Re-articulating Discourse for Indigenous and Environmental Justice: A Study of Nicaragua's Unidos por BOSAWAS Music Festivals

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Perez, Mery Angeles
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University of Guelph

The cultural and physical survival of the Mayangna people of Nicaragua is being threatened by the increasing, illegal presence of farmers and other colonists in their home, the Biosphere Reserve of BOSAWAS. The activities of these non-Indigenous settlers reflect a disregard for the sustainability and respect for mother Earth, characteristic of the Mayangna worldview. In Nicaragua, there are policies that have been articulated in the last several decades with the goal of protecting Indigenous communities and the natural environment. However, these policies are not implemented. A group of musicians and environmental activists have considered that this problem emerges because of a lack of knowledge and education and because of long-standing Discourses that have devalued the cultural heritage and knowledge of Indigenous people in Nicaragua. Through the organization Misión BOSAWAS, they attempted to facilitate processes of conscientization (consciousness raising) through concerts and media campaigns from 2012 to 2016. They hoped that by raising awareness, Nicaraguan society might take the first steps toward re-articulating a Discourse that supports justice for Indigenous people through policy implementation. This interdisciplinary research involved an in-depth, single case study of these festivals. The data collected and analyzed included secondary data and primary data. The dissertation asked the following central questions: 1) How has Nicaragua’s official national Discourse constructed the notion of Indigeneity? 2) How has the music performed and recorded during the Unidos por BOSAWAS Festivals contributed to the process of conscientization in favour of policy enforcement? 3) How have activists and the public experienced the festival? And 4) How can the initiatives surrounding this issue be optimized by Misión BOSAWAS and similar organizations so as to benefit Indigenous people and the environment? The research results show a positive contribution of music in this attempt at a re-articulation and re-appraisal of Indigenous heritage in Nicaragua. The results also indicate a need for education, political organization and liaisons with international entities that defend human rights. Finally, the results indicate that while problems continue to exist, raising awareness through festivals where music is a central component has laid the foundation for critical awareness and support from the public. These first steps toward justice and policy enforcement may not be large but they are certainly significant.

Indigenous rights, Nicaragua, BOSAWAS, land rights