In México, a new national university specializing in Indigenous language courses is set to begin classes by September, the Mexican National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) has announced.
The foundational documents for the new University of Indigenous Languages of México (ULIM) were signed by Adelfo Regino Montes, INPI’s general director, at a recent ceremony organized in conjunction with International Mother Language Day, on Feb. 21. Opening with a ritual of gratitude to Mother Earth, the ceremony at México City’s Tlatelolco University Cultural Center featured speeches by the principals of various Indigenous and educational institutes – some delivered in Indigenous languages.
In 2020, President López Obrador made a formal commitment to create ULIM in Milpa Alta borough, México City.
A statement by INPI said “The creation of ULIM seeks the teaching of courses and the establishment of research faculties, with the purpose of strengthening and developing the linguistic heritage of México, based on respect and recognition of multilingualism,” —an objective also identified and supported by the UN’s Decade of Indigenous Languages.
Initially the ULIM will offer four degrees: Teaching of Indigenous Languages; Interpretation and Translation of Indigenous Languages; Literature in Indigenous Languages; and Indigenous Intercultural Communication. Learning through linguistic immersion, students will be partially evaluated through community projects promoting the development of their chosen language.
INPI director Regino Montes explained “This is the raw material of our nascent university; we are going to make a wide call to the whole country to form part of our teaching staff, as well as the academic and research teams for each degree,” he added. “This university, unlike in the past, is not a unilateral creation from above; here the people of Milpa Alta have been heard and consulted.”
As of 2023, 68 different Indigenous languages are counted by México’s National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI) with approximately 7 million speakers, according to the most recent census data. The most widely spoken are Nahuatl and Maya.
However numbers of Indigenous language speakers are waning at a rapid rate, putting several native tongues at risk of extinction—partially due to historic prohibitions in using Indigenous languages in educational spaces.
Despite the outlaw of detrimental linguistic prohibitions, work is being done to ensure the prevention of linguistic discrimination in México. At the recent ceremony, Claudia Morales Reza, president of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred), emphasized that Indigenous language speakers in México still face systemic discrimination.
Bertha Dimas, INPI’s coordinator of cultural heritage, research and education said “The [ULIM] has the tasks of recovery, revitalization, promotion and encouragement of the use of national languages. The results we expect from the ULIM’s academic activities will be to increase the effective number of speakers, so that we do not lose one more language.”