We had an update from the Indigenous youth of the north on my most recent trip to Nicaragua. Meeting with this group is always an excitement. They can be as shy as their parents’ generation can be, especially during first-time encounters, but there is an underlying energy and freshness about the youth. Maybe it just goes with being somewhere between 16 and 30 years of age. (I really hate to even write that suggestion down, because if it’s true, where does it leave someone like me?)
There are lots of things to like about the members of NUMAJI: in addition to the aforementioned energies, they are organized, they take their organizational responsibilities seriously, they are constantly seeking ways in which to grow- both organizationally and personally- and they are undaunted by the societal forces which seem to conspire against their quest for independence and preservation of Indigenous tradition. It’s easy to root for underdogs.
Like their young brethren in most other countries, the members of NUMAJI carry a bias toward “rebellion.” Not physical confrontation, but a desire to go their own ways as compared to their elders. The irony for this Indigenous group of youth is that their rebellion is aimed not at abandonment of past ways but at preservation of their heritage, “the Indigenous patrimony.” It’s in danger of extinction due to passage of time, loss of youth to technology and migration, local and national governments which prefer not having to deal with the reality of Indigenous traditions and rights, and other Indigenous voices which speak about the artifacts of their heritage as being for sale.
This group of young people has been through a lot. They first came together under the recognition that they needed and deserved a structure in which their voices might be heard by their elders; sometimes elders have a difficult time ascribing value to their eventual successors. Next, they waded into the swamp of forming themselves into an association, a process which is as long as it is daunting, and especially for the uninitiated. They face the scorn of many elders who view the association as too inexperienced and too young to be of importance. They battle the entrenched and politics-driven agendas of some Indigenous and municipal community “leaders,” for whom an association of independent thinkers and actors constitutes a threat to established order. In short, there are few resources on which to rely as they defend their heritage and birthright.
Except in the case of their work. As we listened to the issues faced by the youth- many of whom are still in their teens- I was struck by the content of the proposal they made for association work in the coming year. I wonder where else I might hear youth discussing issues like: internal and foreign migration; the need for development of greater emotional intelligence as a personal development strength; the impacts of “adultism;” confronting child abuse; writing the statutes and administration of a legal association; or preserving and protecting archaeological sites when municipal and national authorities demonstrate little interest in doing so. These are not matters of pop culture or social media, but rather, the very real issues of an entire Indigenous people being met head-on by their youth.
It’s an uphill battle, at best. Maybe NUMAJI will be able to sustain itself through sheer force of wills; young people often have that capacity. Alternatively, the obstacles may prove to be more than even an energized group of committed youth can withstand. But either way, this group has educated and experienced itself in ways that will serve its individual members well in the future, whatever that may hold. Good character and personal courage are qualities that are always in demand and short in supply.
When we left the meeting, I noticed that I actually stood a little straighter, taller than when I walked in….