The National Institute of Cultural Heritage (INPC) created in 1978 is the lead body for implementing the 2003 Convention with five regional offices covering the national territory under the overall responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Other bodies involved in safeguarding activities are the Ancestral Knowledge Coordination (Secretary for Higher Education, Science and Technology), the Intercultural Health National Directorate (Ministry of Health) and the National Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education (Ministry of Education). The INPC carries out training to officials of the 221 municipalities in the country and offers advice to public institutions implementing actions related to intangible cultural heritage (ICH).
The INPC operates within a regulatory framework based on the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador (2008) which recognizes the country as multicultural, multinational and multi-ethnic, the Law on Cultural Heritage (1979, revised in 2004) and the Resolution of the INPC concerning Declarations of intangible cultural heritage (2012). A presidential decree entitled ‘Emergence of Cultural Heritage’ (2007–09) allowed institutional strengthening in order to hire qualified staff to initiate inventorying nationwide, as well as allocating a budget for its annual programmes. Moreover, a public policy document for ICH was prepared in 2011; it defines roles and actors and proposes several lines of public policy. It also outlines guidelines for the implementation of policies related to ICH, including: inter-sectoral dialogue and presence of ICH as a cross-cutting element in all public policies; the creation of mechanisms for the effective participation of collective actors in safeguarding; incorporating ICH in formal and non-formal education programmes to ensure intergenerational transmission; recognition of heritage bearers; strengthening institutional capacities for management and safeguarding; strengthening the management capacities of local actors (bearers, local governments, managers, etc.); and further conceptualization and theoretical frameworks.
In terms of documentation, the INPC administers the National System for the Management of Cultural Property which is a virtual platform to which information contained in the Registry and Inventories (see below) is migrated, which currently holds a total of 7,463 registered elements. Dissemination of information on ICH is performed through the Documentation Centre which holds dozens of reports resulting from studies on ICH. It is available to the public; furthermore the inventory’s results and investigations will be brought back to communities through workshops in their territories, once they are completed. The Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar holds the largest collection in the country and the region of materials related to oral, visual and written material about the Afro-Andean peoples’ background. An online magazine Intangible Cultural Heritage and publications aimed at young audiences, and academic communities also disseminate information on ICH.
An inventory of ICH elements was started in 2005 by the INPC, understood as ethnographic and ethno-historical research carried out when working on nomination files for national or international inscription. A more general registry of ICH was established in 2008 throughout all provinces of the country, taking into account relevant cultural manifestations for the communities in order to obtain a baseline for future safeguarding actions. Information is collected annually and is financially supported. Elements are identified with support from the communities involved and investigations are conducted on their meaning and perception for bearers and practitioners. The registry is built around the five domains of the 2003 Convention and the vulnerability of the element, its importance to the community and levels of sensitivity to change (based on several criteria, including intergenerational transmission agents and impacts) are all important criteria.
Safeguarding plans have been developed since 2014 for elements that are declared as national and international heritage. Territorial tables have been formed with knowledge bearers and other stakeholders, in order to execute or facilitate actions proposed in safeguarding plans, along with an Interagency Management Committee to coordinate the various actions, including overseeing the management plan. A Methodological Guide for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage was developed in 2013 setting out the rules, principles and guidelines for participatory management.
Research proposals are funded by the State through its institutions, mainly the INPC and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and include the return of information to the communities involved, monitoring and updating of diagnosis.
As part of promoting the function of ICH in society and incorporating it into development planning, various objectives, axes, programmes, projects, indicators and targets are established which are incorporated into the Development Plans and Zoning of Municipalities or Autonomous Decentralized Governments. Where public institutions are involved, they should include activities in their planning and allocate financial resources for projects proposed in the plan. The safeguarding process includes communities involved, approximately eight government ministries and the National Institute of Cultural Heritage.
To support the education of young people within their communities, the Department of Intercultural Bilingual Education of the Ministry of Education developed four dictionaries for indigenous communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, in their native languages. Moreover, various institutions conduct training and dissemination activities related to ICH.
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage has created Intercultural Community Centres as public spaces that promote dialogue and exchange of experiences between different actors. Some spaces were selected upon local requests made at Itinerant Cabinets held by the Central Government. A new Law of Communication (2014) includes the obligation to disseminate ‘cultural issues’ in all media during their regular broadcast as an informal means of knowledge transmission.
In terms of bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, Ecuador is a member of the Regional Category 2 Centre for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Latin America (CRESPIAL) and currently holds the Presidency of the Executive Committee. In terms of bi lateral activities, under the First Bi-national Cabinet held with Colombia (2012), the inclusion of the Province of Esmeraldas (Ecuador) in the Marimba music and traditional songs from the South Pacific Colombian region element (inscribed in 2010 by Colombia on the Representative List) was agreed as a shared element of Colombian-Ecuadorian Afro-descendant communities in the Pacific coast. The 7th Meeting of a Joint Committee on Education, Culture, Heritage and Sport between the two countries (2012) agreed that the INPC will develop a joint research project on five languages shared by indigenous communities in the Colombian-Ecuadorian border between 2014 and 2015. Discussions have been held with officials from Peru, considering the countries’ linkage by the Qhapaq Ñan Andean Road System (a World Heritage Site with important intangible aspects, including traditional production techniques and knowledge with intense participation of women).
Ecuador has two elements inscribed on the Representative List, of which one is a multinational inscription, namely: Oral heritage and cultural manifestations of the Zápara people (2008 - Ecuador, Peru); and Traditional weaving of the Ecuadorian toquilla straw hat (2012).