Guatemalan Human Rights Activist To Teach at Duke

Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj to teach two anthropology courses this semester

Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj  to teach at Duke.
Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj to teach at Duke.

DURHAM, N.C. – Indigenous rights activist Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj will teach two anthropology courses this semester at Duke University as the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies’ Spring 2017 Mellon Visiting Professor.

A welcome reception is 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall (Room 240) in the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Road). It is free and open to the public.

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 earned a doctorate degree in social anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

Velásquez Nimat is featured in a documentary film, “500 Years,” which premiered last 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. She has been outspoken about the human rights abuses by the military, particularly on indigenous women. Velásquez Nimatuj 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).

At Duke she will teach an undergraduate course on “Indigenous Resistance & Revolution: Mexico and Central America” and a graduate course with Diane Nelson, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke, on “Indigeneity, Ontology, Epistemology and Anthropology.”

“Velásquez Nimatuj is one of the most important intellectuals and activists in Guatemala,” Nelson said. “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.”

Velásquez Nimatuj continues to speak out for more access to education and health for indigenous peoples. She is 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.