa son sustento de la vida. Son para el consumo, para vender, para intercambiar con otros productos, para trabajar en las chacras. Para llevar las semillas al mercado u otro lugar, lo sahúman de manera ritual, invocando a la Pachamama, pidiendo que no se lleve su ánima del maíz, que se permanezca en la comunidad. Al traer nuevas semillas, ofrecen hoja de coca y las rocían con chicha para dar la bienvenida al nuevo hogar. El intercambio en chalay se ve como un elemento importante en los trayectos de vida de las semillas. 

Nuestro Apu, montaña sagrada, es el nevado Ccolque Cruz, con quien hacemos chalay el mes de agosto, que es carnavales para nuestro animales, para la vaca, alpaca, llama. Le hacemos ofrenda al Apu como chalay, para que ayude a cuidar nuestros animales, para que no se enfermen. Estos tiempos ha aparecido una enfermedad que esta matando a nuestros animales. Antes teníamos mas animales en este sector de Mapaccocha, muchas alpacas, llamas ovinos, y silvestres como la llullucha, ahora hay poca llullucha y menos animales.

Saida Juares Mamani del sector Mapaccocha

En los mercados de trueque (Chalayplaza), antes la gente traían muchos productos diferentes, incluido carne de alpaca seca, lana, cuero, y productos de cerámica o fiero, pero las condiciones están cambiando. Algunos productos, como sal y azúcar, están casi completamente integrados al mercado monetario. Algunos revendedores de alimentos participan en los mercados de trueque, y intentan explotar o engañar a los agricultores. En estos casos, el intercambio a veces ya no es respetuoso o justo. 

ANDES y las comunidades indígenas de Lares reconocen la importancia del chalayy están haciendo una investigación comparativa para ver la evolución de los chalayplaza en los últimos 20 años. Durante la investigación, miembros de las comunidades locales manifestaron su interés en proteger y promover la practica de chalay. Un resultado es que el 15 de junio, 2021, una ordenanza municipal ha sido aprobado por el gobierno municipal de Lares para reconocer la importancia de los mercados de Trueque. El texto, indica la intención de: 

“Declarar la Practica del ‘Chalay’ o Intercambio Tradicional de Cultivos y Semillas Realizada en los Mercados del Campo Ferial de Hinopampa, C.C. Choquecancha, C.C. Q’achin y C.C. Huacahuasi, como una Expresión del Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial del Distrito de Lares, que contribuye a la conservación de la Agrobiodiversidad y Seguridad Alimentaria de la Población Local”

Ordenanza Municipal No004-2021-MDL, Lares, 15 de junio del 2021

Otra reflexión del interés en proteger los mercados de trueque es una nueva colaboración entre dos Territorios de Patrimonio Biocultural, El Parque de la Papa en Pisaq y El Parque Chalakuy de Maíz en Lares. Miembros de los dos Parques, junto con la Asociación ANDES, están trabajando para preservar el conocimiento y las practicas ancestrales relacionados al paisaje y los sistemas alimentarias, incluido el chalay

Yo hago chalay en el mercado de Choquecancha, aquí siempre realizamos chalay desde mucho antes. Yo he hecho chalay desde cuando era joven. Chalay es muy importantes para intercambiar producto alimenticios, para balancear nuestra alimentación, no usas dinero y eso ayuda mi economía. Yo estoy muy contenta por que ahora viene mas gente a hacer trueque. Como las comunidades del Parque de la Papa, quiero que el chalay sea más frecuente.

Simeona Huillca Betancurt

Lista completa de colaboradores

Asociacion ANDES

Tammy Stenner

Parque de la Papa

Jhon Ccoyo Ccana 

Ricardina Pacco Ccapa

Aniceto Ccoyo Ccoyo 

Nazario Quispe Amao

Lino Mamani Huarka

Mariano Sutta Apocusi

Ciprian Ccoyo Banda

Bacilides Jancco Palomino

Daniel Pacco Condori

Parque Chalakuy

Ricardo Pacco Chipa 

Juan Víctor Oblitas Chasin

Alberto Condi Durian

Saida Juares Mamani

Alfredo Hancco Santacruz 

Maritza Churata Ttito

Basilia Quispe Fernández

Simeona Huillca Betancurt

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  • Idioma: Murui (Uitoto)
  • región: Amazonia, Colombia
  • Colaborador(a): Emperatriz López de la etnia Murui-Muina
Ancestral longhouse
Casa comunal ancestral
Activar subtítulos para ver subtítulos en inglés o español

La casa comunal ancestral y espiritual de Murui-Muina, la Maloka, alberga a varias familias que cocinan y cuelgan sus hamacas en espacios separados. Es donde los hombres mastican coca y tabaco y donde las mujeres preparan yuca dulce, y donde los ancianos se reúnen para discutir y manejar los asuntos de la comunidad. También es donde se lleva a cabo la danza del Yadico (la Danza de la Unidad). En este proceso, que tarda 15 días en prepararse y dura toda la noche, los Murui se esfuerzan por curar las tensiones y los desacuerdos que surgen dentro y entre sus comunidades. El resentimiento y la discordia se disipan y la comunidad vuelve a tejer su armonía.

Al mismo tiempo, toda la comunidad se reúne para fortalecer y sanar su íntima relación con el mundo natural, y transmite la sabiduría y las prácticas ancestrales a sus niños y jóvenes.

Como dice un líder:

Bailamos para lograr la armonía con la naturaleza. En este sentido, acercamos el mundo espiritual a nuestra gente. Los maestros de danza son poseedores de conocimientos que comprenden el entorno y sus cambios; cuando convocan un baile lo hacen por la salud de nuestro pueblo, porque estos bailes curan las enfermedades que están presentes en nuestros territorios.
Bailamos para compartir nuestro conocimiento con nuestros niños y jóvenes. Estos bailes tienen el propósito de unir a las personas y familias que se encuentran dispersas en nuestras tierras, fortaleciendo así la solidaridad y la armonía en nuestras comunidades.

Alrededor de 1.100 personas Murui-Muina viven en 5 resguardos a lo largo del río Caquetá. Aunque sus derechos están oficialmente reconocidos, la deforestación genera enormes amenazas a sus esfuerzos por preservar su cultura y forma de vida. La extracción de oro legal e ilegal, la ganadería y el tráfico ilegal de drogas están invadiendo y fragmentando cada vez más el bosque del que dependen para obtener agua, alimentos y hierbas curativas, mientras que sus jóvenes se ven atraídos a trabajar para los cárteles de la droga y las operaciones mineras.

El destino del bosque y el destino del pueblo Murui-Muina están íntimamente ligados.

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  • Idioma: Lakota
  • región: Great Plains, Central United States
  • Colaborador(a): Tiokasin Ghosthorse
Consciousness; knowing
Conciencia; conocimiento
Music courtesy of Tiokasin Ghosthorse

This contribution is edited from a series of conversations with Tiokasin Ghosthorse, project producers, Neville Gabie and Philippa Bayley, and fellow contributor Malcolm Maclean.

Neville: As you have described it, Lakota is a language of verbs because everything in our world is alive, in motion, active. That idea completely changed my thinking because suddenly I could no longer see a tree as passive, but as actively being – ‘treeing’.

Tiokasin: If you see something in motion and suddenly it stops then you have to noun-ify it and it does not have any life – it does not have any motion… It becomes ‘a thing’. To think in the ‘earth paradigm’ (rather than in the ‘human paradigm’) – when you are seeing something in motion it is a more alive way to see and feel something because you are part of it. Your eyes are actually a part of that energy of motion, so you describe it that way. And then you describe the energy that you are feeling. So these two ways of understanding – motion and energy – are probably as close a way of getting to say how the language is structured.

The English language is not effective enough because we use concepts which are very basic building blocks. Concepts get in the way. Concepts put barriers in the mind and in the spirit too.

Neville: I remember you were saying that the human body and the trunk of a tree have the same word in Lakota – čaŋ. Can you say more? 

Tiokasin: čaŋ is a tree – so we are talking about a torso, we are talking about the finger, the arm, and our hair is the leaves, you can go on, and our toes are the roots. It’s not just that your body is a tree – it’s the wíyukčaŋ – knowing, consciousness. You hear the čaŋ in it? So, in Lakota thinking, when you fragment the word: wí-yu-kčaŋis the sun and to us, sun is a verb – it is being and it is always alive. And the yu is like the consciousness that is given to the tree and the tree is acknowledging the sun. This is not just us as the body of the tree, but this is the tree of who we are. We can spiral out into a bigger thought: Wow, the consciousness of the sun is the consciousness of the tree and vice versa. And we are the acknowledgement of it because look how we are made. We don’t have the language for that in English. I am speaking so many English words to describe one little thing!

Wíyukčaŋ – that’s knowing, consciousness – the wíyukčaŋ is also involving the moon and the stars and the trees of the earth and how they communicate, and we are in that as humans.

Philippa: You have talked about people becoming ‘technical human doings’ rather than ‘organic human beings’. Can you say more?

Tiokasin: In the older world, in the petroglyphs and hieroglyphs, you can see humans and nature; in some of the prophecies the Hopi have their feet below the ground as if they are planted. And the technical people are going nowhere, they are not planted. So that means their minds have become ethereal and disconnected.  We are at a point now where there is still a chance for the majority to start thinking differently, more earth-oriented. There are a few who retain that sobriety with the earth. Otherwise we become intoxicated with our own humanness and get into the patterns of thinking we have superior intelligence, and that’s defined by concepts in the language. 

It’s not progress to lose consciousness with the earth.  Where is the language to keep that aliveness of the earth? You see how much confidence children have with the earth. They have a lot of confidence with the earth and then that’s torn down and replaced with false confidence. When my friends come from the more urbanized settings they are in nature and it’s all new and they are afraid of it, because they have no confidence in nature. So they will get their manuals out, so they can identify, but the butterfly is not thinking about identity. 

When you are not confident with the earth, you lose your roots. But what I see is that as native people – we can wander but we know who we are. In the USA we are landless, we are landless as native people, but we are not homeless.  Ok, temporarily we don’t have the land, but who said that we had it anyway? So those binding languages that are forcing you to say ‘you need to think this way – let’s make a treaty’ and yet history says ‘but where is your contract with the earth?’ That is our responsibility – being with the earth making sure that she is maintaining all life including the little human being.

Malcolm: That was a wonderful thing you said there about being landless, but not homeless.  It applies in my part of the world as well. We have a famous poet here, Norman MacCaig, and I have to paraphrase it… ‘Who does this land belong to? The man who claims to possess it, or me who is possessed by it? ‘

Tiokasin: What if we thought in terms like that? You belong to the earth? And if you think like that then your language is confident. If you maintain a relationship with the earth, rather than control of the earth, that all life will be here. We started by saying ‘if we need the earth, does the earth need us?’ In a Western context we would say ‘of course we can save the earth; of course we can do this’ but that is an industrialized way of thinking and at the same time we are thinking she is going to flick us off like a flea. It’s not even a question. If the earth needs us because we are the earth it’s a sense of responsibility: ‘Yes, of course we need the earth, but of course the earth needs us.’ We are here in a relationship, so our language is all of relationship.

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Getting started – Philippa’s thread

Neville Gabie and I met about 10 years ago, when we were both at the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol. I was the new manager there, and he was our first Artist-in-Residence, supported by the Leverhulme Trust. Neville brought a quiet and thoughtful presence, a fantastic listening ear, and a history of inspiring, participatory projects from Greenland to Antarctica (and many places in between). I brought my passion for interdisciplinary thinking and working, and a mental Rolodex of the brilliant researchers that spanned the Cabot Institute’s environmental remit. It was a good pairing.

We both moved on from Cabot, and stayed loosely in touch, but didn’t really speak until late in 2020 when the call for the British Council’s Creative Commissions for COP26 came out.  Throughout 2020 I had been thinking about trying to find a softer response to the environmental crisis. I have been on many protests, lent my voice to chants of “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!”, voted Green, put posters in my window, and ear-bashed my friends. But in the dislocation of pandemic lockdown I felt myself wanting to respond to a quieter yet insistent voice that yearned for less shouting, and more acknowledgement of our beautiful, fragile relationship with the natural world.

Continue reading > “Getting started – Philippa’s thread”
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