AHRC Grant for Consolidating Peace and Indigenous Rights through Higher Education – a Biocultural Indigenous University in the Andean Amazon of Colombia

Photo credit: Estudio Bosque

Dr. Matthew Gillett and Dr. Marina Lostal, both Senior Lecturers in Law at the University of Essex, have jointly been awarded the competitive AHRC Grant to “Develop international networks to research peace and trust”.

Their project, titled “Consolidating Peace and Indigenous Rights through Higher Education – a Biocultural Indigenous University in the Andean Amazon of Colombia”, addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 concerning Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Dr. Gillett and Dr. Lostal have been awarded approximately £60,000 over 24 months to create an international, multi-disciplinary and inclusive research network, linking Indigenous representatives with researchers, human rights experts, and educational professionals. They will conduct the project together with International Co-Investigator Santiago del Hierro (ETH Zurich).

In addition, they have been awarded a £2,000 grant through the Essex IAA Active Engagement Fund to kickstart the project before the official start date of the AHRC Grant.

The research is connected to efforts to establish a “Biocultural Indigenous University” (BIU) in the Andean Amazon of Colombia. By centring Indigenous pedagogy in an autonomous institution, the BIU model seeks to strengthen the preservation and inter-generational transfer of Indigenous knowledge and contribute to pluri-epistemic collaboration.

“It is from the messages that biodiversity transmits to us, that the idea of establishing a territorial university was born: the Pan-Amazonian Indigenous Biocultural University-AWAI, led by the Inga people of Colombia, a space for dialogue between Indigenous knowledge and Western techniques, technologies and science, from a decolonial and liberating perspective, deeply collective and non-ethnocentric, with a perspective of biocultural peace to promote life until the sun goes out”.

HERNANDO CHINDOY CHINDOY (Atun Wasi Iuiai (“AWAI”), the Indigenous Territorial Entity of the Inga People of Colombia

Equally, the research project seeks to contribute to SDG Targets 16.1 (reducing violence) and 16.4, (combating organised crime and illicit financial flows), by providing opportunities for Indigenous youth to obtain qualifications and employment and escape cycles of violence, criminality, and alienation.

Given the traditional Indigenous connection with surrounding ecosystems, the BIU model also offers a pathway to ecologically-centred sustainable development.

Centring on the BIU, the research network will explore the feasibility of Indigenous-led and autonomous tertiary education in Colombia. It seeks to address the following matters:

  • how an Indigenous-led university can be established and recognised as an autonomous institution;
  • the implications of this university for the rights of Indigenous people to education, cultural and a healthy environment; and
  • the parameters of a rights-based framework for establishing an Indigenous-led autonomous institution at the tertiary level.

Alongside the creation of the research network, the project will be realised through knowledge exchange, including a workshop in Colombia, meetings with Colombian officials, and an engagement with relevant United Nations Special Mandate holders. The project will complement the Devenir Universidad network, which is researching and documenting the pedagogic and spatial planning aspects of BIU.

Prof. Theodore Konstadinides, the Law School’s Director of Research commented: I wish to congratulate Marina and Matthew for their recent success. This is a very important interdisciplinary project that will enable us to further develop our international research networks in South America and cement the reputation of the Law School as a pioneer in addressing global human rights challenges. I am looking forward to seeing Marina and Matthew stimulating new debate and exchanging ideas with the relevant stakeholders in Colombia and promoting the United Nations’ sustainable development goals“.

Preliminary work by the grant recipients has already been undertaken, including a submission to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples prepared together with Hernando Chindoy Chindoy (AWAI) and others. The implementation phase of the project will commence in early 2022, with outcomes of the research project to be disseminated via publications, including a report and an academic publication.  

Dr. Gillett and Dr. Lostal would like to express their gratitude to the research team of Essex Law School (Prof. Theodore Konstadinides, Prof. Stavroula Karapapa, and Prof. Ting Xu), the internal reviewers (Prof. Sabine Michalowski and Dr. Carlos Gigoux Gramegna), and Kai Yin Low for their invaluable input while preparing this proposal.

For further information about the project, please get in touch with the Investigators: Dr. Matthew Gillett and Dr. Marina Lostal at mg21486@essex.ac.uk and ml20391@essex.ac.uk respectively.

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