Tag Archives: Wixarika

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.

Katira

Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

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.

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Tomorrow, Saturday, May 24, the film will be shown in Mexico City, at the Monumento a la Madre in Colonia Serapia Rendón.

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.

From sierra to sea: Huichols make their mark on Cancun

Rodolfo

CANCUN – “Arriving at the ocean is very important; you can’t just walk up to it like it’s a common thing,” Antonio told us as we bumped along through the night on our way to Isla Blanca. “We consider the sea to be sacred; we come from the sea. We have to ask permission to be here.”

That’s how I found myself standing at the edge of the gleaming surf, saying a prayer of gratitude and tossing a chocolate cookie along with a 5-peso coin into the Caribbean along with my prayer. Antonio made an eloquent petition to the great spirits of the ocean and of the five directions sacred to the Wixarika people, asking for special attention during the climate summit proceedings – that everything go well for all of humanity, for those attending the COP-16 events, and for all the Earth.

The candle was offered to the sea as well, and a last gleaming spark scooted downwind along the edge of the surf: earth, wind, fire, water. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to begin our mission, or the first visit to the Yucatan for all five of us.
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Hope prevails through a bitter winter in Bancos de San Hipólito

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.

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