One western writer once wrote of the Aymara speaking People: “Here, it is community and the land first. They live very close with the land and appreciate its gifts. Many traditional beliefs are centered on Pachamama (mother earth) and celebrating the generosity of the land. “Jallalla” was a phrase people yelled during festivals or rituals to sort of celebrate their community. The “ja” part is a short word loaded with meaning (sounds like “ha”). It signifies their entire culture, way of life, community, beliefs, etc. The “lla” (sounds like “ya”) is an affirmation of their culture and the next “lla” is a double affirmation.

I (and the rest of my Tribal Link family) remember Yamila teaching us the reason why she does not clap her hands together….and as a traditionalist myself, it makes a lot of sense…..Yamila explained that when you clap the palms of your hands together you break the divine natural energy flowing through you, and it is better (and hence this is why her people do it) to raise your palms towards the person you just heard speak something positive – in order to send your energy TO them in loving approval instead….if I want to send divine energy TO you I would only do so for your own good – because I love you as a fellow being like myself.

I remember telling her – after listening to her explanation – that since indigenous peoples were taught to ‘clap hands in approval’ by non-indigenous & spiritually disconnected people….it stands to reason that this ALSO would have been one of the negative habits they indoctrinated into us in order to help them diminish our spirituality and connectedness to the natural divine energies that flow through us (when we do not surrender our souls to their man-made religions).

It is so deeply ingrained into us now that you will find it hard to remember NOT to clap anymore to show your approval…it has become an ‘automatic reflex’ in anyone who has been indoctrinated into the western educational system…..and if you are the type of person to be swayed by peer pressure – and if you are in a room full of clapping people, you might feel obliged to do as they do…even though you now know the spiritual significance of doing so.
How’s that for the mental hold & control of indoctrination for you!

Now that I have somewhat explained the word ‘Hayaya’ (English phonetic spelling) to preface why I associate this word forever with the beautiful loving lady who taught me about it….I shall now try to give you some insight into this soft spoken, kindhearted, and true human being – called Yamila Gutierrez Callisaya.

Her childhood was rife with discrimination from dominant Bolivian society at the time, and her family and community lives on the border with the city of El Alto on the Altiplano. It was a place of immigrant settlers from all across the socio-economic spectrum, vainly hoping to earn a better living to escape grinding poverty.

The sorrows I sensed in her heart by gazing into her hazel brown eyes, were indeed a window to her soul for me….and upon hearing the generational hurt I understood why.

When her grandmother died, her grandfather had abandoned his children…leaving her dad to become father and mother to his 4 younger siblings.

Her mothers parents lived, and she was raised between them and her own struggling parents, this maternal granny always encouraged Yamila NOT to forget who she was, her people, the land, and the cosmovision of her ancestors.

Yamila had only one sibling, a younger brother, but alas….he became the centre of her parents attention as the ‘only son to carry on the family name’….so whatever little money her parents raised for educational expenses…were mainly for her brother – not her…..think about this for just a minute, how would YOU feel if your mum and dad never made you priority number 1 in their eyes? Such things wound a child deeply, to such an extent that it remains forever etched in their countenance….whether they themselves realise it or not….there are others like me who can.

Still, her parents expected her to get good grades – and to her credit she did….but she would have preferred to go to school in her own community among her own people, and learn in her own language – as is the right of every indigenous child according to the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples……but in Bolivia, even today despite what the now indigenous government decrees, many educators simply refuse to allow any indigenous language to enter into ‘their’ curriculum – or end the lingering effects of machismo in Latin American culture.

She saw firsthand (and it still occurs), how children get treated differently in the school system according to the financial status of their family & parents; boys who’s families had some money were treated best….Yamila was treated badly, but children from families even poorer than hers were treated worse!

I suspect – though she did not state it directly, that in such cases a family who could make financial ‘donations’ to teachers could magically ensure their children passed exams with high grades (we see this even in so-called ‘developed’ countries as well). So the good grades Yamila received despite the bias she faced – were GENUINELY earned in her case.

As soon as Yamila finished her schooling she looked for a job so that she could help her aging grandparents and pay for her own needs, her parents wanted her to study Medicine…but Yamila could not afford to pay for her own tuition to do so…and her parents could not be depended on to help in this regard. So Yamila ended up doing accounting instead.

However, as soon as an opportunity came up to work on a social issue for her people – she remembered her grandmother’s admonitions and did so eagerly. …it was here, serving her own people at last – that Yamila found her calling in life. Finally she could fight against all the kinds of discrimination that she had faced herself for all of her existence thus far….but she realised that she had been a victim of low self-esteem all this time, and something inside her told her to study Anthropology as well.

This was when Yamila said she felt like a fish that was gasping for air – but had been put back in the water…. now she had all the skills she would need to comprehensively help her people.

The qualifications also had made her feel more appreciated and more valued as a woman – because the powers that be now considered her to be an academic professional – in a dominant society (like most in this world) that is rampant with ‘academic prejudice’.

She immediately set about reforming her Colonial modelled patriarchal community governance to reflect the kind of traditional gender balance of indigenous society instead, where the voices of the women were not only going to be heard – but given the equity they deserved as well!

At this level of community involvement it was inevitable that interactions with the National government would come into her purview, and recognizing the increasingly serious nature of issues facing her people, Yamila decided that she should take it to the next level and get involved in the United Nations process, with the intention of learning all she could about International Indigenous Rights Laws and conventions, and the UN avenues and mechanisms of recourse available to indigenous peoples worldwide…and this is what brought her to New York City in April 2015.

I first met Yamila at now world-famously important Tribal Link Project Access United Nations training, which prepares a number of indigenous representatives from around the world – for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; held at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Yamila was now entering it for the first time as a student, and I was returning to it as an Alumni to mentor the 1st & 2nd year students – where I also double as the ‘house scribe’ for the Fairy Godmother of us all – Mrs. Pamela Kraft (who makes this possible each year – God bless her soul).

Yamila has a beautiful 8 year old daughter, and she is a single mother with 3 generations in one home (which is the normal traditional indigenous way, because the grandparents teach the children different things to what the parents do, and you cheat a child by denying him/her one or the other….all things require a sacred balance of energies) – as she also takes care of her grandparents who live with her. She lives in the Altiplano, near to the sacred Lake Titicaca, and the ancient mysterious ruins of Tiwanaku; in Bolivia.

I asked Yamila these 4 questions about her Project Access Training, her answers are included as well below each question:

Question 1 – How did you personally benefit from the Tribal Link Project Access Training?
Answer – I have a very comprehensive understanding of the entire UN process as it concerns Indigenous Peoples, our trainers were excellent, very easy to understand, the issues that were addressed in the training left virtually no question I had coming into this – unanswered for me, so it gave me tremendous confidence. Before me my community had sent one lady here, I feel that she was thrown into the lions den, she did not know anything about the UN process at the UNPFII, and she returned home with a very confused and bad experience, it costs a lot for poor people to travel here, and unless they benefit from this kind of pre-Forum training, I am sure most of the money spent merely to get & stay here…is being lost in vain.

Question 2 – How will you share/disseminate the information/knowledge you gained in the Project Access Training?
Answer – The Training gave me a sense of renewed commitment to share all that I have learned here at the UN with as many indigenous community workshops that I can organise or attend once I return to Bolivia.

Question 3 – What are the major water issues facing your people today?
Answer – Less snowfall in the Andes causes water reduction and this in turn leads to reduced food production.

Question 4 – Are you aware of any Climate Change solutions that your own indigenous community can offer – which could be useful for dominant society to apply today?

Answer – Well I think that traditional knowledge is the only we to mitigate against climate change effects, the ancestors had ways to deal with excessive rainfall that directed the flash floods into irrigation, water collection sources, or harmless run-off, you can see the remains of the architectural works that were the visible evidence of this throughout the Andes….but what you do not see is the invisible spiritual foundation for these physical works….and this is what is lacking in the world today, you cannot have a physical solution to a problem without a spiritual understanding of what hides behind the problem.

A person connected to mother Earth can read her signs in ways that technology alone never will.


Yamila in the General Assembly Room at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, USA

Last Real Indians