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Opinion and Analysis: Indigenous and Afro-Venezuelans

Venezuelan history first

For the first time in Venezuelan history, an indigenous newspaper won a National Journalism Award in 2010. On July 4, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communications awarded Wayuunaiki with a National Journalism Award for layout of its 10th anniversary issue dedicated to “alternative communication with an indigenous essence.”

The award-winning April issue featured stories about a variety of indigenous media such as Internet news portals, radio, television, and print media in Venezuela as well as in Colombia, Argentina and Chile. The stories in the winning issue included: A piece about another new Wayuu-focused paper in Venezuela; a bilingual, Spanish-Wayuu radio station; a Kichwa Satellite Radio Network reaching 30 indigenous stations in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and one in Argentina; the first indigenous TV station in Colombia; the first indigenous internet education portal in Venezuela, focusing on bilingual intercultural educational videos and forums; and of course, a large spread on the history and future plans of their monthly newspaper, Wayuunaiki, which is the name of the Wayuu language.

Wayuunaiki is distributed throughout the country, mainly to areas with heavy concentrations of indigenous peoples and it includes news from the Wayuu region of Colombia. This monthly newspaper, with its base in the city of Maracaibo, is also being noticed by readers in at least six other Latin American countries, but its beginnings were humble.

In an interview shortly after the announcement Director and Founder Jayuriyu Farias explained how a newspaper that was first dedicated solely to the Wayuu people, who live in northern Venezuela and in the Department of Guajira in Colombia, grew to address issues in all of the indigenous states of Venezuela, as well as from neighboring countries.

“The newspaper was born in a very favorable time and space for indigenous peoples in Venezuela,” Farias said. “In 1999, they [the Chavez administration] included protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in the constitution, and this was an article that needed to be disseminated, and in that historical moment. … the indigenous people gained a voice that would speak of our needs, and of the oblivion to which we had been condemned for so many years.”

The 32-year old director and co-founder noted that indigenous people had only appeared in the “red chronicles” or police logs in Venezuelan newspapers and media up until then, “… always negative,” she said.

Farias was inspired to take action in 2000, while still a university student. The first small issue of the newspaper came from a school project, and started with news involving the Wayuu community in Venezuela. Wayuunaiki eventually grew to cover the indigenous territories of the nearby Yupka, Bari, and Japreria peoples. From there they aimed at all of the indigenous territories in the country.

When asked if the paper – which now includes a staff of reporters, correspondents, editors, designers, and translators – received any support from the communities or government, Farias responded strongly in the affirmative.

“I can tell you with a lot of pride that they have always supported us; the family solidarity, the friends, the institutions, and the federal and some local governments. But I must tell you that at 10 years, we need more support because we don’t have our own printing press or building.

“But we continue in this struggle with conviction and we deliver our paper thanks to the work of our marvelous team, all of them indigenous and professional.”

While the newspaper is growing, both in terms of readership, scope of coverage and employees, Farias noted that her favorite stories are those that focus on people in the communities and that they would never lose “that connection.”

Part of Wayuunaiki’s journalistic perspective can also be found on page 2 of the award-winning April issue, under the column heading of “We Will Continue Growing.”

“Because really, alternative communication has soul, it is not managed like the big media corporations that lose sight of the horizon, tricked by the money and the fight for power, but the struggle of our media is the pursuit of the awakening of the conscience, the hardest battle for humanity. … we inform, we promote, we educate, we participate in our communities.”

The newspaper will maintain its community roots, Farias said, but they are also looking outwards, making connections with many countries.

“In other countries of our continent, like Ecuador and Bolivia, there is no newspaper like ours,” she explained. “And those are nations with bigger indigenous populations and the indigenous of Bolivia, for example, have asked us several times to come train them in the use and management of media and design.”

Farias has made contacts with various indigenous leaders in the U.S. “I found that my indigenous friend Brad Garness of Alaska was furious about the U.S. not approving the U.N. Declaration on Indigenous Rights and that my friend Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponka) felt deceived. … and we discussed many things at the World Social Forum meeting held in Detroit recently.

“But Brad also told me that the prophecy of the condors and the eagles is beginning to come true, and that is the dream, that we can fly together.”