Calendar Gate, ruins of the Puerta del Sol, Tiahuanaco, La Paz, Bolivia. Bolivia Tiwanaku Site, None.  [Between 1920 and 1947] [Photograph Library of Congress]

​In the context of the International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019, IFLA is highlighting examples of the different ways in which libraries help to protect, preserve and promote lanaguges and cultures, and through this, communities. 

One crucial element of library work in general is to safeguard and give access to legal texts. There is a need to access law, from legal professionals, decision makers, and ordinary citizens who need to know their rights in order to defend them.

This is as true in indigenous communities as elsewhere, but it may not be easy to find the relevant texts and sources. The Indigenous Law Portal at the Library of Congress offers a solution.

The below introduction, and the text linked to at bottom, explain how the Portal has made a difference in Bolivia. We are grateful to Rosa Maldonaldo, research assistant at the Library of Congress for this: 


Obtaining Territorial Autonomy in South America: The Case of Bolivia

By Rosa Maldonado

Working on the Library of Congress’ Indigenous Law Portal has exposed me to an array of information: from indigenous people’s histories, to language variation throughout the Americas, and traditional customary law.

Researching for the Portal means engagement in discussions surrounding the complex legal processes by which indigenous peoples acquire collective land titles to their territorios indígenas (indigenous territories).

There are various accounts throughout the Western Hemisphere of indigenous communities who are currently demanding legal recognition from their state government because the law and policy framework of colonial and post-colonial government has limited them from exercising political and territorial rights.

Obtaining territorial control will set up the legal framework for indigenous communities towards the right to self-determination and self-government.  However, lack of indigenous representation in existing political systems is a road block for these communities in the pursuit of their land rights, the securing of collective legal titles for indigenous territories together with the land management and control  over natural resources.

The other roadblock is the scarcity of sources and evidences as well as the extreme difficulty to obtain access necessary for information providers and legal researcher a like. For this reason, the Indigenous Law Portal based on and organized in subject content by the new LC Classification system on Indigenous law, was pioneered at LC for representation of indigenous law in the Western Hemisphere.

It is envisioned as a one-stop electronic communication and information tool on indigenous communities: their sociology and governance, uncovering and attesting to indigenous  knowledge systems and at once promoting the efforts and look of  rising indigenous communities.

The comparative research on indigenous communities in the larger Amazonian region, indeed, provided surprising aspects and a much better understanding of historical coherence. The many hundreds of downloads from the Portal by indigenous communities, as well as by governments in over 150 countries is a testament to its intended usefulness

Download the full article as a pdf

Find out more about IFLA's involvement in the International Year of Indigenous Languages.