November 20, 2002

Martins Speaks In Latin Lecture

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Leda Martins spoke yesterday to approximately 20 students, faculty and community members in a lecture entitled “The Implications of Doing Research among Amazonian Indigenous Peoples in the 21st Century.”


Martins, a final year Ph.D. candidate in the anthropology department, gave her lecture as the last of the weekly luncheon seminars sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program (LASP).

During Martins’ 35-minute lecture she examined “the rules and roles [that] academic researchers have with indigenous people.” Martins, involved in Amazon research for 12 years, focused her talk on the Yanomami and Makuxi tribes.


She addressed contrasting opinions concerning the debate on what type of research scientists and scholars should conduct.

The El Durado Task Force, a commission put together to investigate allegations against indigenous peoples, have their own view. “All research in the Amazon needs to address the needs that the indigenous people have,” said Martins.

Martins discussed anthropologists Daniel Gross and Stuart Plattner who have a different perspective. She said their view is that researchers should compensate local tribes, and immediately leave after research is done.

Martins has reservations about both views.

“It is important to have collaborative research, but we need to be realistic about what the situation is,” Martins said.

She said that two common misconceptions about indigenous people are that they are always attempting to improve their lifestyle and that they all think on a collective scale. Martins said neither of these assumptions are true even though the El Durado Task Force implies these misconceptions.

Martins, who is originally from a village in the Amazon, told a recent personal story about how two Yanomami individuals wanted to speak English. While they did not have the educational resources to learn, she emphasized indigenous individuals have their own wants.

“Many times, indigenous people have individual goals. It is important to keep that in mind,” Martins said.

She said that the view of Gross and Plattner could create a negative reinforcement upon tribal groups. By having researchers pay and “get what they want,” Martins said this “reinforces the loss of control of indigenous peoples’ lives.”

“It’s a feeling that as interest grows, they feel like they are losing control of their lives,” Martins said.

She added that these groups are trying to get a “sense of regaining a control.”

Martins acknowledges that the implications of research among indigenous people is a difficult problem, and the

academic and scientific community need to be careful with the steps they take.

“We need to start thinking about the types of research in a way in which it doesn’t take away from the people

they are intervening on,” she said.

After the lecture and 25-minute question and answer session, many viewers seemed pleased with Martins’ presentation.

“I thought it was a very sophisticated and realistic view,” said Prof. Karen Graubart, history. “Her presentation set up the problem of what the western academics have in studying non-western communities.”

Many felt that the presentation raised many interesting issues, including Mary Jo Dudley ’90, assistant director for LASP, who said that Martins’ point should be “an important, valid consideration.”

“The issue she’s discussing is an issue of obvious importance especially in Cornell, where there is a lot of research not only in the hard sciences, but also in the social sciences,” Jason DeMera ’01 said.

The main goal of the weekly luncheon series and other LASP activities is to “provide a focal point for people who our interested in the region,” according to Dudley.

Archived article by Brian Tsao