Indigenous University

Weaving Bio-cultural Knowledges
A decentralized network of various sites across the entire territory, facilitating river-learning, forest-learning, and chagra-learning in research gardens, and creating a place for dialogue between imposed and situated knowledge, a “pluriversity” safeguarding the rainforest and its communities


There are more than 115 different Indigenous peoples in Colombia representing a rich cultural diversity. This diversity is not reflected in Colombia’s education system, however, which bears traces of colonial structures brought to Colombia by Catholic missionaries at a time when Europe invaded Indigenous communities to access minerals, gold, and rubber. An example of the colonial structuring of education is its clustering of higher education in cities. Indigenous populations in rural areas are either excluded, or forced to leave their way of life to migrate for higher education.


Facing this accessibility issue and recognising it as symptomatic of a larger marginalisation of Indigenous cultures, in 2009, the Inga Peoples of southwestern Colombia published a document called This is How We Walk with Our Knowledge (Chasam Munanchi Puringapa Nukanchi Iachaikuanawa). Itfocused on education and asked: what kind of people do we want to be? How can education help us protect our culture and territory?1Ursula Biemann, Santiago del Hierro, Álvaro Hernández Bello, Giovanna Micarelli, Juliana Ramírez, and Iván Darío Vargas Roncancio, ‘An Indigenous University’, The Architectural Review, 7 September 2022 <> [accessed 8 November 2022]. Through extensive participatory meetings across the Inga community, members founded their own university, an Indigenous University based on the Andean philosophy of buen vivir (good living).

Following buen vivir, the Indigenous University aims to restore relations with multiple communities in the wider region, which stretches from the Andes to the Amazonian lowlands, while acting as stewards for nature. Aiming for sovereignty of education, language, and territory, the initiative draws from a long history of resistance to the violence of guerrillas, paramilitaries, criminal gangs, and state-led industrialism.

Over the last 10 years, delegates from eight Inga territorial zones have worked in a committee to design a comprehensive educational curriculum and to establish primary and secondary schools for each territory. The committee worked with academics, artists, and architects in order to achieve a contemporary and “pluriversal” scope to its provision. As Hernando Chindoy, the Inga’s legal representative, explains:

“It is important that imposed knowledge and our own knowledge practices have a space for dialogue. And I don’t see this dialogue in any other context than what is called university, although with time this name will also have to change. Later on, you can say that it is a pluriversity.”2MOULD, ‘Climate Conversation with Hernando Chindoy’ <> [accessed 7 November 2023].

The University is not centralised around one campus but spread throughout the territory in a constellation of meeting spaces. Its dispersed location helps foster the University’s core focus: stimulating ongoing dialogue about environmental and territorial issues as a kind of weaving together bio-cultural knowledges. The Inga’s media collective, Ñambi Rimai, also furthers this dialogue through films and media education initiatives that focus on the situated, embodied knowledge that Inga elders pass on from generation to generation. Alongside an emphasis on ancestral and spiritual knowledge, the University also harnesses scientific approaches to monitor its natural reserves and microclimates. Outreach is equally important: the University conducts exchanges with students, organisers, architects, and artists, from Colombia and abroad, to promote its strategy for buen vivir and self-sovereignty. It welcomes students of all ages, so long as they enter the University prepared to maintain the Inga language, customs, and respect for nature. Highly localised in its situation, yet global through its outreach, the Indigenous University presents an alternative to dominant models of higher education through its profoundly ecological and social grounding.


External links

Wuasikamas: Guardians of the earth—an initiative of the Inga people in Nariño

Minga—an Inca tradition of community work/voluntary collective labour for purposes of social utility and community infrastructure projects