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Universidad de la Tierra

Universidad de la Tierra /Unitierra (University of the Earth) attempts to respond to the recognition, particularly among indigenous peoples, that the dominant state-supported educational structure prevented children from learning what they needed to know to continue living in their communities and contributing to the common good of their communities and the sustainability of their territories. These groups objected at the same time how education in Mexico was conceived in order to de-indianize them.

Urban agriculture workshop. Still from Re-learning Hope: A Story of Unitierra, a film by Udi Mandel and Kelly Teamey

Students can choose to learn whatever they need to learn

Depending on the needs for skills and knowledges that learners recognize to be needed in their personal contexts and in the contexts of their communities, the students can choose to learn whatever they need to learn, either in practical trades, such as urban agriculture, construction with natural materials, video production, or they pursue fields of study such as social research, philosophy or communication. They learn their skills from the practitioners of the profession or field of study and by applying these skills through apprenticeships. Students then return to their communities to practice and share what they have learned.

In 1997 at the Indigenous Forum of Oaxaca, different peoples of the state publicly declared that “schools have been the main instrument of the state to destroy Indigenous peoples and their cultures”. These people were seeking public recognition of a historical reality that the Mexican educational system, as in many other places, was created to “take the Indianity out of the Indian”. Universidad de la Tierra, or Unitierra, was thus born 2001 in the context of radical reactions against schooling observed in many Indigenous communities.

Indigenous and non-indigenous coalitions

Unitierra collaborates with other national and international organizations as well as with their networks, indigenous and non-indigenous coalitions. By sharing their experiences, a network of sister organizations has been formed: Unitierra California, Unitierra Chiapas, Unitierra Huitzo, Unitierra Manizales, Unitierra Puebla and Unitierra Toronto. Unitierra does not have any formal relation with the federal or state government although they participate in mixed organizations, such as the Foro Oaxaqueño del Agua.

Unitierra collaborates with other national and international organizations as well as with their networks, indigenous and non-indigenous coalitions. Through them and other organizations, they participate actively in numerous local, national and international networks: some of which they have helped to create such as, the Red Intercultural de Acción Autónoma and the International Network for Cultural Alternatives to Development.

Organisation and People

Unitierra was co-founded by independent writer and grassroots activist Gustavo Esteva.  It was born as a coalition among Indigenous and non-Indigenous civil organisations: Asesoría Técnica de Comunidades Forestales; Bibaani; Centéotl; Centro Cultural Triqui; Centro de Encuentros y Diálogos Interculturales; Coalición de Maestros y Promotores Indígenas de Oaxaca; Comité de Voluntarios para la Reforestación y la Protección del Ambiente; Coordinadora Estatal de Productores de Café; Fundación Comunalidad; Instituto de la Naturaleza y la Sociedad de Oaxaca; Opción; y Servicios del Pueblo Mixe.

This description is based on excerpts from sources listed below and with input from Gustavo Esteva.


Unitierra website:

Bridge 47 webiste, featuring Universidad de la Tierra:

Pulitzer Center:

Re-learning Hope: A Story of Unitierra (video):

Michelle Song and Magnus Ericson

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