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Words to live by

Andrea Markey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (June 03/05) - This week was Juan Carlos Machicado's first visit to Canada.

It was his first time seeing ice on a lake and crashing through it in a boat. It was also his first time in a sweat lodge and going duck hunting.

But that is about where the differences end and the similarities between his culture and the Dene begin, he said. Machicado visited Yellowknife as the first speaker of the Native Communications Society's Global Indigenous Literacy Initiative.

The Peruvian author and documentary maker explained Inca culture and spirituality to students in Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah, as well as to a public audience at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre.

When the Spanish first arrived in Peru, they didn't understand what they saw, resulting in many misinterpretations, he said.

For example, the Inca had a women's university for learning things such as architecture, engineering and cooking. Early Spanish archaeologists mistook the place of learning for a harem.

Early Catholic priests mistook the university for a nunnery and called it the "place of the virgins of the sun," he said.

Words for "brother" and "sister" were used by the Inca to describe bonds rather than family relations. When used as in, "I married my brother," the Spanish took that as incest, he said.

"These misinterpretations led to the murder of a lot of people, with the excuse that they lived like animals," he said.

Early historians, descendants of the Spanish, took the Spanish writings as gospel. The result has been that a lot of Inca people have lost their culture, he said.

"In school we were told 'Be thankful for the Spanish - now go play soccer'."

There is currently a process of cultural revival going on in Peru.

"The purpose isn't to say who is the victim and who is the oppressor, but to understand everyone and regain our culture," he said.

Living in a difficult terrain, with mountains up to 20,000 ft and bound by the Amazon jungle and ocean, required the Inca to create a philosophy of life in tune with nature, he said.

"They built next to fertile land, not over it," he said. "They learned to benefit from every season and understand it."

That is something that is missing from many areas today, he said.

"Someday the Earth won't support the way we are pushing the Earth for food," he said. "We should watch out what we buy in the supermarket."

The Global Indigenous Literacy Initiative will continue with three more speakers this year, said Dane Gibson, executive director of the Native Communications Society.

"The Dene of the NWT continue to struggle with the changes that happened here in such a short time," he said, in a recent press release. "They are reclaiming what is rightfully theirs through the negotiation and implementation of Treaties. Other indigenous nations of the world are also fighting to reclaim their land, culture and language. That's what we hope to explore through this initiative."