Invited to think of Buenos Aires, most would probably think of elegant cafés, beautiful architecture, passionate football fans, and buzzing streets. Invited to think harder, you might also think of its villas (slums), street children, and other less gleeful views. But no matter how hard you try, very few would associate Buenos Aires with Indigenous Peoples. Yet,
What do they do? What conditions they are living in? What is happening to their unique cultures and languages? Are they losing connection with their ancestral lands? Is the special legislation protecting their collective rights relevant in the cityscape? In sum, how is the city changing them and, inversely, how are they shaping the urban landscape? These and other questions were at the heart of the dialogue I had with graduate students from across the Latin America region in FLACSO – University of Buenos Aires, last week, on the occasion of the presentation of the report Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, in Buenos Aires.
Although we tend to associate Indigenous Peoples with their traditional territories, the report finds that about
But the urban environment also brings about new and dramatic challenges. On average, (twice as often as non-Indigenous People). Additionally, their traditional knowledge and skills have less value in the urban job market, so they tend to be relegated to low-paying tasks in the informal sector. Culture and language loss, as well as weakened community safety nets, are important threats. Nonetheless, the number of urban indigenous households is only likely to grow in the coming decades, and governments—both local and national—need to understand their needs and potential.
Besides challenging our collective representation of what being indigenous means, the urbanization of indigenous peoples defies the models we have to understand and address their needs and priorities. There are no easy answers to the questions raised last week by students in FLACSO; they also point to areas of further research and action. Our flagship Inclusion Matters report shows that in order to ensure true economic and social inclusion, it is necessary not only to provide opportunities and access to services and markets, but also for societies to give excluded communities—such as Indigenous Peoples in urban areas—a sense of dignity. Driving the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in urban environments is not only economically smart, as an integral pillar to build more equitable, just, and prosperous cities, but it is also the right thing to do, as the cultural diversity that these individuals and communities can bring will make Latin American cities more inclusive and resilient.
Learn more about the World Bank's work on Indigenous Peoples here.
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