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CLACS Welcomes Indigenous Rights Activist to Duke

photo of Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj
DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies welcomes prominent indigenous rights activist Dr. Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj to campus as its Spring 2017 Mellon Visiting Professor.

Velásquez Nimatuj is a journalist, social anthropologist, and international spokeswoman for the respect for indigenous cultures. A member of the K'iche Maya people in Guatemala, she is the first K’iche Maya woman to earn a doctorate degree in social anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin and will teach two anthropology courses at Duke this spring.

A welcome reception for Dr. Velásquez Nimatuj will be held Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5-7 p.m. in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall (Room 240) in the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Rd, Durham, NC.) It is free and open to the public.

She is featured in a documentary film, “500 Years” (dir. Pamela Yates), premiering this week at the Sundance Film Festival. The film focuses on the resistance of the indigenous Mayan population and the historic genocide trial against former president Efraín Ríos Montt.

In 2003, Velásquez Nimatuj initiated a court case in Guatemala City that made racial discrimination in Guatemala illegal and has been outspoken about the human rights abuses by the military, particularly on indigenous women. She also served as an expert witness at a trial on behalf of 15 Maya women who were forced into sexual and domestic servitude by officers of the military during the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996).

“Dr. Velasquez Nimatuj is one of the most important intellectuals and activists in Guatemala,” said Diane Nelson, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke. “Her books on Mayan struggles for land after a genocidal war are some of the best analyses of this central issue in Guatemalan history, and her many years working for indigenous, women’s and human rights after the 1996 peace accords have brought her international acclaim. It is an honor and a special opportunity to have her here at Duke this semester.”

Dr. Velásquez Nimatuj was Executive Director of the Mecanismo de Pueblos Indígenas Oxlajuj Tzikin (Support Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples) from 2005-2013. She is a member of the Latin American Consulting Group of Indigenous Leaders for UNICEF and participates in the UN through the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She also served as advisor on indigenous issues for the Latin American and Caribbean office of UN Women (2014-2015).

She continues to speak out for more access to education and health for indigenous peoples. Dr. Velásquez Nimatuj is teaching an undergraduate course at Duke University in “Indigenous Resistance & Revolution: Mexico and Central America” and a graduate course with Diane Nelson, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, on “Indigeneity, Ontology, Epistemology, and Anthropology.”

Dr. Velásquez Nimatuj is also involved in international human, indigenous, and women’s rights projects, most recently in Bolivia and Kenya, and continues to write a weekly opinion column in El Periódico de Guatemala.