The Wekimün School Project enters its fifth year

Wekimün is a unique intercultural school for and with indigenous youth and communities in Chiloé, Chile
Posted: 
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Francisca Varas, translator; UPEI’s Dr. Kate Tilleczek, wearing a traditional Williche head piece called a chiñeto; Helene Mayrand, Embassy of Canada to Chile; Maria Eduvina Neun Rain, Williche community member

The Wekimün School Project, a collaboration of UPEI and the Williche Council of  Chiefs of Chiloé, is entering its fifth year of improving the quality of life of Williche indigenous youth of the Los Lagos region of Chile. Wekimün is a school for and with indigenous youth and communities, which integrates traditional-indigenous and western-scientific knowledge into two programs of study with project-based curriculum and teaching. The project was designed to provide improved educational opportunities to some of Chile’s most marginalized and disenfranchised people.

The curriculum for Wekimün was carefully designed to suit the needs of the youth in the area. Indigenous youth were trained to conduct interviews with more than 100 members of their Williche communities to find out what they needed to learn. With this knowledge and that of official statistics and trends, three major teaching areas emerged: traditional language (Mapudungun) history and culture, sustainable community and environmental development, and traditional health and medicine.

The term “Wekimün” means “to bring together traditional and modern knowledge and practices.” That is the aim as new courses are developed; each is based in traditional practice with input from modern knowledge. Curriculum design is supported by Canadian university faculty members, with input from elder educators who teach and provide traditional knowledge. The school operates both on site and in the community so that when the students go home they continue to learn and engage in projects to support their livelihoods. 

“This project is an intense collaboration across countries, cultures, languages and disciplines,” said Dr. Kate Tilleczek, Canada Research Chair in Young Lives in Global and Local Contexts and co-lead of the Wekimün School Project. “It gathers together young people, elders, teachers, NGOs, communities, universities and governments. It has been a remarkable privilege to work with this team and to learn from the Williche people of southern Chile. The school has been carefully crafted to attend to equity for indigenous youth and women in every aspect: curricular design, student selection, hiring practices, governance and inclusive learning materials. Helping to develop this unique, inclusive school has been a true honour. The tremendous talent and dedication of the Chilean team, the Williche people, the Canadian faculty, volunteers, and project management team is inspiring.”  

The Wekimün School officially opened in May of 2015, offering two programs of study, Intercultural Health and Sustainable Development, and Intercultural Education and Sustainable Development. Classes in each program include language, human and indigenous rights, Williche worldview, sustainable community development (agriculture, natural resource management, etc.), and health (traditional and non-traditional practices, medicinal plants and treatments, etc.).

“Wekimün Chilkatuwe (Wekimün School) is a space in which our identity as indigenous people is strengthened, where students are re-enchanted by life (their own and those of their communities and territories). They look again toward the territory where Williche life and culture has developed for thousands of years. The Wekimün School produces a new commitment amongst the youth that has too often gone unnoticed,” said Mr. Manuel Munoz Millalonko, co-lead of the Wekimün Project in Chiloé. “It is exciting to learn from Wekimün. The construction of new kinds of knowledge comes true every day. And a significant intercultural development is happening here that helps all indigenous people, a dynamic model were the Williche worldview harmoniously interacts with other worldviews from a place of dignity and deep honouring of our Mapu Ñuke (Mother Earth). Our elders acknowledge and participate and we have an engaged relationship with the Canadian faculty who support our community and students in a virtuous circle of knowledge that impacts our work in very distant places on the planet.”

“It is an incredible opportunity to work with and for these communities,” said project manager Debbie MacDonald. “Our project partners, the WCC, are a dedicated and passionate group of community leaders with whom we are working to make their vision of Wekimun School a reality. Their continued focus, despite the many challenges they face in their communities, is admirable and the results for their people are clear.”

The hard work of the first four years of the project is reflected in the current scale-up of the curriculum for certification and in the school site itself. The existing buildings were extensively renovated to provide space for the local health centre (which runs traditional heath services from the school two days a week), office space for teachers and staff, a demonstration kitchen, a state-of-the-art language lab designed for the instruction of indigenous language), classroom space, and outdoor teaching areas including spaces for reflection among an old growth forest. More than 350 youth and community members have already taken part and the team has developed five collaborative agreements with other universities and/or government agencies who support and assist with the work.

Wekimün has received substantial financial support from Global Affairs Canada to develop curriculum, operate the school, provide infrastructure, and establish and strengthen professional relations with various Canadian researchers to create an interdisciplinary team in Chile and Canada. The Embassy of Canada to Chile, Governor of Chile, Minister of Sustainable Development and Minister of Education for Chile have all visited the school site and very much support this initiative.

The University of Prince Edward Island prides itself on people, excellence, and impact and is committed to assisting students reach their full potential in both the classroom and community. With roots stemming from two founding institutions—Prince of Wales College and St. Dunstan’s University—UPEI has a reputation for academic excellence, research innovation, and creating positive impacts locally, nationally, and internationally. UPEI is the only degree granting institution in the province and is proud to be a key contributor to the growth and prosperity of Prince Edward Island.

Dave Atkinson
Research Communications Officer
Department: 
Marketing and Communications
Phone: 
(902) 620-5117
Contact UPEI