Indigenous Language Status in Peru

Shipibo-Konibo and other “aboriginal languages” were officially recognized by the Peruvian Constitution of 1993 in Article 48°-Official Languages, which states: “The official languages are Castellano and, in the zones where they are predominant, also are Quechua, Aymara, and the other aboriginal languages, according to the law.” Shipibo-Konibo was then explicitly recognized by the Peruvian government with the National Law of Languages in 2006, but that law never made it past the proposal phase as it was criticized for its lack of prior consultation, and limited scope. The resulting consultations led to the officially recognized Law N° 29735 of 2011, titled: Law that regulates the use, preservation, development, recuperation, fomentation and diffusion of the native languages of Peru (El Peruano 2011). Law N° 29735 was later published in the Shipibo-Konibo language in 2014.

This law is comparable in scope to the United States of America’s Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006, an amendment to the Native American Programs Act of 1974, which provides similar protections and recognitions for the native languages of the USA. However, the Peruvian law uses much broader language in describing fundable documentation, maintenance, and revitalization actions, essentially making all viable options possible. The only limitation of this law is justifiably found in the preferential treatment of languages classified as “in erosion or danger of extinction” by the National Registry of Native Languages, which are guaranteed under article 14. This law is a major piece of policy that could support our efforts to make the Shipibo-Konibo language thrive.

In July of 2016, the former President Ollanta Humala made a Supreme Decree for the regulations of Law N° 29735 that put together a multisectoral commission to create a National Policy for Original Languages, Oral Tradition and Interculturality and define a multisector plan for its implementation. One year later the now resigned ex-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski made a new supreme decree announcing the results of the commission, which serves as “the principle document for strategic orientation for mid- and long-term matters of indigenous or original languages” (El Peruano 2017).

In 2007, additional legislation by the Ministry of Education with the regulation RD 0337-2007-ED officially recognized the process to update the Shipibo-Konibo alphabet. It was then amended in 2011, at which point all new educational materials became subject to adhere to new orthography.

The outlook for Shipibo-Konibo and the other 48 officially recognized Indigenous languages in Peru spoken by more than 4.5 million people looks very good in respect to the rule of law and the courts that provides an established legal base for the process of legitimation and institutionalization (Sánchez et al. 2018 citing Ministerio de Educación de Perú, 2017; Panizo Jansana, 2017). However, receiving monetary support for language revitalization work from the government is nearly unheard of in the country. Therefore, while Indigenous languages are recognized, protected, and promoted on paper, legitimate financial support and creative sustainable community-based solutions are needed to make these laws relevant.