This profile was prepared when Esther Sánchez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Distressed at the treatment of indigenous peoples by Colombia's judicial system, Esther Sánchez conceived the idea of using her expertise in anthropology to help bridge the cultural gap between employees of the national judicial system and indigenous peoples in Colombia. Esther is convinced that improved intercultural understanding will enable the Colombian judicial system to act more fairly in cases where indigenous people run afoul of mainstream justice for actions that would not be seen as inappropriate in their own cultural settings. She is also persuaded that heightened cultural sensitivity among employees of the judicial system will provide the foundation for improved relations, more generally, between indigenous people and the mainstream Colombian society. Colombia's 1991 Constitution, which guarantees indigenous people the right to live under their own laws, considerably expands the scope and importance of her idea. More than ever before, the Colombian judicial system and other government agencies require a profound understanding of indigenous cultures in order to give real substance to that constitutional provision. And in light of that constitutional mandate, Esther has expanded her idea to include assistance for the work of a broader range of public agencies in support of the rights of ethnic minorities and the recognition of the country's minority populations as integral parts of Colombian society.