Peruvian proposes partnerships of indigenous peoples

Matt Ross
12/30/03

HAMILTON, Ontario - More than 40 years later, the memory of his mother's traditional Indian dress maliciously ruined is still vivid.

Witnessing his mother who was sobbing in the house after her beautiful clothes were deliberately splattered by thrown mud and water, Jos? Z?rate, now 50, still recalls his first experience with racism in his native Peru.

Z?rate hails from the Quechua tribe in the Andes, a people who comprise about one-third of Peru's 28 million people. Even with such a populous minority, Z?rate remembers the verbal taunts and physical dangers indigenous people faced all those years ago.

"In order to protect us, the children, they stopped talking to us in Quechan to stop the abuse from the city people," Z?rate said about his difficult childhood and his family's move to the capital of Lima.

By drawing upon where he came from, Z?rate's past fuels his present drive. As an independent advisor on economic and social issues, he vigorously promotes the rights and development of indigenous peoples worldwide and frequently has been a consultant for the World Bank.

Now a coordinator for The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) in Toronto (associated with the Anglican Church of Canada), Z?rate designed and implemented the Indigenous Development Program and has been in this position for the past eight years. While the concentration of his efforts is designed to assist the First Nations and Inuit of Canada, the path that landed him north of the border traversed throughout the hemisphere.

Obtaining an economics degree in Mexico and working in Mexico City's banks, Z?rate later immigrated to Canada in the mid-1980s though struggled to find meaningful employment for the lack of "Canadian" experience. After re-assessing his situation, he decided to enroll at the University of Guelph for a master's degree in Anthropology and Sociology, a discipline that eventually took him to Nicaragua for studies with the Mosquito tribe and would become his first international experience with Native people.

In addition to his studies at Guelph, Z?rate founded and published "The Indigenous Voices," a monthly newspaper that lasted for four years. This publication created an understanding and a dialogue with non-Natives on Indian affairs and forged an international connection of Aboriginals from the Arctic through to South America.

"That opened a new perspective in my work that after my experience in Peru and Mexico to give me a comparison of life, struggles and victories of indigenous peoples worldwide. This was a niche in order to promote inter-indigenous relations of the Americas."

Invited to go to Belize for a conference on creating a hemispheric partnership of indigenous people, Z?rate's negotiating skills caught the attention of the World Bank. This international agency sought to incorporate the opinions of indigenous people in the development of Central and South American countries and Z?rate was an ideal candidate to assist in these efforts. Well-educated with Spanish as his mother tongue, Z?rate could draw upon his roots yet still have a fresh perspective as an outsider with his Canadian passport.

"The World Bank has recognized in the past the promotion of international development in developing countries has been one-sided in the sense of supporting initiatives run by industry and didn't pay too much attention to social issues reflected by the opinions made by local populations," said Z?rate who has since obtained his doctorate in Education from the University of Toronto on Community Development.

Too often the history of big business in the poorer countries, Z?rate believes, has a terrible track record of raping and pillaging the land. Any jobs offered to the locals, re: Indians, at best are token positions that have done nothing to alleviate the widespread poverty nor construct the necessary infrastructure to provide hope for the future.

At worst, Z?rate refers to the cyclical nature of boom-bust economies within natural resources and the tragedies left behind. With the short spurt of money to people who aren't accustomed to this "wealth", the mismanagement of funds at the individual level includes the problems of alcoholism, drugs and prostitution.

"Indigenous people, especially in Latin America, don't trust foreigners if they represent international countries because their only experiences have seen nothing but contamination, deforestation and social chaos," Z?rate stated.

However, Z?rate did play a participatory role in Bolivia towards constructing a framework in the exploration of oil and gas deposits located on the lands of an indigenous tribe. Given the past relationships between the federal government, big business and Native populations that bordered on mistrust, Z?rate was the mediator.

"They didn't have a clue how to avoid conflict because most of the time the resources are on Indian lands," said Z?rate who was part of a two-person delegation sent to this South American nation based on his Canadian experience. "With the three parties we were able to reach a consensus for the best way without infringing on anybody's rights."

His advice for the World Bank has been wanted on such matters as operative directories, social and environmental assessments and the sticky subject of any resettlement of local populations. However, Z?rate confided that regardless of what is discussed in the boardrooms prior to any drilling, cutting or building, enforcement of these deals are left to the individual nation-states as the World Bank has no legal jurisdiction in the policing of these pre-development agreements.

Back in Canada, his efforts are conducted under much less stressful situations; as he will oversee funding allocated by PWRDF for projects that preserve cultural elements or to correct societal problems within First Nations communities. Z?rate's next venture will take him on a four-month sabbatical to Prince George, British Columbia where the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) will implement a new academic program in partnership with the Nisga'a First Nation, designed for Aboriginal students to deliver traditional medicinal and healing practices.

By using the example of the UNBC and the Nisga'a and how they have made post-secondary education more accessible for First Nations on previous occasions, Z?rate has applied those practices to his country of origin. This past October he spent three weeks touring nine communities in Peru before he concluded six years of negotiations between the Amazonian indigenous and the National University of the Peruvian Amazon.

Returning to his homeland able to assist in raising the status of his fellow Indian brethren was a humbling experience.

"I was so moved and I felt so proud to be one of you because I am from the (Andes) mountains and I would feel honored to work with you on future endeavors," said Z?rate about his journey that has brought him full circle back to Peru.

Z?rate can be reached via e-mail at indigenousworld@yahoo.ca and at (416) 924-9199, ext. 240.

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