The Big Take Back
There is a saying that once Indian land is taken, there is no getting it back. But Carlos Chavez and his work over the last 20 years with the Huichol or Peyote people of Mexico proves it ain't necessarily so.
Through the support of his group, the Huichol have managed to take back land that was given away in the flux of Spanish conquest, Mexican revolution and ensuing political struggles over the last 400 years. He has helped this traditional indigenous group nestled in the western Sierra Madre win the respect of the Mexican authorities and the power to protect their territory from ever-encroaching loggers, ranchers and marijuana growers. It has been a long slow struggle featuring almost 200 court cases to reclaim over 140,000 acres of land.
During that time, about 50,000 Huichol have entrusted Chavez to help them strengthen their ability to protect their traditional culture and at the same time, to share their beliefs about environmental stewardship with the rest of the world. “To the Huichol, spiritual life is central,” says Chavez, “they share the mission of their ancestors which is to care for the world and to look out for life -- all of it, everywhere.”
Starting with a strong community base where elders still hold sway in extended family clans and pueblos, his group, the Jalisco Indigenous Groups Support Association (AJAGI) has worked to strengthen their voice and their vigilance on behalf of their land. At the same time, he and his small staff support the Huichols wish to develop culturally sensitive education, sustainable livelihoods and skills that enable them to communicate with the world beyond their boundaries.
| Chavez once attempted to translate the Huichol word “lurameka” as natural resources, but one Huichol strongly objected saying “non-indigenous people seem to regard natural resources as a warehouse of materials but what we are protecting are the essences of life!”|
Rather than lead them, he relies on initiatives to come from the Huichol themselves. When the Huichal leaders decide to tackle a problem, AJAGI sets up what they call a “reflection and planning workshop.” Each initiative is discussed in the workshops until, as tradition demands, consensus is achieved. AJAGI members often act as informal facilitators, setting up a chalkboard somewhere and even suggesting games they have adapted to heighten group dynamics. Programs to come out of these workshops include education in sustainable farming, a wild deer preserve and a revival of traditional Huichol wool and beadwork.
The Huichol have also developed their own middle and high school, and sent young tribal members like Bernabe Aguilar to university in Guadalajara to study agrarian law. Even there, AJAGI offered the support of a Huichol student organization they had helped to establish.
“AJAGI is working well, is constantly supporting the Huichol communities and is always on top of the problems,” Aguilar says.
Reported by Talli Nauman
What do you think?
How do you increase communication with the outside world without destroying the fabric of traditional culture (ie. How do you provide computers without also providing American Idol)? And how do you solve the larger problem of the ongoing threat to the land by loggers and ranchers? How do you offer them a more sustainable living too?Post your comments below: