Coming to Canada as an Indigenous researcher during the pandemic

By Maria Montemayor

Posted on November 29, 2021
Pedro Mateo Pedro

Professor Pedro Mateo Pedro was born in Guatemala, from the Department of Huehuetenango. Since the early 2000’s, Pedro has worked on the revitalization of Mayan languages. Pedro is the speaker of one of Guatemala’s Mayan languages, Q’anjob’al. His research focuses on how children learn Mayan languages.

Pedro graduated from the University of Kansas in 2010, with a PhD in Linguistics, and then went to Harvard University to do a Postdoctoral fellowship. After completing his Postdoctoral fellowship, he went back to Guatemala with the hope of working at a university there. After eight years, he left the country again.

“I started to explore job opportunities and one of them was this position at the University of Toronto [UofT] in the Linguistics Department, which is related to doing research and working with Indigenous languages and with Indigenous communities. My work in Guatemala is about working with Mayan languages [and] at the same time with Mayan communities, so I said I am going to apply for this job and hopefully, something will happen. And I was offered this position,” said Pedro.

Pedro has experience teaching online since, at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to June 2020, he was working at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in Mexico. He was supposed to start teaching at UofT in July 2020, but due to the pandemic, he couldn’t come to Canada until January 2021.

On January 8, 2021, Pedro and his family arrived in Canada. He did not have time to settle in since, a few days later, he started teaching online. In Pedro’s own words, “There was no transition at all.”

Pedro Mateo Pedro

One of the challenges of teaching online, in comparison to in-person, was the lack of interaction with students. Still, while teaching two courses, Pedro found that his group of students were engaged and supportive.

Pedro is a teacher, researcher, and advocate of Indigenous people and Indigenous issues.

“Not only do Indigenous people lack access to education, higher education, for example, one thing that is important to mention is that many Indigenous languages are disappearing. And that’s an issue. The question is how to bring those languages back [and] how to maintain those languages. So in this case it’s like a combination of the efforts of researchers and community members,” said Pedro.

“We have to care about the language that [Indigenous people] speak because in the language is where their culture is.” – Pedro Mateo Pedro

Since he has been working with Mayan communities in Guatemala for many years, he hopes to continue that collaboration alongside making connections with Indigenous communities in Canada.

“One goal that I have is to do some kind of exchange between Indigenous people from Guatemala and Indigenous people in Canada, especially in the Toronto area. For example, [a dialogue about] the [state] of those Indigenous languages,” said Pedro.

For more information on Professor Pedro Mateo Pedro, check out his faculty profile:

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