Above: Water Protectors like Michael Costabile continue to arrive at Standing Rock, prepared to brave Arctic temperatures and in some cases, potentially lethal force from law enforcement. Tracy L. Barnett photo
OCETI SAKOWIN CAMP, N.D.—A winter lull in activities for Water Protectors at Standing Rock is about to come to an end. An executive order confirming the incoming administration’s commitment to forge ahead – not just with the Dakota Access Pipeline, but with the cancelled Keystone XL – has solidified resolve at the encampments, where resisters are calling on reinforcements from society at large. A major confrontation with military-armed police and private security forces now seems inevitable.
A contingent of at least 1,000 indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) people in the Western Sierra Madre are gearing up to take back their lands after a legal decision in a decade-long land dispute with neighboring ranchers who have held the land for more than a century.
Ranchers who have been in possession of the 10,000 hectares in question for generations say the seizure is unlawful and that they will not hand over the land — setting the scene for a showdown that observers fear may end in violence.
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.
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.
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.
Finally, its premiere came yesterday in the modern metropolis of Guadalajara, where an hour before show time, hundreds were already lined up in front of the University of Guadalajara’s Cineforo for the chance to be the first to see this long-awaited film. I was excited to be among them, to be reunited with my old friends and companions in that struggle and to see this story, a struggle that marked my own life so profoundly, played out on the big screen. I was also eager to see the small contribution that I’d made to this masterpiece with the video clips I’d contributed to the director, Hernán Vilchez, from my trip with the Wixarika delegation to Vancouver in 2011.
Thankfully we arrived early – because we were the last to be let inside the doors. Hundreds of others were sent away disappointed.
The premiere was opened by Marakame José Luis, also known by his Wixarika name, Katira, with a prayer of gratitude, an invocation to the five directions and a blessing for all those who work for the Mother Earth. Never has a film been more beautifully introduced.
You can view the film by downloading it from the website or organize a showing in your community. We are currently seeking venues for this film all over the world. Please contact us if you are interested, tracy at tracybarnettonline.com. Watch this site for an upcoming interview with Director Hernan Vilchez and Producer Paola Stefani soon.
“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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.