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From Medicine Bow to Standing Rock December 13, 2016

Posted by Tracy in : Indigenous culture , add a comment

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By Tracy L. Barnett

Dec. 9 – I landed back at my daughter Tara’s doorstep at almost midnight, filled with gratitude and relief to have made it safely full circle home from my journey to Standing Rock. I fell into a deep deep sleep and awoke with a fragment of a dream – just an image, really – of a woman standing strong in front of the Diné hogan where we had stayed at Oceti Sakowin Camp, dressed in full winter gear, goggles, facemask, coveralls, the works. Arm raised high, fist clenched in a salute of solidarity and power. Smoke rising from the chimneys of the Hogan and the Tipi side by side.

I realized that woman was me. And I realized that the gift I was given – and that we were all given – in our stand at Standing Rock was a gift of strength and resilience, as well as a small measure of understanding. Understanding of many things that we as a culture have only begun to grasp. A strong feeling that the sacred hoop of which Black Elk spoke has come full circle. That the vision I had in the Summer of 1989, the song I was given to set my life course, has guided my life in a good way, and that the time for the circle to complete is now.
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San Antonio Missions preserve Native American history in Texas’s first World Heritage Site March 10, 2016

Posted by Tracy in : Civil Rights travel, Historical preservation, Indigenous culture, San Antonio , add a comment

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Story and photos by Tracy L. Barnett
for the Washington Post

Two weathered gravestones sit in a small, dusty rectangle in front of the grand Spanish church at the heart of the nation’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions. I’ve been to Mission San Jose many times — to attend the lively Mariachi Mass, to photograph its antique majesty, to reflect on the history of this place and its role in the settlement of the American Southwest. But this is the first time I’ve thought of it as a cemetery.

I’m seeing it through the eyes of two direct descendants of the missions’ original inhabitants, members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, whose ancestors inhabited this part of what is now Texas for thousands of years. Some 300 years ago, they helped to build these missions, and their descendants maintain a vital connection to them.

Last year the five missions, spread out over about 12 miles along the San Antonio River, received the coveted designation of World Heritage Site. Four of them are still active Catholic parishes, attended by some of the original Native American descendants; the fifth, Mission San Antonio de Valero, went on to become a military garrison — the legendary Alamo, now converted into a memorial to the battle fought there.

Ramón Vásquez, a straight-talking Texan with a dark ponytail, and the soft-spoken Jesús “Jesse” Reyes Jr., an anthropologist in a cowboy hat and bolo tie, are my guides today. Ramón, executive director of a nonprofit organization called the American Indians in Texas, has teamed up with Jesse to create Yanawana Mission Tours — named for the pre-Hispanic name for the San Antonio River — which offers an eye-opening perspective not just on the missions, but also on American history itself.

Read the rest of the story here

Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians May 23, 2014

Posted by Tracy in : Guadalajara, Historical preservation, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico, Sustainability , add a comment

This week Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians had its world premiere – fittingly in the remote mountain enclave of Real de Catorce, the picturesque colonial capital of Wirikuta – followed by a second showing after a rugged two-day journey into Wixarika territory in the even more remote Sierra Madre.

The most important movie to date about the Wixarika (Huichol) people and their struggle to save the center of their cosmos, the Birthplace of the Sun, this movie weaves the dramatic story of that battle around the pilgrimage of Marakame José Luis Ramírez and his family to the desert of Wirikuta.
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Behind the Scenes: What Wirikuta Fest fans bought with their tickets April 5, 2014

Posted by Tracy in : Indigenous culture, Mexico, Mexico City , 3comments

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“Wirikuta is not for sale!” Wixarika leaders and activists take the stage at Wirikuta Fest to the chants of 60,000 fans.

Story and photos by Tracy L. Barnett

It was a long time coming – but it was worth the wait.

Nearly two years ago, more than a dozen of Mexico’s biggest performing artists came together in a mega-event aimed at saving Wirikuta, one of the country’s most sacred sites, from devastation at the hands of Canadian gold and silver mining operations.

It was a triumphant moment for the indigenous Wixarika people and for indigenous movements in general when, as the daylong festival came to a close, they were invited to come up on stage. A massive screen flashed images of traditional Wixarika beadwork behind them as 60,000 fans chanted, in unison, “Wirikuta no se vende! Wirikuta se defende!” (Wirikuta is not for sale! Wirikuta will be defended!)

Leaders of the indigenous Wixarika people and the Wirikuta Defense Front, the civil society coalition that is supporting them, came forward in a Mexico City press conference recently to give an accounting of how the money was spent – an example of innovation in the face of daunting challenges.
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A New Humanity on the Move: 31 Years of Community in Teopantli Kalpulli March 28, 2014

Posted by Tracy in : Ecovillages, Healing retreats, Indigenous culture, Mexico, Sustainability , add a comment

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Abuelas at Opening Ceremony (Elena Flores photo)

Last weekend Teopantli Kalpulli held the first in what promises to be an ongoing series of alternative living festivals aimed at inspiring a movement in human consciousness. This tiny community of just 22 families has had an influence far beyond its size since it was founded as an ashram outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1983. Since that time, its mission has evolved and expanded, but it has always remained true to its goal: Elevating the human spirit in a quest for a greater connection with the Divine.

Thirty-one years is a long time for an intentional community to survive, and this one has had its struggles. But this past weekend, founders and newcomers alike seemed to agree: It’s been well worth the sacrifice.

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The program was an ambitious one: nearly 60 different activities, including panel discussions, presentations, workshops, ceremonies and walks. They included a full track of yoga classes led by Eymos Rivera and Veronica del Alba, including innovative approaches such as acro-yoga and Mayan yoga; a full track of ecological workshops and presentations led by Beatriz Cardenas and Erandi Dias Cevallos; another track for children, featuring the lively and creative crew of Alejandro Vela, a Guadalajara-based mental health professional and artist; and still another track focused on spiritual development, the heart and soul of Teopantli Kalpulli’s work.
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Call of Quetzalcoatl: Materializing the Vision November 23, 2013

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Ecovillages, Healing retreats, Indigenous culture, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability , 12comments

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TEMICTLA, Mexico – If there were ever any doubt that Quetzalcoatl lives, that doubt was dispelled in one moist, glistening, luminous week in the heart of Mexico.

Here in Temictla, a sacred valley, a tiny ecovillage and spiritual retreat center on the edge of Chalmita, a pilgrimage destination to millions of people of diverse traditions, a far-flung family reunited under the light of a waxing moon in November of 2013. It’s a family of many nations and many traditions, a family whose multitudinous members have dedicated themselves heart and soul to the survival of humanity and of life on Earth.

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Evo Morales, the plurinational president February 26, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Bolivia, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , add a comment

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Forget Barak Obama – he’s so 2009. Evo Morales is the new rock star president, as I learned in Coyoacan this weekend. A sea of enthusiastic people of every ethnicity waited for hours in the hot sun to hear his plea for a more just society, one that provides a dignified life for all and respects the rights of the Pachamama, Mother Earth. His rousing speech was preceded with performances by indigenous dancers and musicians and a Four Directions ceremony.

Here are a few scenes from the rally on Sunday.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Hope prevails through a bitter winter in Bancos de San Hipólito February 11, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico , 1 comment so far

We arrived in the fog-draped settlement of Buenos Aires, Durango, just after 9 a.m. It had been a hard night’s drive through a pouring rain, enlivened only by the stories of my tireless travel companion, human rights lawyer Carlos Chávez of the Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous People (AJAGI, by its Spanish acronym).

We still had nearly three hours to go before we reached Bancos, but meanwhile, a group of comuneros from Buenos Aires awaited a ride in the back of his pickup truck. Chávez jumped out from behind the wheel he’d manned since 10 p.m. the night before, greeting a shivering cluster of men with good cheer and a round of hearty handshakes. A breakfast invitation followed, and Nora, Cristian and Yaser, three other AJAGI members, joined us as we were led through what looked like a refugee camp. Nora and Cristian had passed the night in the back of the truck; Yaser was less fortunate, having passed the stormy night in Buenos Aires.

A bitter windstorm had ripped through the village, stripping the tin roofs from many of the mud-brick homes in the middle of the night as the residents slept. The unrelenting rains and near-freezing temperatures compounded the misery as residents tried to piece their lives back together.

Nonetheless, a visit from Carlos Chávez and the folks from AJAGI was more than reason enough for a gathering. One family with a sheltered outdoor kitchen still in good working order invited us to huddle together underneath as the rains began again, and steaming freshly ground tortillas came off the grill one by one to envelop home-grown scrambled eggs and savory pork-seasoned beans and potatoes. Family members clustered around to beam at us and urge us to eat more as we wolfed down what was likely their sole daily portion. But to decline would have been an insult, so we obliged.

The strange winds, the unseasonable rains, and the unthinkable snowstorm of two weeks prior were recurring themes in our visit. The summer rains didn’t come in time to water the harvest, and much of the corn crop dried on the stalk. Of what survived, much succumbed to fungus when the rains arrived late. And then, month upon month of winter rains – and now the tornado-like windstorm that has just descended upon them, the likes of which they’ve never seen.

Climate change is not a theory for the Wixaritari, the tribal people named Huichol by the Spaniards for easier pronunciation. They are convinced that they are living it every day, and they are seeing it in shorter growing seasons and strange weather patterns. They don’t know the reasons, but it worries them.

There’s no time to dwell on it, however. There’s firewood to be gathered, roofs to fix, children to feed – and, for some, a regional assembly to attend down in the valley in Bancos.

Attorney Santos De La Cruz Carillo, technical advisors Yaser Ventura and Cristian Chávez, and community members Don Jesús and Prudencio, left to right - and still enough room for me.

Attorney Santos De La Cruz Carillo, technical advisors Yaser Ventura and Cristian Chávez, and community members Don Jesús and Prudencio, left to right - and still enough room for me.

Spirits were high as we clambered into the back of Chávez’ well-worn and mud-caked Toyota pickup truck. Bancos is in a sheltered valley, and considerably warmer than Buenos Aires, up in the mountaintops some 7,000 feet above sea level. Also, most of these families originally lived in Bancos. The residents of Buenos Aires are modern-day pioneers engaged in the act of resettling and at the same time reforesting the land ravaged by timber poachers from the neighboring mestizo communities.

The resettlement is all a part of a larger strategy, devised by Huichol community leaders hand-in-hand with Carlos and the rest of the AJAGI team, which has provided legal and technical assistance for nearly two decades, helping the community reclaim 55,000 hectares of land that had been annexed away from their territory and encroached upon over the years. An estimated 140,000 acres are at stake, including a 10,720-acre swath separating Bancos from its core community of San Andres Cohamiata in the neighboring state of Jalisco. In a groundbreaking decision in 1998, the International Labor Organization ruled that the Huichol people had a right to the land based on ancestral ownership, even though they don’t hold legal titles – a ruling the Mexican government has thus far failed to acknowledge. Repeated pronouncements from the international agency received no response until last year, when the Mexican government finally ruled in Bancos’ favor – but with a catch. It failed to recognize the ancestral rights outlined in a key document called Convention 169, and so the case remains in litigation.

“The case of Bancos at one point was once described by the current director of the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Peoples as probably the most important case in the world” with respect to indigenous land rights, said Chávez. “If the case is resolved in the community’s favor, it will be of benefit to all indigenous people in the world.”

But this is only one of many strategies, one layer of the many layers of stories to be told about the Wixaritari people. I was fortunate to hear many of them in the past week, and I will be sharing them as time permits. Meanwhile, here are some images from the enormously resilient little community of Bancos.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

The movie Chevron doesn’t want you to see November 8, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Indigenous culture, Latin America, Sustainability , 3comments

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Like most of his friends and neighbors in the Amazon village where he was born, Pablo Fajardo went to work for Texaco at an early age. But unlike most of his coworkers, he was unwilling to disregard the flagrant abuses of the land and people that he witnessed every day on the job.

He made up his mind to become a lawyer, and now he’s the lead attorney representing 30,000 Amazonian citizens in a class-action suit that is now entering its 15th year. It’s that battle that’s at the heart of Joe Berlinger’s stunning new documentary, “Crude.”

I’d already read the infuriating story of Chevron-Texaco’s contamination of millions of acres of Amazon rainforest, and one man’s battle to bring them to justice, in Vanity Fair’s May 2007 Green Edition. But Berlinger’s film brings this story to life in a way that written words cannot. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour calls the movie “an extraordinary merging of journalism and art.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The movie opened last night in Houston, the home base of Texaco, now Chevron, and I joined a the Emerging Green Builders group in watching the Houston premeire. Scenes of the movie were filmed at the Chevron building just 10 blocks from where we sat, as Fajardo and an indigenous family braced themselves to go inside and present their case.

“You have been in our territory for 28 years; now I ask just three minutes of your time,” the tribesman said to his adversaries.

Now I ask three minutes of your time to watch the trailer…. and then I think you’ll agree that this movie belongs on your must-see list.

Amid sweat and tears, Esperanza is born October 14, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, ecotourism, Esperanza Project, Indigenous culture, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability , 1 comment so far

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Here in the darkness of the temezcal, sweat, steam and mud become one with the throbbing beat of Teresa’s drum. The heat bears down, melting away the boundaries between us. Rhythms from her Mayan heritage rise in the air with the incense-like scent of copal, her voice carrying us to a place beyond time. She asks me to translate, and her songs and prayers flow through me like water.

We fly like eagles, with wings of light/circumnavigating the universe… we are warriors of light.

She calls on the ancients, and on the spirits of the elements and the four directions, asking for a blessing for each of us huddled together in the tiny dome. She teaches us the grito of the warrior, a shout from the depths of our souls that pulls us through round after round of nearly unbearable heat.

Offer your sweat to Mother God, Father God, she advises us. It will help you to endure the suffering.

The heat and the rhythm intensify, and the air is heavy with skin-searing steam. Her words are passing through me now in rhythmic gasps.

Just when we think we can bear no more, she brings out a waxy chunk of white copal and touches it to the red-hot rock in the center of the temezcal. Each of us takes it in turn and whispers the prayer closest to our hearts.

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