Peru airs news in Quechua to fight marginalization of country’s indigenous

About one-third of Peru's 24.5 million inhabitants are Quechua Indians, many of whom still live in extreme poverty. (Credit: Rod Waddington/Flickr)

Peru has launched its first-ever newscast in Quechua, an indigenous language spoken by some 4 million Peruvians, in a widely celebrated effort to fight discrimination against indigenous people and foster a more inclusive country.

The half-hour morning show debuted Monday and will air daily on state television and radio nationwide. Prime Minister Fernando Zavala called the event “a historical event in bringing the state closer to the people.”

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski also backed the initiative and said he hoped the program would help end discrimination against indigenous populations. Having a Quechua news program will help achieve this, one of the program’s presenters said on Monday, in part by spreading awareness that Quechua is not a language of the poor and disadvantaged.

The public broadcaster behind the program plans to pursue similar programs in other indigenous languages. But the initiative began with Quechua, the ancient language of the Inca empire, because it is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas. In Peru, around 4 million (13 percent) of the population speak Quechua fluently, according to government figures, while up to 10 million – around a third of the population – understand some of the language.

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Like many indigenous populations, Quechua and other indigenous language-speakers are disproportionately represented among Peru’s poor. According to a UNICEF study in 2010, 78 percent of Peru’s indigenous children and adolescents live in poverty, compared to 40 percent of children who speak Spanish; and in 2014, the World Bank found that Quechua-speakers constitute 60 percent of Peruvians without access to health services.

The language has diminished over generations because it was long associated with poverty. It is one of Peru’s official languages, but many parents did not teach Quechua to their children, the Guardian noted, fearing their children would be rejected or mocked for using it. Some Peruvian dialects of the language are even considered “critically endangered” by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In this context, it is not surprising that Quechua is rare on today’s national television or radio stations, but experts said its absence has been problematic. According to Peru’s National Radio and TV Institute President Hugo Coya, lack of communication between indigenous people and the Peruvian government has led to countless misunderstandings and social conflicts over the years.

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Still, many hope the new program will start breaking down such barriers and provide indigenous populations with the same opportunity to stay informed and become involved.

“This will be like any other news show,” Coya said in an interview with Fusion. “But what we will do now is to give Quechua speakers the rightful place in society that they deserve.”

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com