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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Voiceless voices in a silent zone : the role of the indigenous language interpreter in Oaxaca, Mexico Morales-Good, Monica


This dissertation documents the challenges faced by Indigenous language speakers when accessing the justice system in the state of Oaxaca, although the situation is the same for Indigenous communities across the Mexican Republic and beyond. Every year thousands of Indigenous speakers are jailed without knowing the charges they are facing due to a language barrier. In Mexico, qualified Indigenous language interpreters are scarce. Further, the State employees refuse to admit the need for language services and the worth of Indigenous language interpreters’ jobs. I partnered with CEPIADET, a not-for-profit organization that provides legal guidance and interpretation services to Indigenous defendants in the state of Oaxaca. CEPIADET supports many initiatives regarding the recognition of linguistic rights for Indigenous defendants, cultural reclamation, and the revival of Indigenous justice systems. I have worked closely with them on initiatives involving language and cultural revitalization. This research supports initiatives to recognize not only Indigenous language interpreters but also the knowledge they carry within their Indigenous languages. Additionally, this research advances the recognition of Indigenous normative systems as they can enhance the State justice system and reduce a defendant’s pretrial time. This research strives to bridge the gap between the State justice systems and Indigenous defendants, proposing Indigenous interpreters and Indigenous authorities as a bridge to minimize language and cultural gaps. The results of this research indicate that Indigenous language speakers face considerable barriers when accessing the justice system. As a result of the lack of implementation of language rights, Indigenous defendants face racism, mistreatment, and abuse. The participants pointed out that the intervention of an interpreter would help assure that a case is judged with the minimum law requirements – the defendants’ right to understand the case against them. The participants called for the recognition and incorporation of Indigenous knowledge in the State jurisdiction. Although this is my dissertation (regarding authorship), this research gathers the voices of Indigenous-language-speaking survivors of the legal system and Indigenous language interpreters to call for the recognition of language rights as part of human rights in the legal setting.

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