Category Archives: Indigenous culture

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Remembering Yuka+ye: Wixarika teacher and activist left a storied legacy

By Tracy L. Barnett
For El Daily Post

If Wixarika, or Huichol, culture and language have a future, if the world view of this magical people persists, if their sacred lands remain a spiritual sanctuary, the tireless struggle of Jesús Lara Chivarra will not have been in vain. The death of this indigenous fighter leaves a void in the hearts of many.

Wixarika (Huichol) culture lost a champion when Yuka+ye died

Jesús Lara Chivarra and Cilau Valadez face the entrance to First Majestic Silver Corp. headquarters in Vancouver, demanding entrance to the annual stockholders meeting. All photos: Tracy L. Barnett

While most people were celebrating the holidays, others  from Canada to Mexico mourned the loss of a leading Wixarika scholar and teacher, a cultural ambassador and an indigenous activist whose work on behalf of indigenous unity spanned North America.

Yuka+ye Jesús Lara Chivarra’s path took him from the Huichol Sierra to the halls of power. He hobnobbed with rock stars and artists, he faced down police and corporate executives, he taught college students, film producers, attorneys, journalists – but he was always most at home in his village.

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10 Films You Need To Watch On This International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

By John Ahni Schertow
Intercontinental Cry

For over two decades, the United Nations has observed the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9. An effort to promote and help protect the rights of the world’s Indigenous Peoples, each year the event is attributed to a specific theme. This year, the theme is “health and well-being”.

Referring specifically to the ability of Indigenous Peoples to access health care services, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the occasion earlier today, stating,

“On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I call on the international community to ensure that they are not left behind. To create a better, more equitable future, let us commit to do more to improve the health and well-being of indigenous peoples.” [sic]

Due to their relative remoteness, Indigenous Peoples tend to have significantly limited access to health care services. It is a particularly alarming reality given the complex health challenges that Indigenous Peoples often face: systemic opiate addiction in northern Ontario, Canada; the plague of cancer that is decimating Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador; the police raids and military assaults to which Indigenous Peoples are routinely subjected for simply saying “no” to the ravages of industry. The list could go on for weeks.

Indeed, there is much more to consider when talking about the health and well-being of Indigenous Peoples, as the following ten films remind us.
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Huicholes Film wins best documentary: Red Nation Film Festival

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The film Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians has won Best Documentary Film by the Red Nation Film Festival, the premier showcase for Native American and Indigenous film in the United States. The award was shared with The Life, Blood and Rhythm of Randy Castillo, by director Wynn Ponder and producer Johnny Depp.

The selection was the only Latin American film to be awarded.

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El Llamado de Quetzalcoatl: Materializando la Visión

Closing circle
Por Tracy L. Barnett
Traducido por Angélica Narákuri

TEMICTLA, México – Si alguna vez hubo duda de que Quetzalcóatl vive, esa duda fue disipada en una luminosa, húmeda y brillante semana en el corazón de México.

Aquí en Temictla, un valle sagrado, una pequeña ecoaldea y un centro de retiro espiritual en el borde de Chalmita, un destino de peregrinaje para millones de personas de diversas tradiciones, una extensa familia se reunió bajo la luz de la luna creciente, en Noviembre de 2013. Es una familia de muchas naciones y muchas tradiciones, una familia cuyos miembros multitudinarios se han dedicado en cuerpo y alma a la supervivencia de la humanidad y de la vida en la Tierra.

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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.

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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.

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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.