University of São Paulo: Indigenous knowledge can enrich science and university space


THEpresence of Brazilian indigenous people at the university is a reality. There were just over seven thousand in 2010 and more than 72 thousand students enrolled in some university course in 2019. This occupation of university spaces is evaluated as beneficial for the exchange of knowledge and for the production of knowledge, but it does not happen without a fight for respect and appreciation of indigenous culture.

In an interview with Jornal da USP , during the ninth edition of the National Meeting of Indigenous Students (Enei), held in July at Unicamp, indigenous leader Álvaro Tukano said that “the exchange of knowledge between indigenous and non-indigenous people is something that can be beneficial to both sides”. Contact with different peoples, he says, can maintain the integrity of their traditions, bring information from the villages to the universities and take non-indigenous university students to the villages, which is important for “Brazilian science, which needs new researchers, new intellectuals ”. However, recalls Tukano, it demands a lot of sacrifice from the indigenous. In addition to the cultural shock, the language difficulty, also faces the lack of financial resources.

Danilo Guimarães, a professor at the Institute of Psychology at USP and an indigenous person of Maxacali ancestry, shares Tukano’s ideas and emphasizes that the university’s mission is to build knowledge and train people to assume prominent positions in society. Therefore, it is important that “indigenous people occupy these spaces to have access to all the accumulated knowledge and also to transform university spaces”.

For Guimarães, being in the university environment is a way for indigenous people to reaffirm their knowledge, showing the wealth of knowledge they produce and which is often placed in the background, “despite being absorbed, renamed and used without receiving due credit”. The professor cites, as examples of this knowledge, active principles of medicines, patented and currently used, and which originated in plants that have long been used for treatment and care among indigenous peoples. He defends that indigenous communities be valued for the knowledge they produce, since knowledge is not “restricted to the university campus; is produced in any space”.

A native of Pankararu Bakairi ancestry and a law student at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Anaine Taukane also believes in the benefits of bringing indigenous culture closer to the university. Anaine says that, when entering the academy, the indigenous person reinforces their identity, “taking their knowledge to this environment, which already produces knowledge, only they share knowledge with indigenous knowledge”.

Student movement with indigenous agenda
The process of including the Brazilian indigenous population in higher education has been advancing and should gain more ground. University students and indigenous leaders, participants of the event in Campinas-SP, have just created a specific entity to think about the identity of their student movement, the Plurinational Union of Indigenous Students (UPEIndígenas). According to one of its authors, the indigenous student of Electrical Engineering at Unicamp Arlindo Baré, this will be a way of having “a student movement managed and designed for indigenous agendas”.

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