Minhoca Ecuador

Común Tierra: A journey through sustainable communities of the Americas

Editor’s note: In November of 2010, as I was winding down my journey through the Americas, documenting sustainability initiatives in the 10 countries I visited, my path crossed with that of Ryan Luckey and Leticia Rigatti, the couple who make up Común Tierra. They were doing exactly what I had wanted to do but ran out of time, funds and energy. They have spent the past four years creating a body of work that is unparalleled in this area, planting seeds of sustainability as they go with their workshops and seed bank and presentations. Their journey carried them throughout the Americas aboard the Minhoca, a motor home outfitted with a wide range of “ecotecnias” or ecological technologies that help the travelers live in a way that’s consistent with their values, while making their home a rolling demonstration project for sustainability.

Taller semillas
Ecobici
baño seco
Leti

Now as the couple begins a new chapter with a journey through Europe, Phil Moore has penned an interview with Ryan and Leti for Permaculture Magazine. Phil, along with his partner Lauren, relied on the advice and collaboration of Comun Tierra in their own journey through the Americas, documented in their blog Permaculture People. Continue reading

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Ten Years on the Front Lines of Indigenous Struggles: Interview with Intercontinental Cry Founder/Editor John “Ahni” Schertow

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Truthout

PLT2013-coverTen years ago, when John “Ahni” Schertow launched the award-winning magazine Intercontinental Cry, about 50 Indigenous Nations led their own front-line struggles to save some of the last intact habitats on Earth from the ravages of modern industrial development. Now more than 500 such struggles are raging around the globe. You’d never know it, even if you were a dedicated reader of mainstream and alternative media – unless one of those publications happened to beIntercontinental Cry. IC has had a hand in bringing some of those struggles to the international stage, most notably with the publication of the crucial essay by First Nations writer and activist Russell Diabo, which played a vital role in helping to spark the Idle No More movement. Diabo was the first to fully expose Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan to terminate First Nations treaty rights, and the world first learned about it at IC.

Schertow, from his bunker in a home office in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has taken up residence on those front lines, watching as the global indigenous movement has grown exponentially. He’s dedicated himself to telling the stories and to building a worldwide network of indigenous and non-indigenous reporters to serve as his eyes and ears. On any given day, he might be editing an eye-opening article from a writer in a far-flung land like the Philippines or Papua New Guinea; or investigating a fracking project threatening to contaminate the waters of an indigenous community in Canada or Botswana; or editing and designing the annual best-of collection, People Land Truth. How he does it all without a paid staff, a newsroom or even a journalism degree is worth a story in itself.

Truthout contributor Tracy L. Barnett took advantage of IC’s tenth anniversary to ask him a few questions.

Tracy Barnett for Truthout: Let’s start with your personal background. Where and how did you grow up, and how did that play into the journalist you are today?

I was born in the city of Winnipeg, quite a ways away from Mohawk territory. You might say I was a poster boy for neglected children, since I spent most of my youth wandering around drag strips, gas stations and the like. I actually grew up in a fairly anti-social and amoral environment. About the only lesson I was taught back then was that I was an emotional and psychological punching bag for almost everyone that mattered to me and I was powerless to stop it.

In my teens I developed a strong interest in poetry, which might’ve been my saving grace. I didn’t have much of a vocabulary back then – I mean, I wasn’t learning anything in school, so I started studying a dictionary. About four months after that I wrote and illustrated a small book of poetry that caught the attention of my English teacher. She was so impressed by my book that I never saw it again!

A few years later I rebelled with a vengeance. I dropped out of high school, rejected Catholicism and immersed myself in music, politics, poetry and art and alcohol and drugs. You might say that these were the first steps in my personal decolonization project, although I still had a very long way to go.

What inspired your decision to claim and embrace your indigenous identity? 

It wasn’t until I met my two mentors and agreed to quit drinking and drugs that I was finally able to put things into perspective and come to terms with myself as a Mohawk breed and as a Two Spirit. It was sort of like someone turned the power on for the first time. Not only did they teach me every lesson I never had, they offered me the cultural foundation I always needed and showed me how to stand on it by example. They enabled me in all the ways that count. I was very fortunate in this respect.

What was it that inspired you to start the magazine?

I started IC just a couple days after walking away from a big political project I was working on at the time. I had this idea of creating an international confederacy of Indigenous Nations and an independent indigenous economy that would stand outside the capital system. I thought it was urgently needed, but after talking to the late Mohawk activist Dacajeweiah “Splitting the Sky” who started the League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations some years earlier, it became clear that the foundation was already in place. I still wanted to move forward with the economy, but around that time the group I was working with became obsessed with the fringe politics of the so-called sovereigntist movement. I tried to reason with them, to get back to the core vision, but they just weren’t interested, so I walked away. As soon as I did that, it occurred to me that I could work on something that was almost as important: informing the international community.

In 10 years of publishing Intercontinental Cry, what have been the highlights?

Back in 2010, we published a story about PetroWorth Resources’ fracking plans an arms stretch away from a Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia. At the time, this story was just starting to make headlines, which was great; but there was one thing missing in all that coverage: the Mi’kmaq! We put together a pretty good story that set the record straight. A few months after that, we covered the Kainai struggle against fracking in southern Alberta. That story rolled out a full six months before any other media picked up on it.

The Palawan’s recent victory against mining and oil palm development in the Philippines was another good moment for us. For quite some time, we were the only group outside of the Philippines to cover the Palawan’s struggle. Of course, that all changed when the highly successful “No to Mining in Palawan” campaign was launched; nevertheless, for almost a year we documented the Palawan’s efforts to protect their lands when others wouldn’t even so much as send out a tweet.

We were also the first to expose the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance’s 2013 launch of an ongoing national offensive that’s aimed at terminating American Indian treaty rights in the US. As well, we provided ground-breaking coverage on the convergence of Wall Street and the Tea Party in the political battle against Coast Salish First Nations defending the fisheries of the San Juan and Gulf Islands, which are threatened to become one of the world’s major carbon corridors.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to face?

Fundraising, for one, has been extremely difficult. A lot of people think we have big money because we’re in Canada and because of the sheer strength of our investigative work, but we really don’t. I mean, we can’t even afford to get a bank account!

Keeping up with the news has been another big challenge. There was a time when I could cover all the major stories on my own, but those days are long gone – and it’s been very tough finding strong and credible writers to help cover everything, especially on a volunteer basis. We’ve had to turn a blind eye to a lot of important stories.

What have you learned along the way?

I never went to university or received any kind of training as a journalist, editor, or web designer so I’ve had to figure everything out on-the-fly. In that sense, IC has served as a kind of university for me. It’s been a constant challenge – but it’s one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

In a broad brushstroke, what are some of the biggest challenges facing indigenous peoples today?

I would have to say it’s centered on building and maintaining a healthy relationship with Nation States that allows all Indigenous Nations to live in peace, without being constantly infringed upon, threatened, abused and extinguished. It’s the relationship so elegantly symbolized by the Kaswhenta or Two Row Wampum Treaty that the Confederacy signed withthe Dutch 400 years ago.

Ever since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was passed, there has been a steady rise of governments considering sweeping legislation that targets Indigenous Rights. We’ve seen it in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Peru and a few other countries. We’ll see it in India soon enough. And we might see it in the US as well, given the recent court ruling that removed legal protections for the Indigenous population in Guam because those protections were “discriminatory.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is a much larger rise in the number of Indigenous Peoples who are striving to quite literally defend the Earth. When I first started IC there were about 50 Indigenous Nations leading their own front-line struggles. Now there are easily more than 500.

Who has really inspired you over the years?

I’m continuously inspired by all the Indigenous communities that are stepping forward to reclaim their lands, revitalize their cultures and languages and re-establish themselves as self-sufficient Nations. I don’t know of anything more inspiring than that. I also draw a lot of inspiration and strength from people who lead by example and who tell it like it is, like Taiaiake Alfred, Evon Peter, Leanne Simpson and Russell Diabo.

What have been the hardest stories to cover? 

We regularly face an uphill battle. We can’t exactly afford to send someone to Kenya to find out what’s happening to the Samburu or the Maasai. And we almost always have difficulty reaching people to get the bottom of something that might be happening. So, unless we happen to have someone on the ground to conduct interviews or someone from the community to document whatever might be happening, unfortunately our hands are tied.

With all challenges facing indigenous peoples today, what is there that gives you hope, that keeps you from despairing?

I consider myself to be a relentless optimist, but there are times when I’m filled with far more despair than hope, especially when I spend days working on different stories about grave human rights abuses while the media-at-large is obsessing over some silly spectacle; but, I press on anyway. I was taught that, as Kanienkehaka, Mohawk, I have a responsibility to serve the people. It’s always been my way, but now it keeps me going.

I also sincerely believe that, despite the constant stream of attacks and abuses and outright terror campaigns that so many Indigenous Peoples face today, we are going to overcome it. There’s just no question in my mind.

What is your goal for IC in the next 10 years? 

I don’t know about the next ten years, but we have a big plan in motion to turn IC into a professionally run news service. Just last month we created a board of directors. Now we’re in the process of registering IC as a non-profit. Were also raising funds at Indiegogo so we can start offering more investigative pieces. Later, we plan to set up free media production workshops for Indigenous Peoples, offer a Spanish version of the site and among other things, host interdisciplinary gatherings, here in Winnipeg.

Why should non-indigenous people care about the stories you’re reporting? In a world where even the most caring can end up with a serious case of compassion fatigue, why should the average hardworking info-overloaded non-indigenous person take the time to read your publication?

We’re helping people stay on top of the efforts of the oldest and strongest movement in the world. On any given day, Indigenous communities are physically stopping mining companies from tearing apart biodiversity hotspots, preventing governments from enacting legislation that’s straight out of the 15th century and leading efforts to decommission hydro dams – all the while, fostering a global climate of political transparency and accountability. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of insight and perspective to be gained from the work that Indigenous Peoples are doing, especially for those who are engaged in struggles of their own.

This article is a Truthout original.

Huicholes Katira

Interview with the Last Peyote Guardians: Marakame José Luis “Katira” Ramírez and son

José Luis “Katira” Ramirez invokes the sacred five directions of the Huichol people in a benediction before the showing in Guadalajara (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Intercontinental Cry

SECOND OF TWO INTERVIEWS
See also: Interview with the Directors of Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

José Luis “Katira” Ramírez was serving as the governor of his community of San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco, when he met Argentine filmmaker Hernán Vilchez. He was not like any governor Vilchez had ever met. A Huichol shaman, or marakame, dressed in his colorful native clothing and distinctive plumed hat, he stood out in the urban environment of Mexico City. He had traveled far from his home in the Western Sierra Madre because his community was in crisis; the rains had not come in time, and the corn crop was ruined. He had come to the megalopolis to seek support for his people, who were in dire need with their failed harvest. Another crisis, too, loomed large in his mind: the fate of Wirikuta, the sacred land of his people, destined to be churned into ore by Canadian mining companies. He had no idea how it would be done, but he knew it had to be stopped. The fate of his people – and indeed, of the entire planet, according to his perspective – hung in the balance.

Hernán, for his part, was traveling the planet with his film crew, seeking subjects for a German reality show that portrayed the cultures and traditions of native peoples around the world. He asked Katira if he would be willing to participate in a filming of the program. Katira said he would consult with the elders of his community, and together they would decide.

Eventually the community gave their blessing, but they asked for something in return. They wanted Hernan to film the story of their struggle to save Wirikuta.

Katira’s family became the protagonists in the documentary, which follows the building of an extraordinary movement. I sat with Katira and with his son Clemente, a student at the University of Guadalajara, at the closure of the very intense Mexican film release tour to get a different perspective on the story behind the film. Producer Paola Stefani joined in at his invitation.

Huicholes- Katira 2
José Luis “Katira” Ramírez introduces the film in Estación Catorce, in the sacred territory of Wirikuta, flanked by the film crew and his family. (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

Tracy: Katira, how was it to live with this film crew in your house, in your life, filming every day? Because of what I know of the Wixarika people, it’s a very private culture, very discreet, and people value their privacy very much.

Katira: Yes, it was very difficult. There were many people who think many things and said things to us (critical things), but you only think of the defense. I always said in the assembly, you also should do the work, this is what it costs. If there’s no support, it’s painful, but one does it because really they do it from the heart, because really they love the Mother and the territory, and also we have rights as guardians on this planet.

Tracy: I know that there are various documentarians who go to the sierra and ask for permission to film. Hernán is not the first; so why did you choose him to do this movie?

Katira: He has a heart to especially know us. It wasn’t his first time to come to an indigenous community; he had been to communities all over the world with almost the same problems, the same needs. So when we met it was like we had already known each other for many years.

Tracy: What were the most difficult challenges for you in this process?

Katira: The difficult thing was the distances, and because of the distances the cost of everything – it’s very far and that’s why, with work and with sacrifice, we did it.

Don’t think it was cheap; each trip was 1500 euros, 1,000 euros, from my pocket, from my work, but working together and with a lot of economic sacrifice we were able to do everything we needed to complete this documentary, so one day people will understand.

Thank God my heart is very strong, because I wanted to leave something for the children, for the grandchildren, for the future, because I’m not going to live 500 years, 300 years, who knows what’s going to happen; so this was very important for me.

Tracy: I really loved the opening you gave to the film in Guadalajara – the ceremonial blessing, the invocation of the five directions. I was curious to know if you opened each of the presentations with a benediction like that one, or were they all different?

Katira: Very different. Sometimes we arrived rested; other times the director was really sick and weak from so much travel, with the rains, with headaches, we had to take care of each other that week of the release tour.

Tracy: Katira, I know as a marakame you are also a healer, among other things. Were there times when you served as a healer for the film crew?

Katira: Yes, laying the hands on energetically, healing, that’s how we’ve always cared for each other.

Tracy: I’ll bet you had a lot of work, no?

Katira: ¡Sí!

Tracy: And did the treatments work?

Katira: Here’s Paola; ask her.

Read the full interview at Intercontinental Cry.
The film can be viewed online for $3.99 at huicholesfilm.com.
Anyone who is interested in organizing a film screening or supporting the effort may contact the director at hernanton@gmail.com.

Huicholes World Premiere

Interview with directors of Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

Feature photo: Film director Hernán Vílchez introduces the film at its world premiere in Real de Catorce, in Wirikuta, the contested ceremonial territory of the Huichol people. (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Intercontinental Cry

FIRST OF TWO INTERVIEWS
See also: Interview with the Last Peyote Guardians: Marakame José Luis “Katira” Ramírez and son

When Argentine filmmaker Hernán Vílchez made his way up into the remote Wixarika community of San Andrés Cohamiata Tateikie high in the Western Sierra Madre of Mexico, he knew he would be entering another world. What he didn’t know was how deeply it would change his own life.

The movie tells the story of the Wixarika or Huichol people, one of the most intact precolonial people remaining in the Americas, and their battle to save the sacred site upon which their cosmovision depends from Canadian gold and silver mining operations. It’s a story emblematic of a horrifically destructive industry at work all over the world, and at the same time unique to this time and place and culture, and it’s a story that’s very much alive.

Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, a beautiful and profound new film just released on demand at www.huicholesfilm.com, breaks new ground on many fronts. First there was the making of the film, which revolves around the pilgrimage of a single family, that of the marakame or shaman José Luis Ramírez, or Katira by his Wixarika name, to the sacred desert of Wirikuta and to the Cerro Quemado, the Birthplace of the Sun. Other films have been made exploring the colorful and deeply spiritual traditions of the Wixarika people, but none that has covered with this level of depth and professionalism the spiritual traditions of this people and the existential threat that culture now faces.

The film crew, accompanied by numerous members of the Ramírez family, has also pioneered a new approach to distribution in an era of self-publishing and artistic independence. Rather than premiering the film at a prestigious film festival and then concentrating their efforts on audiences and festivals in major cities, the crew premiered the film in a way that most resembles the ancient Wixarika pilgrimage, but in reverse. The first two showings were in the pilgrimage destination, the threatened sacred site itself, the remote mountain range and desert valley of Wirikuta. The next stop was a two-day caravan up into the even more remote Wixarika territories. Only then did they take their tour to overflow crowds in Mexico’s two largest cities, Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Now, due to the urgency of the message, they are trying to raise the money to go on tour with the movie: first, beginning in August, in South America, followed by Europe in September and October, and the U.S. and Canada in November.

I caught up with the film’s director, Hernán Vílchez, and producer, Paola Stefani, and Katira and his son Clemente at the producer’s home in Mexico City recently as they recovered from the eight-day marathon. Here is the interview.

Huicholes Real de Catorce
The iconic colonial church and silvery hills of Real de Catorce served as a backdrop for the world premiere of “Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians.” (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

Hernán: We’ve just recovered from the Five Colors of Corn and Five Functions movie release tour, and the Ramírez family is here with us. The world premiere of Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians was very well received and really exceeded our expectations. We’re feeling very grateful to the Mexican people but especially those who attended and also supported us. It’s been three and a half years since I began this work, almost as a mandate from the Elder’s Council of San Andrés Cohamiata. They asked me to do a film to tell the story of their struggle to save their most sacred site, and this is the result.

Tracy: Speaking of the movie release tour, let’s talk about that first. What stood out the most for you as you traveled with this film, what surprised you, in terms of the way it was received? In particular, the different reactions of the very different audiences you were able to reach?

Paola: For us it was very important to take the film in the first place to Real de Catorce and to the populations of the desert, and likewise to the Huichol territories in the mountains. Our first interest is to take the film to the people who are affected by this conflict by the mine in Wirikuta, and so the first would be those who live in the desert, and of course to the Wixaritari.

As Hernán already said, the first response was to have in attendance more than 500 people, in Real de Catorce as in Estación Catorce and in the Huichol territories. In Guadalajara, we could never have imagined that 800 people would show up and that more than half would be left outside. So obviously Wirikuta is a subject that interests many people. In Mexico City, where there was a last-minute change of venue and then it rained, about 2,500 people turned out – and what was very moving also is that the majority were young people.

Huicholes Mexico City
Despite a rainstorm and a last-minute change of venue, more than 2,500 turned out for the film’s outdoor screening in Mexico City. (Credit: José Andrés Solórzano)

In the case of the Guadalajara function, there was an enormous diversity in the kinds of people who came. I think the public response – it was a very quick tour, no? In eight days we did five events and traveled more than 2,700 kilometers. So we didn’t have the opportunity to stay for a long time in each place after the function but immediately after finishing the film what we most received were words of profound thanks; in Estación Catorce we were talking to kids between 16 and 18 years old, and they were saying, ‘We’ve always seen the Wixaritari with their pilgrimages and we’ve never really understood what it was about; now we understand.'”

In Real de Catorce we had the chance to speak with ejidatarios (collective landowners, mostly small farmers) from the mountains as well as the valley, and they were grateful to be able to have access to serious information, and also something that kept coming up in the comments was the importance of making it very clear that the Wixárika people have no intention of depriving anyone of their land or their ability to make a living. One of the comments too was that it was really touching for many inhabitants of Wirikuta that the Wixárika people were there, looking in their eyes concerning the effects of the mining on their territory and how it would affect the water.

In Mexico City the film ended with a light sprinkling of rain (considered as a benediction among the Wixárika people and their supporters) and applause and shouts of Viva Wirikuta, very moving as well. I think if it hadn’t rained as it did, I think we could have ended up with 5,000 people. It’s not the film, it’s the subject; I think the people are really sensitized to the subject of Wirikuta.

Read the full interview at Intercontinental Cry.
The film can be viewed online for $3.99 at huicholesfilm.com.
Anyone who is interested in organizing a film screening or supporting the effort may contact the director at hernanton@gmail.com.

IC Montage

Investigative Journalism for Indigenous Peoples

Respect

There are thousands of stories from the Indigenous Peoples Movement that never seem to make headlines, whether it’s the Nasa Peoples bold removal of paramilitary forces from their lands in Colombia or the impressive occupation of Brazil’s House of Representatives by 700 indigenous leaders or the disturbing launch of a national campaign to eradicate tribal sovereignty by the largest anti-indian organization in the United States.

For the past 10 years, Intercontinental Cry Magazine has sought out these stories and many others like them, because Indigenous Peoples are comprehensively ignored by mainstream and alternative media. IC’s team of volunteer journalists has worked tirelessly to make sure we all know what’s happening around us and what’s happening in our names.

“In a media landscape made up of lies, flash, giant blind spots and corporatized sites of distraction, Intercontinental Cry is a trustworthy pathway to the truth where people who are committed to understanding Indigenous realities can gain insight and information to illuminate and activate their struggles,” wrote Taiaiake Alfred, Professor of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria and author of Wasáse.

IC has launched a fund drive on Indiegogo to help put indigenous people’s struggles front and center in the year ahead. Read about it – and pitch in if you can – here.

Lourdes house

Bienvenidos a CASA! Bem-vindos a CASA! Welcome HOME!

CASA is the Council of Sustainable Settlements of the Americas, a network of projects that are working towards sustainability in diverse countries of Latin America. Sustainable Settlements are: EcoVillages, EcoNeighborhoods, EcoTowns, Transition Towns, Nomadic Ecological Project (EcoCaravans), Permaculture Centers, Organic Farms, Collectives, Networks, Cooperatives. Projects who are creating a regenerative and sustainable culture through the continent. CASA is part of GEN, the Global EcoVillage Network, connecting this network to the the EcoVillage movements around the world.

This video was produced by the Común Tierra Project which since 2010 travels throughout Latin America documenting sustainable communities, creating multimedia educational materials and building networks within the movement: www.comuntierra.org.