Free Public Lecture – May 2014

Free Public Lecture – May 2014

Public lecture and branch meeting


Old Ways in the New Brazil: Education Policies and Indigenous People in the 21st Century


Dr. Sarah Shulist, Assistant Professor of Anthropology – Department of Anthropology , Economics, and Political Science, MacEwan University


Thursday, May 15, 2014  6:00-7:30 P.M.


Grant MacEwan University City Centre Campus 10700 104 Ave, Edmonton, Alberta Room 7-218  For maps and directions click here.

Lecture and speaker information

Among the forces shaping the radical changes that Brazil has seen since the beginning of the 21st century, reform to the structure of education has been among the most important. Particularly during the 2003-2010 government of President Luis Ignácio da Silva (Lula), who famously overcame a childhood of poverty and illiteracy before entering politics as a self-education labour leader, ensuring the accessibility of high-quality education for a greater segment of the Brazilian population has been a key aspect of the reduction in poverty and increased equality that have recently been seen in the country. As with many other strategies for economic development and growth, however, the impact that these educational reforms have had on Indigenous peoples and cultures has been complex, and not always positive.

Indigenous groups in Brazil – who live primarily in the remote and sparsely populated territories of the Amazon basin and the swampy wetlands of the Pantanal – have also emphasized education as a central political goal, both in order to improve the dire economic conditions found in these communities and as a key site for the revival of cultural practices and traditions that have historically been prohibited and stigmatized. In this presentation, Dr. Shulist will discuss some of the central questions about how education policies designed to promote economic growth for Brazil as a whole have a particular impact on Indigenous peoples. These include the growing role of state-defined credentials in the lives of Indigenous people, the challenges of implementing and assessing specialized culturally-appropriate educational programs to extremely small and remote populations, and the impact of state support programs that encourage school attendance on culturally significant subsistence practices. The balance between the desire to preserve cultures and the desire to improve material conditions is a difficult one to strike, and ultimately, the most challenging issue is becoming the degree to which educational reforms are actually able to produce the needed results in these communities, as opportunities to apply the skills and knowledge acquired continue to push Indigenous graduates out of their traditional territories and into the urban areas of the South of Brazil.

Sarah Shulist has a PhD in Linguistic Anthropology from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. Her research focuses on the political, social, and cultural aspects of efforts to preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages in the Northwest Amazon of Brazil. She completed her doctorate in the fall of 2013 and moved to Edmonton to take a position in the Department of Anthropology, Economics and Political Science at MacEwan University. Her work has been published in Anthropologica and Collaborative Anthropologies, and a forthcoming publication will appear in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

Her doctoral research was based on collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in the small city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Amazonas, Brazil, a predominantly Indigenous and highly multilingual community in which the potential that several of the local languages will disappear from use has been a prominent concern among the local population. In addition to consulting with a regional Indigenous non-governmental organization and the municipal government regarding the implementation of municipal language policy promoting Indigenous languages, she also helped to found an organization dedicated to the documentation and dissemination of the Indigenous Wanano culture. She is continuing to consult with this latter organization in order to support their long-term goal of establishing a Wanano school in the city of São Gabriel.

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