Cultural Survival Q
DECOLONIZe Returning to Our Ways of Being and Knowing in p
Vol. 45, Issue 3• September 2021 US $4.99/CAN $6.99
Ecowarrior Emerson Munduruku transforms into Uýra Sodoma to bring attention to conservation through art and performance. Photo by Matheus Belém. See page 4.
Se p t e mber 2 02 1 Vo lum e 45 , Issue 3 Board of Directors president
Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawai’i) Vice President
Steven Heim Clerk
Nicole Friederichs Valine Brown (Haida) Evelyn Arce Erickson (Muisca) Laura Graham Stephen Marks Tui Shortland (Ma–ori) Jannie Staffansson (Saami) Stella Tamang (Tamang) FOUNDERS David & Pia Maybury-Lewis Cultural Survival Headquarters 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 t 617.441.5400 f 617.441.5417 www.cs.org
F e at u r e s
D e pa r t m e n t s
12 Decolonizing History and Mother Earth’s Story
1 Executive Director’s Message
Edson Krenak Naknanuk (Krenak) What does it mean to decolonize history from an Indigenous perspective?
2 In the News 4 Indigenous Arts
14 Decolonizing Fashion, One Runway at a Time Niya DeGroat (Diné)
Cultural Survival Quarterly Executive Editor: Daisee Francour (Oneida) Managing Editor: Agnes Portalewska Contributing Arts Editor: Phoebe Farris (Powhatan-Pamunkey) Copy Editor: Jenn Goodman Designer: NonprofitDesign.com Copyright 2021 by Cultural Survival, Inc. Cultural Survival Quarterly (ISSN 0740-3291) is published quarterly by Cultural Survival, Inc. at PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Periodical postage paid at Boston, MA 02205 and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Cultural Survival, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Printed on recycled paper in the U.S.A. Please note that the views in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Cultural Survival.
View writers’ guidelines at our website (www.cs.org) or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Cultural Survival, Writer’s Guidelines, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Cultural Survival recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have long been exploited by photographers and publications. This publication does not pay photographers for images and makes no money from publishing them. We also make a tremendous effort to identify every Indigenous individual in the images that appear here. From time to time, however, such identification is not possible. We apologize to the subjects of those photos and to any reader offended by the omission.
A personal look at how Native designers are taking over the fashion world.
Sócrates Vásquez (Ayuujk Jääy)
Indigenous communication brings new insights and broadens the discussion about how we understand communication.
18 Telling Untold Stories in South Africa through Animation Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan) Deidre Jantjies (Khoisan) is working to ensure that more of South Africa’s 35 Indigenous languages are showcased.
20 Decolonizing Our Relationships with Each Other and Mother Earth Chenae Bullock (Shinnecock) Decolonization begins with changing our relationships with nature.
22 Changing Mindsets, Returning to Our Roots
An interview with Jocelyn Ting-Hui Hung Chien (Pinuyumayan) about her work to decolonize in her community in Taiwan.
Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López (Ayuuk/Binnizá)
Many Indigenous communities in Mexico are returning to ways of Indigenous collective governance.
Blazing a Trail of Hope: An Interview with Emerson Uýra
6 Women the World Must Hear
16 Decolonizing Our Communications
24 Decolonizing Power
ii • www. cs. org
Indigenous Women for the Defense of their Human Rights
10 Indigenous Knowledge
Decolonizing Knowledge: Asociación Pop No’j
26 Keepers of the Earth Fund Grant Partner Spotlight
Pariri Indigenous Association, Brazil
28 Staff Spotlight Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’)
29 Bazaar Artists
Reinel Mendoza Montalvo (Zenú) and Ana Mariana Flores Mendoza (Zenú)
Cover photo: Water ceremony in the East River in New York City during the 2019 Indigenous Peoples Day NYC celebration. L–R: Kali “KO” Reis (Cherokee, Nipmuc, and Seaconke Wampanoag), Chenae Bullock (Shinnecock), Sachem HawkStorm (Schaghticoke). Photo by Jimin Kim. See page 20.
Executiv e Director’S message
Returning to Our Way of Being and Knowing Sain Bainaa Cultural Survival Community,
am honored to present you the new issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly solely dedicated to the subject of decolonization. As we dive into this complicated and nuanced topic, we could not help but notice how similarly and differently ways colonization have affected many communities around the world, having robbed them of their lands and resources, identities, languages, spirituality, and ways of being. Nevertheless, despite the 500+ years of colonization, Indigenous communities from the North, South, East, and West are returning to their traditional lifeways, unpacking trauma, and building resilience. In this issue, we share some of the incredible work Indigenous communities are doing to re-Indigenize and decolonize by returning to their traditional ways of being and knowing; telling their histories; relearning their Indigenous languages; reorganizing their governance and organizational systems to pre-colonial structures; promoting Indigenous aesthetics and arts; revisiting gender identities, gender balance, and inclusiveness; changing their relationships with nature and the natural world zand relearning how to communicate in ways that are aligned with the natural world; as well as decolonizing thinking and belief systems imposed by colonizers. As Edson Krenak Naknnanuk (Krenak), CS staff member, shares, “Colonial trauma, and therefore our liberation, affects all spheres of our lives: our being (who am I, and who is ‘the other?’ How do I feel in relation to the other?); our power (who commands and who obeys? Who occupies the places of power? Who decides? Who leads?); our knowing (which knowledge is most valid? Who seems to have more authority when speaking?); and our doing (who has access to education, to the creation of valid knowledge, etc.? Who produces or co-creates? What is the impact of the making on the environment? Who benefits from the making?)... Decolonizing is a
Donors like you make our work around the world possible. Thanks so much for being part of Cultural Survival! Cultural Survival Staff Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director Avexnim Cojtí (Maya K’iche’), Director of Programs Daisee Francour (Oneida), Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications Monica Coc Magnusson (Q’eqchi Maya), Director of Advocacy and Policy Verónica Aguilar (Mixtec), Program Assistant, Keepers of the Earth Fund Bryan Bixcul (Maya Tz’utujil), Executive Assistant Jessie Cherofsky, Advocacy Program Researcher Danielle DeLuca, Advocacy & Development Manager
process that starts with identifying and analyzing the unequal power relations.” Internally, at Cultural Survival, we are working to decolonize and indigenize our practices and operations by incorporating Indigenous cosmologies and ways of being into our day-to-day work. Over the past two years, we have been reviewing our internal policies and drafting new documents through a staff-led process. Over the next few months, we will be sharing the results of our work and releasing our gender balance policy, values and principles, strategic plan, and programmatic priorities. As leaders in the field, we hope this work will serve as a basis for discussion for other organizations and a model for change in working towards a world that is more inclusive, just, equitable, and respectful of nature and all living things. We are honored that you are part of this journey with us. Our nearly 50-year legacy of advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supporting Indigenous self-determination, cultures, and political resilience is thanks to you, our community, who help make our work possible. Join us in shifting the narrative and resources to support Indigenous solutions and leadership to build a better world for us all. As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2022, we have an ambitious goal to raise $500,000 by June 1, 2022, for our #CS50 campaign! We are counting on you for your continued support and commitment to uplifting Indigenous rights. In solidarity and gratitude, Galina Angarova (Buryat) Executive Director
Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Sofia Flynn, Accounting & Office Manager Nati Garcia (Maya Mam), Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Coordinator Adriana Hernández (Maya K'iche'), Emerging Strategies Coordinator Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Kumar/Sunuwar), Community Media Program Coordinator Danae Laura, Bazaar Program Manager Maria del Rosario “Rosy” Sul González (Kaqchikel), Indigenous Rights Radio Program Manager Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López, (Mixe/Ayuuk ja’ay & Zapotec/Binnizá), Keepers of the Earth Fund Program Manager Jamie Malcolm-Brown, Communications & Information Technology Manager Teresita Orozco Mendoza, Community Media Training Coordinator Amparo Monzón (Maya K’iche), Program Assistant, Community Media & Indigenous Rights Radio Programs Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’), Executive Assistant Cesar Gomez Moscut (Pocomam), Community Media Program Coordinator Edson Krenak Naknanuk (Krenak), Lead on Brazil Gabael Otzoy Xocop (Maya Kaqchikel), Information Technology Assistant Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’), Media Coordinator Agnes Portalewska, Communications Manager Sócrates Vásquez (Ayuujk), Program Manager, Community Media Miranda Vitello, Development Coordinator
INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS Laura Harvey, Sarah Hume, Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Jaewook Lee, Nathalie Martinez, Julie Post, Elia Robles, Carolyn Smith-Morris
There are so many ways to
Stay connected www.cs.org Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 1
i n t he new s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointing Mary Simon (Inuk) as Canada’s first Indigenous governor general. Photo: Wikimedia.
U.S.: New Legislation Requires Tribal Consent May
New Washington State legislation seeks to require consent of local Tribes before any projects occur on Indigenous land. The Climate Commitment Act additionally mandates that 10 percent of all carbon tax revenue will go to Washington Tribes, and public funding will be available for Tribes forced to relocate due to rising sea levels.
U.S.: Passamaquoddy Reacquire Pine Island May
The Passamaquoddy Tribe has partnered with the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy to buy Kuwesuwi Monihq, also known as Pine Island. The return of this island secures the reinstatement of traditional hunting and fishing grounds.
U.S.: Papscanee Island Returned to StockbridgeMunsee Tribe May
Papscanee Island in New York, once owned by a land conservation group called Open Space, is being returned to the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe. The island holds historical value for the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Peoples.
Australia: Government Must Protect Youth from Climate Crisis May
Eight teenagers sought to prevent the environment minister of Australia from expanding the Vickery coal mine in New South Wales. In a landmark decision, the federal court of Australia found that the environment minister had a duty to protect young people against future harm from climate change.
U.S.: Yurok Tribe Reclaims Ancestral Territory in Northern California Spring/Summer
The Yurok Tribe has partnered with The Trust for Public Land to reacquire more 2 • www. cs. org
than 2,000 acres of ancestral land surrounding Ke’pel Creek. Tribal members will be able to hunt, fish, and hold ceremonies on this land without facing intrusions from tourists, park rangers, or loggers.
U.S.: 18,000 Acres Returned to Tribes in Montana June
The U.S. Department of the Interior has returned 18,800 acres of land to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The lands were already in the bounds of the reservation and are now being restored to Tribal leadership, making this a milestone in efforts to reinstate ancestral lands to Indigenous Peoples.
transportation finances is a monu- mental step for self-determination and self-governance for Cherokee Nation communities.
Mexico: Zapatista 421 Squad Sends Delegation to Galicia June
The Zapatista 421 Squad, mostly made up of Indigenous Peoples who are protesting inequality in southern Mexico, landed in Galicia, Spain to mark the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Conquest and will begin its tour of Europe.
U.S.: Saami Council Blocks Controversial Harvard Engineering Project June
Australia: Indigenous Mirrar Peoples Regain Ownership of Town of Jabiru Jabiru, a town built in 1982 to support a nearby uranium mine on the edge of Kakadu National Park, has been transferred to its local and traditional owners, the Mirrar Peoples. Mirarr leaders plan to transform the local economy away from mining into tourism.
The Saami Council, which represents regional Saami Peoples in northern Scandinavia and northwest Russia, successfully petitioned Harvard Uni- versity to shut down its controversial Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment. The Saami Council argued that the project, which seeks to combat climate change by artificially blocking the sun’s rays, would damage natural systems.
U.S.: Cherokee Nation to Self-Govern Tribal Transportation
Canada: Indigenous Peoples Reclaim Traditional Names on Passports
The Cherokee Nation has become the first Tribe to secure the right to plan and finance road improvements and projects without federal permission or oversight. Having autonomy over
People of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis backgrounds, especially those who were forced to change their names in residential schools, can now reclaim their traditional names on passports
and IDs. There are no fees for the name-changing process.
U.S.: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tribal Police June
The United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that a Tribal police officer can temporarily detain and search non-Natives on Tribal land. This decision ensures that Tribal governments have the authority to protect their communities and lands.
Chile: Indigenous Mapuche Woman Elected President of New Constitutional Convention July
Elisa Loncón (Mapuche), an Indigenous Peoples’ representative, was elected President of Chile’s newly established Constitutional Convention, which is set to draft a new constitution. The drafting body for the new constitution includes 17 reserved seats for Indigenous candidates out of 155. The country’s existing constitution does not recognize Indigenous Peoples.
Canada: Canada Appoints First Indigenous Governor General July
Inuk leader Mary Simon has been chosen as Canada’s next governor general. Simon, who made her opening remarks in her Native language of Inuktitut, is the first Indigenous person ever to be appointed to this role.
Cultural Survival’s Advocacy Program launches international campaigns in support of grassroots Indigenous movements as they put pressure on governments and corporations to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of their communities.
Belize: Maya Peoples Win Lawsuit against Belize Government for Violating Land Rights June
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Belize ruled in favor of Maya land rights, upholding the community’s right to their customary lands. The case, Jalacte Village vs. the Attorney General, requires the return of Maya lands that had been taken without consent. The government of Belize is further ordered to pay compensation of more than $3 million USD. The land included 31.36 acres near the Guatemalan border of southern Belize where the government expanded a road and developed a border checkpoint. As a result of a 2015 ruling by the Carribean Court of Justice, the Maya Peoples’ customary land rights over this area are now constitutionally protected, making any government project plans in this area without the consent of the Maya Peoples illegal. The traditional governance structure of the Maya Peoples has continued to work with the government to negotiate an implementation plan of Maya land rights, including the development of a Free, Prior and Informed Consent protocol.
U.S.: Controversial Keystone Pipeline XL Officially Cancelled June
The firm behind the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have stretched from Alberta, Canada to the United States Gulf Coast, officially cancelled the project more than a decade after its planning began. Many Indigenous water protectors, advocating for Indigenous and environmental rights, have been instrumental in the cancellation of the pipeline. The pipeline would not only be a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer water source, but also would damage Indigenous burial and archaeological sites. Similar battles to stop pipelines in Montana, Minnesota, and Virginia are currently underway. The victory over the Keystone Pipeline XL provides a foundation for protecting water, land, and Indigenous rights worldwide.
Honduras: Ex-Head of Hydroelectric Company Found Guilty for Assassination of Berta Cáceres July
President of the DESA hydroelectric company, Roberto David Castillo, has been found guilty of the assasination of Indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, a human rights defender and winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was killed two days before her 45th birthday in 2016 by hired hitmen. She spent years opposing Castillo’s Desarrollos Energéticos dam. The high court in Tegucigalpa ruled that Cáceres was murdered for leading the campaign to stop construction of the dam, which would have been environmentally destructive for the Lenca Peoples’ sacred Gualcarque River. The court further ruled that Castillo used paid informants as well as his military contacts to monitor Cáceres. He will be sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison. This case represents a major win for the movement for justice for violence against Read more news at Indigenous rights defenders, as it is the first www.cs.org/latest. conviction in recent history for a murder plot against an Indigenous leader.
Cultural CulturalSurvival SurvivalQuarterly Quarterly September September 2021 2021 • 3
indi geno u s a rts
Blazing a Trail of Hope An Interview with Emerson Uýra
Using only natural materials collected locally and sustainably, it can take several hours to design Uýra's clothing. Photo by Lisa Hermes. Inset top: Uýra, “Mil Quase Mortos (Boiuna)/One Thousand Almost Dead.” Dressed in a costume made entirely of natural materials, Uýra stands against a backdrop of a river contaminated by plastic waste. Photo by Matheus Belém. Inset bottom: Uýra visits villages along the Amazon River to teach residents about the importance of conservation. Photo by Selma Mai.
Laura Harvey (CS Intern)
merson Uýra (Emerson Munduruku) is a young artist, scientist, and educator of Afro-Indigenous ancestry from Mojuí dos Campos, Santarém in the Amazon. Through his drag persona, Uýra Sodoma, Emerson Uýra blurs the lines between human, animal, and plant. Out in the streets of the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil, or in the sterile space of the art gallery, Uýra mesmerizes audiences with his disrupting of colonial narratives of wilderness, gender, and environmental destruction. A visual artist and human rights activist, Uýra is also a biologist with a masters degree in ecology. Whether he is inhabiting Emerson or Uýra Sodoma, he is pushing for diversity, rights, and racial justice. Cultural Survival recently spoke with Uýra. Cultural Survival: Please describe your artwork. Emerson Uýra: I talk about life in my work, about the
violations of those lives, about the beauty, the potency, the manifestations of all lives—not just the life of the forest, but of human life as well, the beauty that we are walking through. I move from academia, from scientific research, and I bring a lot of that to my artistic practice telling natural stories about animals, plants, our Indigenous stories, stories about our people from the periphery, about LGBTQ2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit) people. Cultural Survival: How did you begin as Uýra? EU: Uýra emerged in 2016 after a coup d’état in Brazil.
I was living with artists who were protesting [and] I began 4 • www. cs. org
to see myself as an artist. Since then, I have been taking on a presence that is a hybrid of animal and plant. I adorn myself with leaves, branches, seeds, everything that is part of us, because we also are nature. I invite these elements of the forest together with my body. And there we have Uýra: this presence in this entity of plant and animal flesh. I like to see Uýra as a tree that walks within the cosmovisions within the way that Indigenous Peoples from many places come; from there come the transformations. We transform many things within these visions into animals, and animals become people. A tree walking breaks the Western, Eurocentric, colonial imaginary that envisions trees as stationary, motionless organisms. By turning into Uýra, these rights of the walk- ing trees are like the Indigenous bodies that have always mobilized us and moved independently of colonialism. CS: Do people react differently to your performances depending on the space? EU: People are enchanted or repulsed. There are many
sensations. The multitude of reactions are ok, even important for me. People on the street react in multiple ways; this is part of being human. It is different from the reaction inside art galleries where people are all very polished and reactions are all very controlled. I prefer the reaction on the street. CS: Please describe one of your most memorable performances. EU: I perform photo performances, so I go with a photographer
to a chosen site. For example, the city of Manaus where I live, I situate myself, I receive Uýra in my body, and there I pose,
interacting with this environment. All that is photographed. I’ve been doing photo performances since 2017 and I’ve experienced many interesting moments because they’re usually in open places where people of all genders, ages, races, and classes pass and react. A highlight moment was in 2019 when I became a snake with a tail of 10 meters. It was the snake Boiuna, which is close to the mother of snakes here in the Amazon. I turned into Boiuna there in a stream in Manaus. The stream was polluted, full of garbage, and a bridge passed from one side to the other over this stream. Hundreds and hundreds of people passed on that bridge during that afternoon and I was down there lying in the garbage. And that was really interesting, because people reacted a lot. They took many pictures and videos. There were people who cursed. There were people who praised me, who started talking about the state of the stream. In one or two hours of photo performance I found that the stream received more attention than it had received for a long time. They are accepted as natural things, which is an invisible disgrace, and it was interesting to encourage this mobilization, this conversation, this reaction of people to space. CS: Why do you enjoy performance art, specifically? EU: It just happens. Every child is born a performer. Mothers
tell me that children already use their bodies to tell narratives. This is performance art. Since childhood I used to glue things on my face; I took a little leaf to see how it fit along with my body, it was a kind of spirit saying, “you’re a leaf too, huh? We are also Forest.” I really like to inhabit and swim through this manifesto that this expression uses the body. It is something that I have come to understand every day as a power that exists within not only the Indigenous worlds, but also the non-Indigenous worlds as a tool for dialogue, including communication between these different worlds. I transform into Uýra to transit. Transformation to communicate. CS: How is your art a decolonizing practice? EU: I move with an anti-colonial perspective. Since picking
up leaves to put on my face, I claim that we are also nature. The Western, Eurocentric view has for a long time made a point of separating nature and culture. For us Indigenous Peoples, nature and culture are the same thing. We are nature with culture. We have culture and our culture is the forest, a living forest. There is no distinction between us. Things are alive, they are sisters, they are all daughters of the same grandmother. I claim that place too, in a non-human, nonanthropocentric, hybrid way. I communicate directly by exposing these colonial diseases in my work, and also ways to cure these diseases. So there are several direct anti-colonial manifestos present in my work. And each day I learn to do this better. CS: What is the relationship between your work as a scientist and Indigenous knowledge of ecology and conservation? EU: I am an environmentalist, whether through academia or
as an Indigenous person. I want the forest standing. No future is possible without the Amazon. I spent six years researching and publishing international scientific articles in major journals
around the world, always guided by the knowledge I already had before the academy about the forest, about the spiritual licenses that need to be applied for in order to enter the forest. I decided to take a break from academia precisely because I was tired of being a researcher and seeing an animal as an object. The animal is my relative. If he wants to say something to me, he’ll tell me, and if he doesn’t want to, he won’t say it. CS: What difficulties do you encounter as an artist and as an Indigenous person in Brazil? EU: The art system in Brazil still has a very European per-
spective; a very minimalist, well-sanitized view of art, not popular art. I’m an Indigenous, non-binary person from the periphery, and what I do, there’s nothing minimalist about it. It’s exaggeration, it’s popular culture. Entering this space of this high culture, institutional spaces, only happens because there is one curator or another or a project that is trying to get out of these boxes. Then it facilitates our dialogue and I just build from that. As never before, contemporary Indigenous art in Brazil is highly relevant and has more and more visibility in terms of communication between worlds. Many contemporary Indigenous artists in Brazil sell by working as a collective to build something important that revises years of modern science that talked about us without us. I’m one of those artists who was pushed by this movement, conducted as a political, artistic, spiritual mission to occupy these spaces with our Indigenous narratives, which are important for the world to hear. What we hope for today is the fall of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and that it will happen soon because he has already killed many of our people in Brazil. More than 500,000 people have already died because of COVID. We are ready for the fall of this neo-Nazism that exists within Brazil today, which affects the life directly not only of Indigenous Peoples, but of the entire population. We, in Brazil, are moving right now through a series of bills that come to overturn the rights that Indigenous Peoples have gained, which are already insufficient. It has only been since 1988 when the Federal Constitution was enacted in Brazil that Indigenous people became legal Brazilian citizens. And only since 1991 has the word ‘Indigenous’ been entered into the demographic censuses. Until then, the State insisted on confusing and disguising the identity of many relatives. Now, in 2021, there is a project that will worsen our rights, PL 490, which will remove the demarcation of Indigenous lands. That is one of the most shameful blows this state has again done against the Indigenous Peoples. [Still], I want to emphasize the importance of hope. It is important to understand that colonialism never ended, and with these policies of disgrace they continue to reign. Indigenous Peoples, Black people, trans people, LGBTQ2S people, and racialized people of all forms, people from the periphery of social movements, teachers, we’ve been here for a long time. So let us not give up. I have hope for the art system, because there are several movements today that are identifying themselves as anti-colonial, as anti-system, so that we can walk towards a better future, a future that is not so elitist, so homophobic, so racist. Because it is like that, we still are. But we have paths of hope. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 5
women th e wo r ld m u st hear
Participants of the Indigenous Women for Defense of their Human Rights Training. Top L–R: Silvia Jacinto, Rosemary Dionicio, Maricela Tucubal, María de los Angeles, Brenda Xitumulup. Bottom L–R: Catarina Ajtzalam, Damiana Tzaj, Candelaria Xí, Angie Milady Lopez.
Young Women and Decolonization
Changing History through Struggle and Resistance Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’, CS Staff) and Adriana Hernández (Maya K’iche’, CS Staff)
ecolonization is frequently defined and discussed as the process by which subjugated territories put an end to their colony status. However, this limited definition falls short of expressing the full connotations of the concept. For Indigenous Peoples, decolonization includes the restoration of ancestral practices, the promotion and use of native languages, Indigenous sovereignty, the growing of food, reclamation of clothing, and recovery of practices and ways of seeing and understanding the world, among many others. Indigenous decolonization struggles and triumphs are happening in an effort to undo practices and ideologies imposed from the “encounter between two worlds” that resulted in the establishment of an unequal system for Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (Latin America). This system of inequality disproportionately affects Indigenous women, who face severe racism, machismo, violence, and other effects of patriarchal culture. But, many women have initiated processes to counteract the colonization that
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relentlessly continues to affect them today. To shed light on these struggles, we spoke with several Indigenous youth from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, who participated in a 15-session human rights training program supported by Cultural Survival in early 2021. The Indigenous Women for the Defense of their Human Rights Training sought to build the capacity of 24 Indigenous human rights defenders from Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras, who are continuing to make changes in their communities by sharing their rights knowledge with other women. Their shared and unique experiences enabled us to understand that decolonization is not a homogeneous or linear process, but diverse and personal. One of the starting points for decolonization is developing an awareness of being, analyzing the meaning of existence and life practices. Therefore, decolonization often begins from cultural practices and identity. Gilda Maricela (Maya Kaqchikel), originally from San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala, explains that her decolonization process has prompted her to use her mother tongue, Kaqchikel, and wear her Mayan clothing, but also to incorporate and apply ancestral knowledge in her professional career as a psychologist.
Decolonizing also means “never ceasing to be,” as defined by Brenda Xitumul (Maya Achí) from Rabinal, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, who remembers that when she was orphaned with her father, she remained close to her mother’s spirit by speaking their mother tongue and wearing their Mayan clothing. Even though she suffered discrimination while growing up, she has always felt proud of who she is, because “that’s how I grew up . . . I [would] think of the strength of my mother.” She names her mother as her main influence in resisting colonization. Indigenous Peoples not only bravely face their painful past, but also reflect on their present to collectively build their future. Candelaria Xí Ché (Maya Q’eqchi’) from Petén, Guatemala, says that it is important to transmit resistance practices and ancestral knowledge to future generations. Speaking one’s native language and losing the fear of wearing traditional clothing in public spaces is essential for resistance. Manuela Damiana (Maya K’iche‘) originally from Nahualá, Sololá, Guatemala, adds that respect for the elderly is fundamental. Silvia Jacinto Mendoza (Mixteca) from Ometepec Guerrero, Mexico, describes her experience of decolonization on a family level: “We have tried to maintain our mother tongue, we live together as a Mixtec family does, we eat our traditional food, we dress like Mixtecos, and we have our Mixtec stories.” For María de Los Ángeles González Ramos (Purépecha) from Comachuén, Michoacán, Mexico, the process of decolonization has taken place strongly at the community level: “It has been something collective, to participate in community decision-making, trusting in my community authorities, and above all, asserting our right to selfdetermination and autonomy as a whole,” she says, adding that part of decolonizing is reclaiming those spaces that are denied to them because they are women. Decolonization requires the deconstruction of imposed sexist systems. Angie Milady López (Lenca), who lives in Honduras, says that “she has learned to unlearn” by taking up space in the face of sexist practices, debating with the women in her circle, and sharing her knowledge with other women so that they know their identity and history. For Damiana Tzaj (Maya K’iche’), learning to be independent, demanding equality between men and women, claiming the right of citizen participation, and giving value to the participation and opinions of women is essential to overcome colonialist patriarchal domination. Catarina Ajtzalam (Maya K’iche’) originally from Nahualá, Sololá, Guatemala, has formed her point of view based on painful experiences that she overcame. Her grandparents were colonized with sexist practices and therefore doubted her abilities, and so, she believes that decolonization is also based on participation in public spaces and decisionmaking. For Ajtzalam, this process is also expressed through the level of consciousness of a community that wants to transform oppressive and violent relationships. Another form of decolonization is approached by challenging the power structures in the traditional educational system. That is what Rosemary Dionicio (Maya K’iche’), originally from Uspantán, Quiché, Guatemala, wants to confront. Her desire to decolonize inspired her to study intercultural bilingual education to promote and appropriate her
“ I fight against the homogenizing policies of the colonial educational system, questioning the Spanish language that it wants to impose as the communication system among Indigenous Peoples. The continuity of the decolonization processes is linked to information; once we start the decolonization process, we cannot stop.” Bety Piche (Zapoteca)
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Indigenous language. For Dionicio, it is vital to dare to revolutionize, debunk stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples, and become an active political participant. She dreams of being able to implement processes of decolonization in childhood through education and from the communities. One of the consequences of colonial education is an embedded fear and contempt for anything Indigenous. Xí Ché affirms: “Being an educator, I have noticed that it is the parents who sometimes do not like that their children learn and speak in their own languages.” Another participant of the human rights training, Angelica Ayala (Nahua), is originally from Tepoztlán Morelos, Mexico. She is a human rights activist and a youth land defender. When she was a child, she saw how her community rose up against the construction of a golf club that was not endorsed by the people, and there she understood the importance of defending its territory and organizing to protect its resources. Ayala believes that resistance is key to preserving the present and future and explains how decolonization begins through organization. When young people get involved in communal festivals and then participate in mayordomías (neighborhood assemblies), they pay more attention to ancestral practices, understanding the process of the cornfield and the ceremonies for harvesting in addition to valuing the hills and sacred spaces, the water, and the rainy season. She says, “With imposed projects such as the installation of gas pipelines, aqueducts, thermoelectric plants, and construction of highways, it is necessary to maintain and strengthen the social fabric, transmit to the new generations the reasons 8 • www. cs. org
why they fight, and say, ‘Here we are.’ They cannot continue doing what they do; we continue to exist, resisting. We do not leave or give up. We ask for respect and that our ways of life and territory be respected.” Bety Piche (Zapoteca), originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, says that she fights against the homogenizing policies of the colonial educational system, questioning the Spanish language that it wants to impose as the communication system among Indigenous Peoples. For Piche, resistance to Western thinking is necessary if we want to preserve the heritage of our ancestors. She has been appropriating her mother tongue together with the Intercultural Youth Collective Our Voices, made up of young Indigenous migrants, who, for different reasons, have come to live in Mexico City. “The continuity of the decolonization processes is linked to information; once we start the decolonization process, we cannot stop,” she says. Piche also believes that in order to continue resisting, it is important that Indigenous Peoples are informed and seek their own means to communicate. Preserving a language is not only an element of cultural resistance, but also an important means for communication between Peoples and political activism. Mactzil Camey (Maya Kaqchikel), from Chimaltenango, Guatemala, believes that resistance can also be expressed from knowledge. Communities and the oral languages of our ancestors keep the seeds, tissues, and memory of the peoples alive. Camey says that in her experience, it has been vital to question what is imposed as an absolute truth. She adds that on a personal level, it has been very important to turn from
Nayelli López Itunyoso
individualism to a more collective sense of community. In her opinion, the struggle to claim the appropriation of her Indigenous identity is represented by the use of her mother tongue, wearing her clothing, and using her own food systems. Together with her family, she has found ways to continue the decolonization process. Sucely Puluc (Maya K’iche’), from Guatemala, is convinced that activism is key to decolonization. Her work has transformed her into a political activist who questions and denounces the dominant vision of the world. Through this questioning, she has opened her mind to the oral narration of her grandparents, learning to value medicinal plants, the cultivation of the land, and the production of her own food. In her decolonization process, Puluc recognizes both the strength of other women in her genealogical line, as well as other Maya women who have contributed to her life. She appreciates the possibility of weaving paths with other women, and exhorts Indigenous women to take the spaces that have been denied them and appropriate them to build their lives from their realities and stories. Nayelli LÓpez ITUNYOSO (Triqui) from San Martín, Oaxaca, says that in order to decolonize, we must avoid new forms of theft from Indigenous Peoples and take care of intellectual property through community organization. “In my town, we don’t let them take pictures of us to profit from us or steal our culture. We are cautious with those who visit our community, as there are those who have other intentions. We are not violent, but we take care of ourselves as a result of other experiences we have had. The government and the
people of the city tend to think that we are less, because of the way we speak, walk, think...because we live our culture. However, to be firm with our ideas, beliefs, and ways of life is to resist colonization.” For Graciela López (Amuzga) from Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, Mexico, the decision to decolonize is made at the moment when simply “being” is questioned. There, a feeling arises of returning to one’s roots and seeking “that warm embrace of the community.” López experienced a great deal of violence, racism, and discrimination in her life and remembers that she stopped speaking the Amuzgo language when she moved to a city where there were more white people than Indigenous People. She says that although she denied her culture in words, her body and thought told her that she was part of an Indigenous People. Longing to connect with her roots and identity, when the opportunity to study at an Indigenous-minded university was presented to her, she did not hesitate to do so. She used education as a tool to strongly initiate her decolonization process, opening her heart to her own history and fighting for the defense of the territory against wind and mining projects that, she says, “tear the Earth into pieces, but also the Peoples. To decolonize it is important to seek rebellion, rethink control over our bodies and ideas, and stop trying to be like Western women; ceasing to run at their rhythms, fashions, and criteria, [instead] building our own thinking, recovering our life practices, and being part of the community organization. We need to feel proud to see our brown skin, our beautiful Indigenous faces.” Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 9
indi geno u s k n ow le d g e
and Experiencing the Fullness of Life ABOVE:
Girls from the Loctoc Village School in Santiago Chimaltenango, receive food support from Pop No’j.
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
sociación Pop No’j is a nonprofit grassroots association in Guatemala that facilitates education, organizing, advocacy, and sustainable development among Indigenous Maya communities in the northeastern department of Huehuetenango. Through their women’s, youth, and migration programs, they work directly Photo by with families and communities across a range of projects Fredy Sitaví, providing resources, accompaniment, and technical expertise. Pop No’j. So far this year, they have supported families in building and INSET: maintaining household gardens, held educational workshops Girls participate with children and youth to prevent sexual abuse and violence, in the Danzamos and broadcast their monthly radio program designed to reach por la Vida (We local residents with information and conversations of particuDance for Life) lar interest to Maya communities. The Unitarian Universalist Festival. Photo by Service Committee recently spoke with members of Asociación Fredy Sitaví, Pop No’j about their work to maintain and revitalize Maya Pop No’j. cultures. UUSC: Could you tell us the history of the Association and the work it does? Asociación Pop No’j: In 2005, Pop No’j was established
with an Indigenous Peoples’ approach to interacting with the world. In the history, identity, and culture of Indigenous Peoples, we see great potential in building other ways of living. We base our work on the ancestral Maya worldview: their unique way of seeing, understanding, feeling, and being in the world. We accompany Maya leaders and organizations, particularly in the department of Huehuetenango, contributing to
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the defense of their rights through processes of training, organization, participation, advocacy, and communication. In 2010, seeing that forced migration was affecting Indigenous people and communities, we incorporated it into our work. Because of our approach, we could not disregard migration since the majority of Guatemalan migrants are Maya and the greatest effects of migration are being experienced in Indigenous communities. UUSC: At Pop No’j, what is your perspective on decolonization? How does it manifest? APN: The Spanish invasion and colonization of Abya Yala
began more than 500 years ago and initiated the military, political, economic, and ideological oppression of Indigenous Peoples. Although Guatemala formally achieved its independence in 1821, this did not mean freedom for Indigenous Peoples or other impoverished sectors of the population. We continue to live under new forms of colonialism. This imposition is supported by a racist ideology, which shows contempt for the culture and ancestral knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the intention to annihilate Native communities. However, Indigenous Peoples have a history and culture that are rich in knowledge and practices that are alternatives to the dominant system. They have managed to survive, stay, and resist as peoples. For Indigenous Peoples, the challenge is to eliminate colonial domination and exercise their right to autonomy, which means decolonization in feeling, thinking, and acting. At Pop No’j we support the strengthening of identities and the recovery of ancestral knowledge. We promote the use of
native languages, spiritual practices, and strengthening the forms of self-organization. We work towards a holistic vision that corresponds to the Maya worldview. UUSC: Can you explain Buen Vivir (good living) and why it is important? APN: From the ancestral Maya worldview, we understand
that human beings belong to Mother Earth; the Earth does not belong to humanity. In nature, everything—animals, plants, soil, air, water, light—is important. Everything has life; each part, from the micro to the macro, contains the whole. Everything that exists has energy, feels, and reacts; it has dignity and deserves respect. But humanity is exploiting, destroying, and polluting nature in an effort to accumulate wealth. There are those who feel that they own everything that exists, even the lives of other human beings whom they oppress, exploit, marginalize, and deprive of all kinds of rights. The Buen Vivir proposed by Indigenous Peoples is based on the principles of diversity and complementarity, of balance and harmony. It seeks to maintain the life of the Earth for the future and the continuity of human beings on it. Buen Vivir is not only individual, but collective; it is not limited to the material, but also includes spiritual wellbeing. It seeks to create conditions for all of us to live fully in co-responsibility. Our relationship with people, plants, animals, and the cosmos must be harmonious and balanced.
UUSC: How is Maya culture threatened in the regions where you work? APN: The cultures of Indigenous Peoples have been stig-
matized, considered inferior, denied, and persecuted. Their languages are not recognized and are said to be dialects; their spiritual practices are not valued and are said to be witchcraft. Other ways of understanding the world are not recognized and are said to be superstitions and magical thinking. This is done in the schools, the churches, the media, and in society, eventually reaching the families themselves. New communications technologies increase the threat against the cultures of Native Peoples since they lead to a globalized culture. Let us bear in mind that the dominant capitalist system places consumption as a priority in life. It is more important to have than to be. The consequences are that, frequently, people refuse to identify as Indigenous. They stop speaking their language and wearing their traditional clothing so as not to be discriminated against, and they adopt consumer practices that are not typical of their culture. UUSC: What are some examples of the practice of Buen Vivir? APN: A demonstration of the strength of Indigenous Peoples
and their cultures is that they have managed to resist domination for more than 500 years. An example of this is the vitality that the Maya culture maintains in Guatemala. At Pop No’j, we contribute to the recovery of ancestral knowledge with principles, values, and practices that allow our coexistence and harmonious interrelation with plants, animals, and the diversity of humanity to feel and become one together with the Universe. We promote several initiatives for the defense of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and the construction of Buen Vivir. For
example, we are supporting families in productive processes of sustainable organic agriculture, which recovers ancestral knowledge and helps counteract the impacts of climate change [through] soil and water conservation, crop diversification, and eliminating the use of agrochemicals that pollute the environment. The youth program accompanies economic initiatives that are also aimed at fulfilling needs in the communities by establishing economic networks that promote collaboration. Likewise, young people are trained for social and political participation. In the women’s program, we accompany Maya leaders in their processes of empowerment and organization to defend their rights and help them and their communities live free from violence. UUSC: How does Pop No’j support the reintegration of young people who have returned to Guatemala? APN: Every year, thousands of young people return. We
coordinate with organizations in the United States, such as Kids in Need of Defense, who refer girls and boys returning to Guatemala. With this information, we contact their families and guide them toward the moment of reunification. We then provide comprehensive psychosocial support for an average of one year, in which we attend to the physical and emotional health of the children, their reintegration into the school system and other educational alternatives, legal support as needed, and the search for economic alternatives. We do all of this in coordination with different organizations and institutions. UUSC: How do you see the relationship among migration, decolonization, and Buen Vivir? APN: Migration has structural causes that are the product
of the violent history of colonialism and its continuity under other forms. Colonialism left us with a patriarchal, oligarchic, racist, and discriminatory country whose economic foundation is an unfair distribution of land and its resources with the heirs to the colony holding the largest and best lands that grow monoculture crops for exportation (coffee, sugar cane, and palm oil). The neoliberal capitalist model is now betting on extractive industries and mega-projects that continue to cause the dispossession of Indigenous communities and their forced displacement. As a result, it is the Indigenous Peoples who are in greater poverty and marginalization, without opportunities or hope, which in turn forces them to migrate. So that people are not forced to migrate and for this to instead be a truly voluntary option, the root causes of migration must be addressed. For Indigenous Peoples, this means recognizing the right that peoples and communities have over their territories and facilitating decent living conditions for everyone—that is Buen Vivir. Indigenous Peoples represent life options not only for themselves, but for all of humanity. Therefore, we must shift our mindset to recognize their knowledge and wisdom. We must seek more horizontal relationships of equality in which all of us learn from each other. As Australian Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson put it, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 11
Decolonizing History and Mother Earth’s Story Edson Krenak Naknanuk (Krenak, CS Staff)
hen the European colonial powers ruled our territories of Abya Yala, they implemented policies of oppression by ransacking, dispossessing, and enslaving mainly Black and Indigenous populations. In the last five centuries those policies were driven fundamentally by racism. Colonialism created a bureaucratic, institutional, and political process to discriminate and subjugate different ethnic groups. Centuries of colonial policies produced not only economic and social disadvantages, but also spiritual and emotional traumas for generations. Colonial trauma, and therefore our liberation, affects all spheres of our lives: our being (who am I, and who is “the other?” How do I feel in relation to the other?); our power (who commands and who obeys? Who occupies the places of power? Who decides? Who leads?); our knowing (which knowledge is most valid? Who seems to have more authority when speaking?); and our doing (who has access to education, to the creation of valid knowledge, etc.? Who produces or co-creates? What is the impact of the making on the environment? Who benefits from the making?) Colonization as a systematic source for structural racism, prejudice, and inequality persists because Western society constantly fails to recognize and acknowledge it. Decolonizing is a process that starts with identifying and analyzing the unequal power relations. When the subject matter is history, we must see it as a discourse, an ideological object that has an owner. Decolonizing history is an exercise that we must start by questioning the story that is told, who tells it, and which voices have been silenced that still exist and live among us. Indigenous Peoples point out that the history of mankind is inseparable from the history of the other species, and is deeply connected with the planet (the Pachamama for some relatives of Abya Yala), Mother Earth.
The History of Mother Earth Has Not Yet Been Told
I have the privilege of being a teacher and working in an international school with students from many countries. The question I hear most from my 12- to 17-year-old students is, “who are Indigenous Peoples?” Because of the incredible diversity and various perspectives of Indigenous Peoples, a clear definition is hard to provide. Colonial powers diminish us and oppress us and have always labeled us. In Brazil, “Índio;” whereas in some places “Aboriginal” is used to describe Indigenous Peoples. Even “Indigenous Peoples” is not well accepted by many, as we are very different and diverse.
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However, there are some common aspects that unite us under this provisional term. We are the survivors of the violent processes of colonization in our territories. We have a deep relationship with the Earth, which includes our responsibilities and original instructions to our environments. And we seek balance for all beings: humans, trees, rivers, and animals. This is demonstrated through the ancestral knowledge passed down from generation to generation in our communities, traditional knowledge that has sustained us through the centuries. With my students, I discuss the differences between the stories told in books and the stories told by our ancestors: where we came from, who we are, what is our role in the natural world. Unfortunately, the stories of the didactic books are focused on the great achievements of the winners and powerful societies of mankind, rather than resilient and resistant populations. One of the greatest acts of violence was the silencing of Mother Earth’s story. History, geography, and social studies books are deposits of Western monocultural knowledge, propagators of a system of values, a box of ideology that overpriortizes humans. Mother Earth is described as Terra Nullis, an “empty” and unexplored space, ready to be conquered. They were blind to the very being that feeds us all. That is why uncountable numbers of species inhabitants of the planet have been vilified and massacred to the point of extinction. This crime has a name: ecocide. The same industrial logic of massacre was used on Indigenous Peoples, whose ontologies have always respected the planet as a living organism and an essential part of our relationships of kinship and life. Countless Indigenous Peoples have suffered a genocide for being different and for defending Mother Earth. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Since some scientists started to live and learn with us, this contact has opened the eyes of many in the West, sensitizing them to Indigenous worldviews. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the vulnerability of Indigenous Peoples and people of color has been escalated and exposed with the disproportionate deaths of those populations due to lack of healthcare conditions and inadequate education response, among other factors. In the view of the Indigenous Amazonian Peoples, we need to “suspend the sky,” which is to broaden the horizons towards all, not just humans. We have a forgotten memory, a cultural heritage of the time when our ancestors were so harmonized with the rhythm of nature that they only needed to work a few hours of the day to provide everything that was needed to live. “And all the rest of the time you could sing, dance, dream: everyday life was an extension of the dream,” Davi Kopenawa (Yanomami) writes in “The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman.”
Edson Krenak Naknanuk giving a lecture on Brazilian history from an Indigenous perspective. Photo courtesy of Edson Krenak Naknanuk.
We need another dialogue in the educational field. We need an education that values other ontologies, other species as subjects of history and law, other languages, traditions, ancestry, spiritualities, and knowledge that are in the trees, which tell us the rivers, the Elders, the midwives, healers, activists, pajés (spiritual leaders), and shamans. They are holders of fundamental knowledge that should be in school in dialogue with sciences. Global society needs a new history, as well as new sciences, new laws, new justice, new societies whose narrative of what history is embodies multiple voices, a polyphonic knowledge that sees the planet and her realities with respect.
How to Start Decolonizing
We can start decolonizing in the classroom, at home, and basically anywhere by positioning ourselves not as individuals, but as part of a community. I regularly talk to my relatives in Brazil about ways to decolonize the academy, school, and institutions, seeking advice and directions. When I do my work, I do not do it alone. I need them; they watch over me. We take care of each other, we grow together. Relationality must also be at the heart of our work. Every day we learn from relatives, from students, from our ancestors. This gesture means that we are aware of the perceptions and feelings we have about ourselves, and how our perspectives are affected by the historical trauma of colonialism. While working with non-Indigenous Peoples, we need to talk about the privileges, the device of amnesia that make many of the European and white people think that they don’t have anything to do with colonialism. We need to remember that problems are systemic. We approach that with a principle that our communities apply on a daily basis: relationality. Terry Tafoya, cited by Shawn Wilson (Opaskwayak Cree), said, “Stories go in circles. They don’t go in straight lines. It helps if you listen in circles because there are stories inside and between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. Part of finding is getting lost, and when you are lost you start to open up and listen.” Our students, colleagues, family, and friends should think about how to insert this content into our daily life. The decolonizing agenda belongs to everyone.
Five Ways to Decolonize History and Listen to Mother Earth 1. Focus on community relationships Descendants of Indigenous communities living in urban areas develop a strong and healthy identity when they have a strong relationship with the wider community, including humans, plants, and animals. Connect to the Indigenous communities in your region, meet local Indigenous leaders and movements, climate activists, and environmentalists. Attending Indigenous events in the city can help you feel strong culturally and increase your sense of belonging to a diverse and multicultural world.
2. Explore the power of images Show and display photos and images of Indigenous Peoples from various continents, and caption them with important historical events of these peoples not only within schools or institutions, but also at home.
3. Create space and time for storytelling, ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations Learn about traditional rituals and ceremonies from your own and different cultures. Learn the spiritual and cultural values of food, dances, chants, and clothing, for example.
4. Talk about Indigenous words among the lexica of English, Portuguese, and Spanish, and value the learning of Indigenous languages There are numerous words in Portuguese and English with Indigenous origin, such as chocolate, pipoca (popcorn), tapioca, etc. Learn more about these and teach about them as they hold traditional knowledge which is connected to the true history of Mother Earth.
5. Have a decolonial agenda for the day to day Discuss big topics. Encourage good and respectful discussions on decolonizing on a regular basis with the people in your circle. Talk about racism and discrimination, forms of bullying, and how to tackle them. Show young generations that activism for justice and equality is a matter for people of all ages, not only adults and people with money.
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Model Rebecca Jo Acero wearing ACONAV, styled by Niya DeGroat for Indigene magazine.
Modern Indigeneity photoshoot styled by Niya DeGroat, featuring model Bianca Mead.
Photo by Justin Villalobos.
Photo by Roberto Cordero Jr.
Model Raquel Huerta wearing ACONAV, styled by Niya DeGroat. Photo by Justin Villalobos.
Bianca Mead wearing an ACONAV cocktail dress, styled by Niya DeGroat. Photo by Roberto Cordero Jr.
Decolonizing Fashion, One Runway at a Time Niya DeGroat (Diné)
entered the fashion industry at the age of 30, what the industry considers “later in life.” Prior to that, I was working in visual media from filmmaking to photography. I really don’t consider myself stylish or fashionable, but I do have an eye for it. My first introduction to the fashion world began at the tender age of two when I would watch my grandmother, Hazel, develop her own textiles using sheep wool and natural dyes to create intricately woven Navajo rugs. I assisted her by hand carding the wool so that it could be spun into yarn. Her step-by-step Niya DeGroat process allowed me to develop a better understanding of color, texture, and form. Sadly, my time with her was short lived, as she lost her battle with cancer a year later. Throughout my childhood, I continued to have an interest in fashion but I never acted on it, mostly because I naively equated fashion with femininity—so I avoided it all together to protect myself from being “outed” as gay and as Two-Spirit. Whenever my friends or cousins would play with their dolls, I could only observe from afar, wishing I was them. Instead, I immersed myself in the imaginative world of books. Living on a farm, isolated from the world, there wasn’t much for me to do except to use my imagination by running around in capes with a wooden stick, pretending to be a sorcerer. Years later, in the summer of 1995, the costume designs in the hit comedy, “Clueless,” invigorated my love for fashion even more. The seed was planted, but still I continued to ignore it. The film would further inspire my love of filmmaking, 14 • www. cs. org
which prompted me to get my first bachelor’s degree in film studies, with minors in music and theatre, from the University of New Mexico. The highlight of my studies was producing my own documentary, “Trapped In Images,” a student short that explores the misrepresentation of Native Americans in pop culture from Hollywood movies to Indian-themed mascots. After graduation, I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to work briefly as a Sears Portrait team member before enrolling at Northern Arizona University to study photography. As a newly out queer student, I became enamored with fashion magazines. I told myself repeatedly that one day my images would end up in the pages of Vogue, Elle, or GQ. To the amusement of my friends, when perusing fashion magazines, I could name drop high end designers easily without having to take a second look. My photography degree landed me my first dream job as a studio managing photographer for Kim Jew Portraits in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After two years, I moved on from that position and returned to Flagstaff to be with family and to help raise my nieces and nephew. In 2012, while working as a freelance photographer, I answered a Craigslist ad from a local emerging designer seeking interns to assist with her participation in Phoenix Fashion Week’s three-month designer bootcamp. With little experience, I jumped right in. I purchased my first iPhone, downloaded the necessary social media apps, and became a self-taught content creator. The needs of the internship certainly aligned with my visual communication skills. Three years later, I joined the Phoenix Fashion Week team as an event planning intern to assist with their year round fashion events, including its four-day fashion week, which takes place every October. Within months I rose through the ranks, beginning as Social Media and Branding Manager to becoming Director of Multimedia during my six years with the company.
In my first year with the company, I vividly remember an epiphany I had during the first night of Phoenix Fashion Week, which takes place at Talking Stick Resort, a Tribal casino owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community in Scottsdale, Arizona. That first day, after taking in the glamour and spectacle of the show, I took a step back and realized that I was the only Indigenous person around. I explored the entire resort searching for people who looked like me, but aside from a few custodians, servers, and housekeepers, Native visibility in the resort was far and few between. After all, the casino caters to a non-Native clientele from the bordering metropolitan area of Phoenix. It wasn’t until I was heading up to my hotel room that I stumbled upon a small room located next to the elevators called “Cultural Display.” In this space, I saw several Nativemade artifacts encapsulated within display cases or mounted on the wall. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, there we are! We are the remnants of the past collecting dust. We are the taxidermies on the wall.” This corner nook served as a reminder that in America, Indigenous Peoples are out of sight, out of mind. Up to this point in my life, I had gotten used to the idea that I was always going to be the only Native person present in white spaces, be it a classroom, a concert performance, a theater production, and now, a fashion show. Fed up, I knew instantly I had to be the changemaker. So, in preparation for the next season, I assisted in the search for local Indigenous designers. This led to the recruitment of two brands: ACONAV, a fashion label owned by Phoenix designer Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), and Marisa Mike (Diné), a designer from Tonalea, Arizona. Being able to mentor these designers and to see their designs on the runway of Phoenix Fashion Week—and more importantly, for us to collectively and rightfully Indigenize the fashion space that was already taking place on Native land—was one of the many highlights of my career. A year later, Loren Aragon took home the coveted title of Couture Designer of the Year 2017, a first in Phoenix Fashion Week history. Over the years, we recruited more Native designers to take part in our bootcamps, including Orlando Dugi (Diné), Alicia Vasquez (Yaqui/Apache) of Dotlizhi, Sage Mountainflower (Ohkay Owingeh/Taos/Diné), and Calandra R. Etsitty (Diné) of Winston Paul. My work with these designers inspired me to get a master’s degree in fashion journalism from the Academy of Art University’s online program, because I noticed a void in the industry when it came to talking about the emerging field of Indigenous fashion. According to a 2018 News Leaders Association survey, Native American journalists make up less than one percent of newsroom employment in the United States. For fashion journalists, it’s even less. Prior to studying fashion journalism, I was aware of only two working Indigenous journalists who wrote about fashion: Kelly Holmes (Cheyenne River Lakota), who created the first Native American fashion magazine in 2012 called Native Max, and Christian Allaire (Ojibwe), a contributing writer for Vogue. Not surprisingly, like most educational institutions in the U.S., the curriculum at the Academy of Art University is mostly Eurocentric and focuses predominantly on the Western fashion system. This worked in my favor, though, because as the only Indigenous student, it allowed me to not only bring awareness to Native fashion but make it the focus of my
Phoenix Fashion Week Native Runway. Photo by James Almanza.
thesis project, which was to produce my own magazine from cover to cover. With the backing of my advisors, plus taking additional courses in fashion styling, magazine publishing, and art direction, Indigene magazine was born. The magazine celebrates and highlights the ever changing tapestry of Indigenous fashion by sharing and presenting Native stories and cultures authentically through forward thinking perspectives and unique storytelling. Throughout my various careers, I have always put my Indigeneity at the forefront of my work. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to Native fashion— not everyone gets it. For the mainstream audience, modern Indigenous designs are not fashion forward enough, and for the Native audience, the designs are no longer Indigenous due to the contemporary elements. The beauty of Native fashion is that it is rich and complex. Unlike Western fashion, there isn’t a Native-authored book readily available for me to study how my tribe used to dress throughout history, let alone the unique clothing of the other 573 Indigenous nations living in the United States, and the countless others existing outside of the Americas. Furthermore, when it comes to our regalia, this type of clothing is not for public view, or to be used to make a fashion statement. Traditional clothing is worn primarily for spiritual purposes, which the outside world likes to appropriate and fetishize. But, it is not my responsibility to make sense of contemporary Native fashion; I can only shed light on it. And even though I haven’t landed in the pages of Vogue just yet (and it’s okay if I never do), I will continue to Indigenize the industry one story, one photoshoot, one runway, at a time. — Niya DeGroat (Diné) is a fashion journalist and multidisciplinary creative committed to elevating the discussion around the emerging field of Indigenous fashion and storytelling in the Americas and beyond. He is a citizen of the Diné Nation from Mariano Lake, New Mexico. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 15
decolonizing Our Communication Sócrates Vásquez García (Ayuujk Jääy, CS Staff)
T The magical forest of Tsa'ajx'äm (Coscomate), Santa Maria Yacochi, Municipio de Santa María Tlahuitoltepec Mixe, Oaxaca, México.
oo often, discussions about Indigenous communi- cation have been reduced to an analysis of the use of communications technology. It is important to approach Indigenous communication beyond just technology use and explain it from Indigenous points of view. In our towns and communities, we affirm, with increasing force, that we existed long before the arrival of the European colonizers. Our social organization is collective in nature and is rooted in a relationship with Mother Earth. This statement seems simple and is easy to repeat today, but it represents years of resistance, struggle, transformation, and the contradictions that continue among Peoples in Abya Yala (Latin America). These forms of collective organization rooted in relationships with nature are being revitalized and transformed. After five centuries of domination in military, economic, political, philosophical, and religious spheres, it is clear that colonization has not ended. We must name it and denounce it. We also have to talk about the “myth of modernity” in its purest expression, which is developmentalism. This idea has its origin in the medieval cities of Europe and was reaffirmed through the “discoveries” of other lands, which amounted to controlling, forcing, and stripping Native peoples of their livelihoods. This process, which is called “discovery,” is, in reality, a suppression of the other. This suppression represents centuries of resistance, adaptation, and sometimes adoption of the ways imposed by the colonizing power. In this context, Pedro Garzón López (Chinanteco), lawyer, and researcher from Oaxaca, states in his book, “Indigenous
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Citizenship: From Multi-culturalism to the Coloniality of Power,” “it is evident that Indigenous Peoples were the first colonized entities in all senses of the word ‘domination.’ This means that rethinking Indigenous oppression from the substantial content of the ‘colonial difference’ implies going back to 1492, when the European colonial expansion in the Abya Yala continent was inaugurated. ...” And so, we must understand that we continue under a process of colonization in three main aspects: power, knowledge, and being—essential aspects for the integral flourishing of life in society. Although colonial domination existed and devastated Peoples and civilizations, those of us who survive have also internalized domination as a form of resistance. This is very clear in the way in which the Catholic religion imposed itself on the Mesoamerican Peoples through festivities, baptisms, weddings, and other Catholic holidays. However, the practices of offerings to beings and deities, understood as air, earth, fire, lightning, water, and mountains, and with whom we cohabit in our world, the givers of life, are still being practiced. Colonization has passed down to us a culture of division in societies of superior and inferior, but not an understanding of societies as different from one another. The cultural practices that the conqueror-colonizer found were deemed inferior, thereby justifying one’s right over the other and watering the seeds of the colonization of power. The colonization of knowledge justified our actions and thoughts. While we may not realize it, we are reproducing patterns of colonial thought because we were imposed upon with a new way of understanding our world, one that was thought for the big metropolises at the time. The norms of colonization that now seem normal continue to oppress us. We have adopted habits that
All photos by Sócrates Vásquez García.
Elder Pascual Cortéz on air at Radio Jënpoj, an Ayuujk community radio station in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec Mixe, Oaxaca, Mexico.
are not questioned, but have become part of our customs. The colonization of being is the most invisible, especially in our Indigenous communities. It is in our subconscious, part of our identity, and sometimes it even makes us feel proud. In this sense, colonization has changed the way we see ourselves. Some see speaking an Indigenous language as something that makes you less worthy. While our Peoples and communities consider themselves as part of nature, not so different from other forms of life, the “scientists” consider us inferior. They view us as incapable of producing knowledge, and so everything that did not resemble Europe was deemed inferior. We want to highlight the relationship that exists between the land and communication from Indigenous perspectives. Without territory and land understood as a social construct of human and non-human relationships, there is no community. We are born, live, learn, and die in the land. For our Peoples, land is memory, time, and space for cultural reproduction, and therefore communication. We believe that Indigenous communication, or communication from our Peoples, can give us new insights and broaden the discussion about how we are understanding communication. The experience of the Ayuujk Peoples of Tlahuitoltepec illustrates this point. Communication begins with ääw-ayuujk, the use of the mouth to name things. Ayuujk is the construct and the way we name everything that surrounds us; the ayuujk describes what we want and think. It is through ääw-ayuujk that we have communicated and transmitted information from generation to generation. Thus, we Ayuujk Peoples communicate when we use the ääw-ayuujk, but this cannot be understood if it does not go through the kaapxymatsyäky (dialogue) to reach jäkyukë (the balance of thought), and that finally gives us a horizon, a path, which is the wi’inmänyë. Communication is not only from a sender to a receiver, but is built and reaffirmed in dialogue. From our worldview, ground-level communication— Ja Tunk Pë’k—(work to receive), is directly related to the daily
environment and is classified as closest to the Jëën tëjk (living) space. We communicate when we exchange codes or signs with chickens, dogs, bulls, cows, sheep, goats, birds, as well as with seeds, plants, cornfields, etc. Pujx mëtunën-kajp mëtunën (working for the people and with the people), is the sharing of service to the community. For example, in community positions, communication is broader because people participate in community assemblies. In this sense, communication is developed when the person is obliged to communicate its activities before community assemblies. It also includes people who are not in office communicating with the authorities, depending on the age of the person who performs it. If it is a person who does not yet have experience in the position, they may need an intermediary; since experience is needed to establish contact with the authorities, they would have to reach out through someone with a lot of experience or someone from the family. Ja ët näwinyët (Earth/territory) is the communication in prayers, thanks, and requests to the wind, rain, earth, sun, moon, stones, and lightning, but above all to Konk and Tajëëw, the male and female parts of the Ayuujk deities. Ja tsuj kumä’yë (dreamtime and night) is linked to the part that is not visible through the senses. This is the communication between energetic entities and certain people with specific characteristics. We refer to tsuuj kumaa’yë, the oneiric nature in the territory. Tsuuj is the beginning of the night, the ideal space to envision the encounter with other dimensions of life in the territory. Kumää’yë is understood as dreaming, that moment of sleep that initiates communication with other energetic beings in the territory. These various experiences that are still maintained in Indigenous territories show us other ways of communicating between people, nature, and with our ancestors. Communication is a fundamental tool to solve problems, but it has lost importance in our communities because it is no longer given priority. We need to return to our pre-colonial ways of living, knowing, being, and communicating. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 17
Telling Untold Stories in South Africa through Animation Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan, CS Staff)
outh Africa has had its fair share of colonization over the last 500 years. The first Europeans to reach the southern tip were led by Bartholomew Diaz in 1488. Not long after that, in 1510, the battle of Salt River saw the Aboriginal Khoikhoi emerge as victors after Francisco D’Almeida, also from Portugal, and his crew, attempted to kidnap Khoikhoi children and steal cattle. In 1652, South Africa was officially colonized, this time by the Dutch. Shortly after this, a pidgin, or creole, language started developing, as communication was necessary between master and slave. Afrikaans was born, and Indigenous languages started to disappear. South Africa was later ruled by the British and eventually gained independence on May 31, 1969. The apartheid regime continued until 1994, giving birth to a new era of democracy and a rainbow nation with a liberal constitution. Having had so much European influence over hundreds of years, South Africa and its people are still caught up in a country where decolonization will be a lengthy process. Although much is being done to ensure that education is offered in many of its 11 official languages, there remain several areas where radical change needs to happen to recognize and utilize all Indigenous languages in South Africa. There are no signs of Khoekhoegowab appearing as a standard feature on restaurant menus or road signs, for example, even though this language, spoken by the Nama people, is older than all of the official languages. More and more courses are being offered in vernacular languages, and schools in South Africa are rising to the occasion by offering more subjects in languages that are now slowly becoming mainstream. Learners in some schools now can now choose official languages such as isiZulu or Sesotho as a second language, for instance. In contrast, very few efforts are underway to formalize the teaching of Khoekhoegowab in schools and universities. Deidre Jantjies (Khoisan), a film producer, is doing her part to ensure that more of South Africa’s 35 Indigenous languages are showcased, normalized, and revitalized. She has produced a web series entitled “Stories in die Wind” (Stories of the Wind), in which she tells stories of Nama Peoples in Afrikaans with Nama subtitles. “Stories in die Wind” is a passion project from Jantjies, which tells the story of a young Nama girl born with a gift to communicate with the rain,
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animals, and plants, who is on a mission to find her destiny. The animated series gives a glimpse into traditional Nama life, the importance of dreaming, finding counsel in our Elders, and pursuing our destiny. Cultural Survival recently spoke to Deidre Jantjies. Cultural Survival: Please tell us about you and your work. Deidre Jantjies: I am a storyteller and filmmaker. I’m an
Indigenous cultural activist. I represent Indigenous stories of our First Nation Peoples in Southern Africa. I also used to be a flamenco dancer; that is when I sort of started understanding artistry. I’m very passionate about telling untold stories. I am originally from Oudtshoorn, which means that I come from the Outenikwa clan, but I have many other Indigenous subtribe background histories in my DNA and I am very proud to represent my Indigenous heritage. I direct documentaries, animation films, short films, and feature length films. I recently started with animation, and I’m really starting to enjoy it.
CS: Why did you choose animation as your medium for “Stories in die Wind?” DJ: I wrote the story in 2018, and as a story it really sat with
me. I initially thought that the story was going to be a theater production, but when I spoke to a friend of mine, he advised me that this is not a theater production, this is an animation. I started working on this project in 2019. I guess I specifically wrote the story because I wanted to see myself being represented. You automatically speak for a lot of voices that have not seen themselves in animation. So, “Stories in die Wind” was me tapping into a deeper sense of representation. And as time went by and I started directing, everything sort of started
All photos courtesy of Diedre Jantjies.
making sense. It became an intergenerational conversation between the older and the young people in my community and also other communities. With regards to representation on the networks, we still have a very long way to go. It does seem that the government is starting to represent brown skinned Indigenous people and ‘coloured’ people a bit more. It is taking quite a long time. But because Indigenous people and the San are standing up and asking to be recognized, the government is starting to understand that it is important for brown skinned people to see themselves. The reason why we didn’t see much of ourselves is because we were not we were not placed into certain places and spaces. But there is a group of filmmakers and storytellers that are very serious about seeing themselves and representing their history and their cultural and traditional heritage. CS: Most productions use English subtitles. Yours make use of Nama subtitles. Why did you make this choice? DJ: It was an intentional decision that I had to make. When
you read it, it goes by so quickly that I want people to go back and really actually engage in the dialogue of the characters. How can you introduce a language like Nama? It is in a subtle way, not too forceful, not too heavy.
CS: How do we go forward, building on efforts of Indigenous representation and making them sustainable? DJ: We have to tell more stories. We need to make more stories
and events. We need to place them into certain spaces and places. We need to become cultural in the way our work speaks for us. We need to go to these government spaces where we show our work and we talk about ourselves through our work, and show them that this is how we actually want it to be done, this is the kind of language that we want. This is the structure that we put in place for our work to be done so that the community sees this as an example. This is an example of people that are doing things the right way. I was not prepared for “Stories in die Wind” to be created last year, so when I pitched it to Programme for Innovation in Artform Development, which is a collaboration with the Free State Festival and the University of Free State, I pitched it as a web series. They accepted it and they gave me a budget, and I
Below: Stills from "Stories in die Wind" featuring young girl –res (The Rain Flower) who was born protagonist !hûni //ga with a gift to communicate with the rain, animals, and plants.
made the most out of that budget so that the work can speak for itself. As soon as the work was created, it became so much easier for me to ask for funding. I got funding from the National Arts Council afterwards so that we could finalize the shortfall that we had. It’s been overwhelming to know that people are interested in this kind of content, which is the first of its kind. It means that we really want to see ourselves. A lot of people really enjoy watching “Stories in die Wind” because it’s different. It’s simple, it’s subtle, it’s real. It’s not filtered; it’s true. And it’s been doing very well. There have been a couple of articles written on it, I have done a couple of interviews, and many other people still want to continue having conversations about it, which I’m very excited and thankful for. Last month, it played in New Zealand at the Wairoa Māori International Film Festival, which is an Indigenous film festival in New Zealand that presents Indigenous stories. If Aboriginal people from the other side of the world can see the worth in our stories, then our stories are important to spread across the world. In the international version, we will put English subtitles so that the people abroad can have a conversation about the Nama people, about Indigenous Peoples in Southern Africa. CS: What is next for you, after the success of this animation series? DJ: I’m working on a lot of things. I am very serious about
creating feature length films and also other short films, and I am quite busy currently working on a documentary. I like this momentum. I’d like for “Stories in die Wind’’ to carry on doing well internationally and being internationally recognized. I’m also trying to figure out how we can keep the conversation going by telling more stories like “Stories in die Wind.” The things that I received that came my way are because I prayed hard and I understood why I should be telling our stories. I understood that I had to become an activist. I had to become a storyteller because I didn’t see people like myself anywhere on television or on the internet. I also constantly heard the voice of the ancestral connection. You have to keep on believing in yourself. You have to keep speaking positive things throughout your life. You need to constantly occupy and be aware of who you surround yourself with. You need to believe in your stories and make sure that you align yourself with the right people so that they can assist you with the right direction of your story and make sure that you always know that everything that happens is for the best version of you.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 19
Decolonizing our Relationships with Each Other and Mother Earth Chenae Bullock (Shinnecock)
Chenae Bullock walking among eelgrass. Eelgrass provides many important ecosystem functions, including foraging areas and shelter to young fish and invertebrates and food for migratory waterfowl and sea turtles. INSET: Holding chikkup (cedar), a traditional
medicine for cleansing, fever, and respiratory health. by Cheane Bullock. 20 Photos • www. cs. org
y given name is Sagkompanau Mishoon Netooeusqau, which translates to “I lead canoe I am Butterflywoman” in the Shinnecock and Montauk language. I am a member of the Shinnecock Nation and a descendant of the Montauk people of Long Island, New York. The foundation of my work has been based on the resurgence of the traditional canoe culture of the Northeast coastal Algonquin communities. Not only have I worked with Indigenous communities globally, I have worked to create stewardship between these communities and non-Indigenous communities. I have organized historically sacred paddles in the ancient waterways of the Northeastern seaboard to spread awareness of the roles Indigenous communities contribute to ocean sustainability internationally and at places like the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Earth Institute at Columbia Law School, and International Treaty Commission at the United Nations, and I have assessed many sites for signs of submerged cultural history for Atlantic Shores Cultural Core Analysis. I have dedicated my life for the betterment of not only my community, but for our Earth. I have invested energy in reviving and sustaining our traditional lifeways. In the fall of 2016, I dedicated six months of my life to help the people at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock prepare their camps for the winter. The Elders came to my campsite after standing on the banks of Cannonball River and emotionally watching cross-deputized authorities from non-Indigenous police departments show a presence on a sacred site to the Hunkpapa Peoples. They asked me to paddle around to see how these non-Indigenous police officers were getting to the sacred site. Using a donated canoe and paddles they had made with a 4x4 piece of wood, two other water protectors and I paddled in the Cannonball River as the Elders asked. While I was paddling, I looked into the faces of the Oceti Sakowin Peoples on the river banks. I witnessed a few swim with their horses as far as they could, but the water was too muddy and deep to make it across. I prayed that what was taking place that day somehow would bring them back to their ancient canoe ways. At that moment, I realized there was more to do than prepare camps for the winter for the Oceti Sakowin while being there. No matter where I am in the world, near a pond, a lake, a bay, a river, an ocean, or even in the shower, I stop and give thanks for having access to clean water. I do not take it for granted. It is who I am as a Shinnecock woman, a woman of the stoney shores. We are now living in a world where it has become so scarce to have clean water. Since childhood, I have had a known respect for the elements of our Earth. I rode on the back of my mother while she swam far from the Shinnecock shorelines to the sandbars she had known to be there all of her life. As I grew older, I stood on the shores and watched her swim to where those sandbars once were. I watched my mother swim around looking for them, diving down to see how deep they could be, until she realized they were no longer there due to climate change and consistent dredging of the land underneath the water. When I visit our waterways or hear about climate change, dredging in our ancient waterways, or Tribes fighting for access to their waterways, I think back to my mother swimming to the sandbars. Since that day, we have had more whales beach themselves on the shores. In our culture we believe that when whales beach themselves, they are
trying to communicate with us as they have known we are in need of ancient wisdom. These experiences have inspired me to help my people have a stronger presence in the water. The word for medicine in my traditional language is “Moskehtu.” When I started my cultural and heritage consulting firm, Moskehtu Consulting, I wanted to name it something that would represent providing medicine to the Earth and to the people who are stewards of the Earth. I envisioned it being able to provide unique services to many clients who will take the medicine shared and pass it along throughout their organization or company, or even reposition them- selves on how they see our Earth. During the pandemic, I wrote an eBook titled “50 Plant Medicines: Indigenous Oral History and Perspective.” The intention of this book is to share my personal relationship with plants to inspire my readers to have their own personal relationships with the Indigenous plants where they live. After writing the book, I partnered with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to curate an audio tour titled “Ohkehteau (Plants of the Earth): A Shinnecock Oral History.” This audio tour can be listened to along the walk at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It includes 15 of the native plants throughout their garden. The exhibition opened June 24 and will go through November 7. My goal for this exhibit is to help people connect to the Earth in a personal way. Our plants are in need of us to reconnect. With my personal oral history and perspective, it helps to give the plants a voice. Recently, I partnered with the brand Teva as an Indigenous influencer for a panel called “Rematriate the Land: An Indigenous Perspective.” The other panelists included Angel Tadytin (Navajo), who is the founder of Adventurous Natives; Jolie Varela (Nuumu and Yokuts), who is the founder of Indigenous Women Hike; and Kari Rowe (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, Oglala Lakota, Fort Peck), who is an Indigenous Visual Director and photographer. We provided our perspective on how we are reshaping conversations about Indigenous rights, identity, and the complexity of the Indigenous Peoples’ experience. It was such an honor to be alongside other women who are pioneering in the ecotourism space. To further help people reconnect to the Earth, Moskehtu Consulting holds ecotourism events. As an Indigenous-owned and operated business, this helps to reclaim many of our traditional sites that we have been removed from for far too long. Indigenous history is so interconnected and rich throughout our waterways, and today, more than ever before, people are interested in learning not only more about our history, but our continued existence. Our perspectives and voices are vital for the survival of this Earth and to share our role with others in the environment. From plant walk tours to traditional pre-colonial outdoor living experiences, to canoe tours along our traditional waterways, there is no better way to experience this journey than being guided by Indigenous Peoples of these waterways and cultural landscapes. Moskehtu Consulting’s ecotourism events are sustainable economic development frameworks that are uniquely suited for Indigenous communities. They are also a very simple way for people to invest into Indigenous communities, not only by supporting Indigenous Peoples, but by learning about how Indigenous Peoples hold tenure over a large percentage of the global biodiversity. The philosophy at Moskehtu Consulting is
Chenae Bullock at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on the shores of Shinnecock territory in Southampton Long Island, New York. Photo by Malachi McDonald (Sinti Chitto/Mississippi Choctaw).
to help the land, water, and the connection people have to one another and the Earth. It’s been an awesome journey following this philosophy, and I hope to continue to partner with organizations, other businesses, and brands to reach all of humanity. The interconnectedness that we have to the water and the land should always remind us of our top priority, which is to preserve and protect Mother Earth. I am aware that I will most likely always struggle in this world having been traditionally raised being connected to our Earth, specifically the geographical location of my DNA. In big cities in the United States like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Atlanta, so many people are focused on how much money can be obtained to develop more destruction rather than strategically planning ways to combat climate change. There are so many places not too far from these cities that are still preserved. These cities sit on what is known as our homelands, just not with square boxes on them. We need non-Indigenous peoples and institutions to go beyond land acknowledgement, to go beyond those square boxes, and learn about the traditions of the Peoples whose lands you are visiting and living on. There are so many ways to begin this journey. Our lands have trees who are as old as our Earth, and they have preserved so much wisdom. Their underground roots are interconnected through the entire world. Make connections with the local Indigenous people of your area and learn about the land from their oral history and perspective. Learn from those who carry this oral history and are still interconnected to our Earth. —Chenae Bullock, an enrolled Shinnecock Indian Nation Tribal member and descendant of the Montauk Tribe in Long Island, New York, is a community leader, water protector, cultural preservationist, Indigenous perspective historian, and humanitarian. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 21
Changing Mindsets, Returning to Our Roots Left:
Traditional Pinuyumayan worship ritual. Right:
Traditional annual harvest ceremony, ‘amiyan.
Jocelyn Ting-Hui Hung Chien’s Indigenous name is Tuhi, which she inherited from her maternal great-great-grandmother. The name of her ancestral worship house is Martukaw. She hails from the Kasavakan Community of the Pinuyumayan Peoples in Taiwan. Tuhi previously worked for Taiwan Indigenous TV and now is a Ph.D. student in Communications studies at Shih Hsin University. Cultural Survival’s Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Koĩts-Sunuwar) recently spoke with Tuhi about her work to decolonize in her community. Cultural Survival: What is the history of colonization in Taiwan? Tuhi: In Taiwan, we have an Indigenous population of a bit
more than half a million that accounts for 2.3 percent of the total population. We have 16 Indigenous Peoples who are officially recognized by the government, but of course we have more Indigenous Nations than that. Because of some political ideology or some restrictions, they are not yet recognized by the government. When we talk about a colonial era, usually we start from the 17th century when the Dutch and Spanish first came to Taiwan; after the Dutch and Spanish came the Chinese dynasties. At that time, most of the population in Taiwan was Indigenous, and to the Chinese settlers, we were the “savage” or “backwards” Peoples. The ruling of the Chinese Ming and Qing Dynasties were passive at the beginning. It wasn’t until the 19th century when Japan started to show interest in Taiwan that they realized Taiwan has a lot of natural resources and its geographical location was strategic. After the First Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was taken by Japan as a trophy. This started 50 years of Japanese colonization, all the way until the end of the Second World War in 1945. Then, the Republic of China took over Taiwan. After the civil war between the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party, the defeated Nationalist Party retreated to Taiwan while the Chinese Communist Party established the Peoples’ Republic of China. Taiwan has been under the colonization of different regimes: the Dutch, Spanish, Chinese dynasties, Japanese, and then the Republic of China. All of these different colonizers had
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different ideologies and ways of thinking, especially towards Indigenous Peoples and our natural resources. CS: How are Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan working to decolonize? Tuhi: It is an ongoing process. Indigenous Peoples are still
being marginalized and we’re still receiving education that is not our own education; we are still learning the history of other people’s perspective instead of Indigenous Peoples’ perspective. However, a lot of people, including Indigenous Peoples, don’t recognize that we are still in colonization. That’s something we really have to break through and remind people of. If we cannot realize or acknowledge this fact, then it will be very difficult for us to start the process of decolonization among ourselves. When the colonizers came, the first thing they did was to take our languages away; they took our kids away. It doesn’t matter if it’s physically taking the children away from their families or taking the children away from their cultures by education. And they took away our own ways of decisionmaking. I grew up in Taipei. I was one of the taken away children, because I was far from my own culture and from my own community. In recent decades, I’ve gone back to work with the youth and reconnect with my roots. The thing we tried to do first was take back our own way of decision-making by recalling the memories of our Elders and about how we were making decisions in the past. When I first came back to live in my community more than 10 years ago, most of the decisions were taken by voting because that’s the “democratic” way that has been instilled by mainstream society. But for us, actually, voting is very violent, because you are denying the people with different views. We tried to come back to our history and dig up all the documents we could from that time to remind our Elders about it, because they were still practicing the traditional way of decision making only about 50 to 60 years ago. We also conducted several different trainings and workshops for the youth in the community. Traditionally in my community, decisions are made not by voting, but by consensus. We have a traditional age ranking
All photos courtesy of Jocelyn Ting-Hui Hung Chien.
system within the community and traditional organizations that amount to different social statuses. Young adults will be one rank and teenagers will be one rank. Married men, married women, and Elders have different traditional groups. When we are making decisions, we have different social status groups to make decisions among themselves. Then the leaders of different social groups come together and discuss. These include our traditional inherited chiefs; they would discuss and finally come up with the final decision. We respect the Elders and also the traditional chiefs’ opinions the most, but that doesn’t mean we are going to deny the other people. The other groups’ opinions are just taking a different percentage into consideration. We’re creating a space for people of different ages, of different social groups and statuses to communicate and exchange with each other, for every generation. We apply this way of making decisions to different public affairs within the community. Also in Taiwan, we have a government program called Community Cultural Health Care Station for Indigenous communities to take care of our Elders in a more traditional and culturally appropriate way. With this health care center we rebuild cross-generation trust in the community, and that helps us with the decision-making process and communication among community members. In the past, the whole community would take care of the Elders, the children, the people who need help, the people with disabilities. So, we not only applied the Elder care system, but we also came up with a program on child care to provide the education and also the caretaking system between different generations. We are making our own decisions on how we want to take care of our Elders and children, and how we educate our next generations. In my community, we have more closeness to our cultural and ideological way of decision-making processes now. Also, young people now are more united with stronger solidarity to assert our rights. CS: What are some of the obstacles you are facing in the process of decolonization? Tuhi: The first obstacle is to change the mindset that has been
deeply influenced by the whole environment for the past 50 to 60 years. In Taiwan, we have been through 38 years of martial law. This political oppression is still in the memory and experiences of our people. My parents’ generation, they are still very much oppressed and still very much afraid of authority. They admire the occupations of being a teacher, government
official, policeman, or joining the army, because for them, those are [positions of] high social status. Even for myself, sometimes I have to think again, ‘what I have just said is very colonized.’ We really need to have this capacity to reflect and realize the small details of colonial legacy in our daily lives. The second one is the government setting. Lots of policies or legislation that are in the name of protecting our rights in fact restrict how we are going to enforce, practice, or implement our rights. For example, there’s a policy on how we can gather for community meetings to make decisions that affect us. Within the rules of this policy, they have this restriction on age. Only people who are over 18 and who are registered within the community registration system can be part of these meetings. These rules deny our self-determination on deciding who is a member of our community and who is eligible to be part of the decision-making process. CS: How can non-Indigenous people support Indigenous Peoples in this decolonization process? Tuhi: The first very important thing, and for Indigenous
Peoples as well, is to be sensitive toward our daily lives, to see and realize, to notice, to observe the colonial legacy that is still haunting in our daily lives. It’s very important for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to have awareness of that. Our education, especially when we are talking about history, is from a very colonialist perspective. The language we use in daily life reflects this. Now we use Mandarin Chinese, but we had a lot of different languages spoken on the island in the past. The Nationalist Party forced everyone to speak only Mandarin Chinese and used this language to make different social classes. That’s still affecting us. For a lot of people, we cannot speak our own mother tongues anymore. We also have to pay attention to gender, because the inequality of gender is also based on colonization. When the inequality of gender adds to the inequality of ethnicity, we have this double or triple injustice. When we are talking about decolonization, we need to have this crosscutting mindset to look at different perspectives for not only gender equality, but also for how we are treating our natural resources. Our attitude toward the environment is oftentimes very colonial. In the past, Indigenous Peoples were not treated as human beings, and that’s the same mindset that we often have toward nature. We need to consider different perspectives and take different elements of our daily lives into account when we’re talking about decolonization.
A family gathering of different ancestral worship houses to confirm ancestral genealogy and bring together members of different generations. Right:
Processing traditional Pinuyumayan crops with community Elders.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 23
Zapatista communities in Mexico have maintained their ancestral forms of government and have been living in resistance against pressures from the Mexican State since 1994.
Zapatista radio stations were established in 2009 as part of a larger autonomy process to denounce social injustices in their communities.
Decolonizing Power Returning to Indigenous Collective Governance in Mexico
Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López (Ayuuk/Binnizá, CS STAFF)
he path to achieving political autonomy in local government has been very complicated for Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. Many barriers have been placed in the way of exercising their rights. Political and social violence, long processes for those who seek recognition from the State, and the invisibility of those who already exercise autonomy under the shadow of State power, are just some of the problems faced. The national recognition of the historical, so-called “Indigenous normative systems” and others that are emerging in various states, has yet to be realized. Many Indigenous communities have maintained their forms of community organization rooted in resistance against the pressures from the State. This almost always includes a collective and rotating form of governance, as well as the administration and collective ownership of land. In these communities, family representatives make up the community assembly, the most important body of power in the community. In assembly meetings, key decisions are made for the community, such as the election of government representatives, approval of the use of the community budget, the performance of community works, and the appointment of authorities. The positions are considered service and have a relatively short duration, generally between one to three years. Although several communities in Mexico have managed to maintain this collective form of governance, many times they live in the shadows; at the local level they maintain their collective forms of governance, but they must also participate
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in the political party system, which implies accepting the installation of polling stations and political propaganda in their communities and voting in municipal, state, and federal elections. Participating in a political party system has kept communities in constant political and social crisis due to power disputes between those parties. In many cases, chiefdoms and political monopolies have been established in the communities. According to activist Yasnaya Aguilar (Ayuujk), “modern States have generally shown great resistance to recognizing the autonomy and the right to self-determination of Indigenous Peoples. The Mexican State in particular has preferred to confine the Indigenous Nations in cultural categories and not in political categories. Despite the fact that the Mexican Constitution grants them autonomy, it was only in 1995 that the local legislature—only in the state of Oaxaca—recognized these practices [of governance].” This constitutional achievement was partially the result of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a movement made up of Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Zoque, and Ch’ol Mayan Peoples. This movement was a watershed in the right to self-organization and the struggle for selfdetermination of Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. In 1994, in an exercise of autonomy, the organization of 29 communities decided to remain independent from the State rather than become a recognized political entity. In other more recent cases, there have been multiple threats to Indigenous communities, such as concessions granted on their territories for extractive megaprojects without due consultation. Supported by the dominant democratic system and in clear violation of Indigenous Peoples’ right to selfAll photos courtesy Zapatista radios.
determination, several communities have been moved to analyze their political organization and have decided to decolonize their forms of governance, thus moving from a system of political parties to a collective form of power and governance. In the south of Mexico in 2015, the Tzeltal Peoples from the municipalities of Chilón and Sitalá in Chiapas began their process of autonomy with the main objective of building what they call lekil cuxlejal (community harmony), which includes working with the land, conflict resolution, and community communication, in addition to the appointment of positions. However, the transition to Indigenous self-government has been difficult. In 2018, the communities reported intimidation, harassment, threats, and attacks against their members and the communities that form their social base. In 2020, two colleagues were arrested and imprisoned, “but with our ways of governance we managed to get them out, although they are still undergoing a [legal] process,” one of the councilors told Avispa Midia magazine. Despite the fact that in 2019 the legal process began in the Institute of Elections and Citizen Participation for the transition to an internal regulatory system, no IEPC officials have been able to go to Indigenous territory, Pascuala Vázquez, the community government spokesperson, says, noting that COVID-19 has been used as a pretext: the pandemic did not stop the electoral campaigns, but has completely halted the legal process. Still, the communities persevered, and in May 2021 the assembly of the communities met to elect the Councilors of the Community Government in a full exercise of their autonomy. Decolonization of the power structure is happening elsewhere in Mexico. The State of Guerrero has been plagued by constant violence for decades. As Pablo Ferri states in his article in El Pais, “many residents easily remember the El Charco massacre, an army counterinsurgency operation that killed 11 people in 1998; or the rape and torture committed by the military against a neighbor, Inés Fernández, in 2002; or the harassment by the state government against the first self defense groups in 2013 and 2014, which led some of their members to jail for years.” In 2018, thousands of Na savi, Me’phaa, mestizos, and Afro-Mexicans decided in assembly to exercise their right to autonomy and reject the political party system by establishing an Indigenous Electoral Normative System. Of the 265 people elected to represent their communities, half were women and half men. The effort to get the communities to agree to change the way they had been governed took months, even years. “This exercise of Indigenous democracy was legitimately pushed by people who welcome the search and development of forms of government that call for inclusion,” journalist Sergio Ferrer wrote in La Jornada Guerrero. In 2011 in the State of Michoacán, the P’urhépecha women of the Cherán K’eri municipality called on the population to defend their territory, closed access to the community, and established permanent camps where they gathered to exercise their political autonomy. In a collective and organized way, they established an autonomous government endorsed by the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judicial Branch, with which they managed to expel organized crime that had been illegally exploiting their forests for several years and creating a climate of insecurity and violence in the area.
Cherán’s 10-year path of resistance has been complex, but it has served as an example for other communities in the same region and in other parts of the country. In 2021, several communities decided to go further and not participate in the political system at higher levels, successfully resisting the installation of 92 polling places from the previous election for local deputies and state governor. This was done by 23 P’urhépecha communities, plus 10 Mazahua and Otomi communities from the eastern region of Michoacán. Other communities have taken steps toward collective autonomy within the same framework of the political party system. Ahuehuetitla is one of the most impoverished municipalities in the Mixteca region in Puebla and has a rate of high migration. In the last elections, some 372 voters from more than 2,000 citizens decided not to choose any of the seven candidate options offered by the political parties. Instead, they elected Adán Seth Calixto Guerra, who won by majority even after 70 votes were annulled. Calixto Guerra did not register as a candidate for any political party or as an independent candidate, which means that he did not have a budget allocated for an electoral campaign. Now he faces a legal battle to recognize his victory. All political autonomies, whether historically recognized (as in the State of Oaxaca), newly recognized (such as Cherán and Ayutla de los Libres), or those who have chosen to forego the recognition of the State altogether (like the Zapatista Autonomous Communities), have faced attacks by the State in their fight for and respect of self-determination. In their perseverance, they are paving the way for other communities, who, with slow but sure steps, are reclaiming collective forms of government as a way to defend their Indigenous territories and lifeways.
“You are in Zapatista territory in rebellion, here the people rule and the government obeys.” Sign on a road in the Altos de Chiapas area. Photo by gaelx.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2021 • 25
KOEF gra n t p a rtn e r sp otl i ght
We Will Never Trade What is Sacred Pariri Indigenous Association
Water is life for Munduruku Peoples.
Sarah Hume (C S In te rn )
he sound of motors moves through the trees. Eleven heavy machines—all without license plates—cut down part of the Daje Kapap Eipi territory. This is the land of the Munduruku Peoples. They have occupied this land for more than three centuries, establishing a relationship of reciprocity with the forest. Now, illegal loggers stack chestnut trees onto trucks. Munduruku leaders, working with the Pariri Indigenous Association, have walked over 100 kilometers in the Daje Kapap Eipi territory (also known as the Sawre Muybu Indigenous land) in Pará, Brazil. The territory is located in the southwest of Pará and is 440,280 acres in total. The Tapajós River to the west and the Jamanxim River to the east flow through the land. The territory also holds sacred sites, including where mankind is said to have been created in Munduruku tradition. The Pariri Association was founded in 1988 to protect Munduruku rights. Created by Munduruku village chiefs, as well as guerreros and guerreras (warriors), the organization represents the Middle Rio Tapajós region. Their mission is to articulate the struggle for Indigenous rights and improve the
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quality of life in villages. To do this, the Pariri Association facilitates meetings for communities to reaffirm Munduruku values and discuss threats to their wellbeing. They also have developed sustainability projects and native language teaching programs in urban villages near the city of Itaituba for the past 15 years. In 2014, the Pariri Association embarked on a new project to protect the Daje Kapap Eipi territory that was in danger from illegal loggers and miners. A number of hydroelectric projects and dams were, and continue to be, slated for the Daje Kapap Eipi territory as well. One project would dam the Tapajós River and its tributaries, flooding about seven percent of the territory, including the Itaituba II National Forest and the Boa Fé village. Munduruku leaders met with the federal government and petitioned the National Indian Organization of Brazil to recognize and protect the ancestral lands of the Daje Kapap Eipi territory. When this did not happen, Munduruku protectors decided to do it themselves. Their project, called self-demarcation, establishes the borders of the territory and maps the land of the Munduruku Peoples. This allows for the land to be acknowledged as Munduruku land. By leading expeditions through the area, the Pariri Association strengthens surveillance and monitors intruders. So far, the Pariri Association has found several groups of illegal miners and loggers. These 11 heavy machines are just one horde of many. “We were armed with our chants, our painting, our arrows, and the wisdom of our ancestors,” reads a statement from the Pariri Indigenous Association. The Association gives nonlicensed intruders three days to leave. When the expeditioners found these 11 heavy machines and trucks full of logs, they acted. With such pressure from Munduruku protectors, the illegal loggers spent the whole night removing their equipment. Similar work, with successful results, has been done across the territory. Protectors also clean the land during expeditions. They open new roads and villages, such as Karoebak, located on the Jamanxim River. This village plays an important role in Munduruku stories about the creation of the fields on the black earth. The management process is autonomous. All expeditions respect Munduruku norms, established from ancestors and recorded in stories. Shamans always accompany actions, asking for protection and advice in decision making. They request permission to enter the forests and open the roads. Protectors never forget to clean the peaks of the Sawre Muybu boundary. They ensure the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the land.
All photos courtesy of Pariri Indigenous Association Facebook page.
The call for ancestral territory recognition and sovereignty is nothing new to many Indigenous communities. Across the world, Indigenous communities historically and currently defend their land. The self-demarcation process is important because it demonstrates that the Daje Kapap Eipi territory is protected. It further acknowledges that Munduruku leaders have the right to monitor the area and remove illegal loggers and miners who exploit their resources. The land is essential to the wellbeing of Munduruku communities, and the project recognizes the long history of the Munduruku Peoples in the area. On expeditions, the Pariri Association passes through sacred places, archaeological sites, and important symbols inscribed in physical features. The project protects holy sites like Daja Kapap as well, after which the territory was named. Because of their work, the Munduruku struggle against the Brazilian government has become more visible in the media. The mainstream press is publishing articles and videos about the Munduruku protection of the land. Currently, the Pariri Association is in their fifth stage of self-demarcation. They have published open letters and statements online calling for recognition and making the lack of federal support for Munduruku communities globally known. Publications stress that this is a movement for all: not only does it protect human and Indigenous rights, but it protects the Brazilian Amazon as well. In a time of climate chaos, this is more necessary than ever. In schools, leaders teach stories of the wise and old, while students learn how to use technologies such as GPS and cameras. Young people are understanding how to care for the Daje Kapap Eipi territory in days to come. The strength of the Munduruku Peoples has never faded, and future generations continue protecting the land. “That’s how our resistance has always been,” says the Pariri Association in an online statement. “As our ancestors always won battles and were never hit by enemy arrows, we also continued to clear our peaks, inspect, form watch groups, and open new villages.”
Not only does the Pariri Association protect the Daje Kapap Eipi territory, but their work strengthens a sense of belonging for all Indigenous Peoples who fight for the Amazon. Participants are Munduruku people from various villages and Indigenous people of other ethnic groups such as the Tupinambá. Many Munduruku participants had a chance to travel to the Daje Kapap Eipi territory for the first time in their lives. They come to know important parts of their traditional and sacred land. “Every time we do this activity we invite relatives to come and help us as well. This joint work, this union of ours, is very important,” says Sawre Muybu Village Chief, Juarez Saw Munduruku. The projects of the Pariri Association continue to be essential for decolonization efforts in Brazil and worldwide. As their process of self-demarcation continues, Cultural Survival is honored to contribute to the efforts of the Pariri Association through the Keepers of the Earth Fund. Cultural Survival supports the organization in its mission to protect the Daje Kapap Eipi territory through its surveillance, selfdemarcation, and opening of new villages. We are honored to support them and we thank them for their work, which is a leading example for all Indigenous Peoples in the world facing similar situations. Keepers of the Earth Fund (KOEF) is an Indigenous Led Fund within Cultural Survival designed to support Indigenous Peoples’ community development and advocacy projects. Since 2017, through small grants and technical assistance, KOEF has supported 175 projects in 35 countries totaling $763,172. KOEF provides, on average, $5,000 grants to grassroots Indigenousled communities, organizations, and traditional governments to support their self-determined development projects based on their Indigenous values. Predicated on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Survival uses a rights-based approach in our grantmaking strategies to support grassroots Indigenous solutions through the equitable distribution of resources to Indigenous communities.
Gathering of Mundurku women in Patauazal village to discuss the threats and discrimination posed by dam, waterway, railway, port, mining, and logging projects on Munduruku lands.
CulturalCultural SurvivalSurvival Quarterly Quarterly September June 2021 • 27
st af f s po t lig h t
The Rich Artistic World of Cat Monzón Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’, CS Staff)
rtist, merchant, adventurer: that’s how Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’) defines herself. Since 2019, she has been part of the Cultural Survival team as an Executive Assistant. Monzón has dabbled in photography, film, music, and also in entrepreneurship. Recently, she began to explore the performing arts of acting, and dance. She appreciates the forms of expression that allow one to make emotions, visions, and ideas known. Monzón was born in a community in Totonicapán, Guatemala, where women still wear traditional clothing but most do not speak their ancestral language and now practice Christian religious beliefs. She recalls that her mother was forbidden to teach her the K’iche’ language, although she has memories of it being spoken to her in her early childhood. Growing up, she studied at an international school in Guatemala because her parents wanted to give her the best education possible. “Over the years, I realized that this establishment was highly racist, classist, and violent, with the kind of silent psychological violence that some American missionaries contrive,” she says. Monzón now lives in the Atitlán basin in the department of Sololá, where climate, fauna, and culture come together in an impressive way, but where there is also a lot of poverty and violence against the Maya population. There is dispossession, neocolonialism, and gentrification; there is resistance, corruption, and assimilation. Monzón explains, “The violence with which they indoctrinated grandmothers and grandfathers is one of the reasons why Maya people live in a Western way and practice Christian religions.” Monzón’s Indigenous pride led her to join Cultural Survival, motivated by
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working for Indigenous Peoples around the world alongside a majority Indigenous team. “My work gives me great satisfaction. Although there are tools and organizations that Cultural Survival works with and that are Western or white (such as the United Nations or the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), it is necessary to know them and use them to defend peoples and communities.” However, she says, “I think that these tools do not validate or give life to the rights and forms of governance of Indigenous Peoples; they only name and endorse them, since Indigenous Peoples will always have self-determination and autonomy of their lives and territories.” One of Monzón’s concerns about the future of Indigenous Peoples is the role that technology is playing in their territories. “Technological advances are causing misery, poverty, and dispossession for those who do not have access, so they cannot benefit from it. Likewise, there is a disconnect between urban Indigenous people and those who live in rural areas. We need to be more united and get to know each other. I recognize that I need to take more steps, since I only partly speak my mother tongue and intersperse my Mayan clothing with Western clothing or other cultures of the world.” Despite the recognition of this westernization, Monzón has always been clear that she is Indigenous Maya. “Unlike other mestizo people, I [do not] consider myself to have cultural identity problems, because my parents always valued our culture and origins. I want to pass on that sense of identity to future generations. I also want to inherit the value of sharing and being in solidarity with the community, knowing that the Maya people have each other as a great family,” she says. As a musical artist, Monzón’s inspiration comes from many sources. “My music is sometimes inspired by emotional states.
I write when I feel grateful or angry. My music addresses both philosophical and mystical issues as well as more political issues,” she says, naming her influences as Guatemalan rap and hip hop artists such as the Bacteria Soundsystem Crew, Las Musas, Gabriela Bolten, and Rebeca Lane. She is also influenced by Cuban rap artists such as Danay Suarez, Los Aldeanos, Randy Acosta, and Los Orishas, as well as rappers from Spain, such as Violadores del Verso, Rapsusklei, and Morodo. Outside the world of music, Monzón’s mother has been one of her greatest inspirations and is her ideal example of an independent woman: very strong and deeply rooted and proud of her Maya identity. Likewise, Thelma Cabrera, an Indigenous campesino woman who ran for president of Guatemala in 2019, inspired her to write a song, “Piel de Reina,” about the struggle of many Indigenous women leaders and women in her family. Monzón collaborated with Gabriela Bolten, a musician who belongs to a younger generation of rappers in Guatemala. Although she has not performed live recently due to the pandemic, Monzón considers herself an introspective digital artist. “I like to write and make music and rather enjoy uploading my music to Soundcloud so that people can listen to it online and broadcast it. It is important to me to wear my Mayan clothing when I rap, so that Indigenous Peoples see that there are Maya women who do things and we can break stereotypes. I want to continue to rap, and in the future would like to record an album, continue taking photographs, and practice dance, circus, theater and all those disciplines that involve the body and its movement.” Listen to some Cat Monzón’s music at: www.soundcloud.com/yosoyosoy.
Photo by Teresa Jimenez.
B az aar art i st s p ot l igh t
Hard Work Made Easy
Reinel Mendoza Montalvo & Ana Mariana Flores Mendoza Zenú vueltiao hats woven made of arrow cane were used in Disney’s latest animated feature film, “Encanto.”
Danae Laura (CS Staff)
ver 20 years ago, Magno Caterino Mahecha Lopez (Panche) partnered with the community of Zenú artists in Colombia, including Reinel Mendoza Montalvo (Zenú) and Ana Mariana Flores Mendoza (Zenú), to transform their stunning caña flecha (arrow cane) weavings from one-dimensional objects of beauty into three-dimensional accessories such as hats, bags, and jewelry. Of the collaboration, Lopez says, “my main job is not to sell handicrafts, it is to make the communities visible. The recognition of their existence is the basis of future respect for their life and ancestral knowledge.” The Finatur Design cooperative now features 200 caña flecha artists. Prior to collaborating as a cooperative, Montalvo remembers starting to make art with his parents at 10 years old and learning so much from them. By age 10, Mendoza, on the other hand, considered herself already well-versed, having been making many things by hand from a very young age. For Montalvo, hats were his family’s mainstay, but in the 1970s and 80s they were focused on being the forerunner in making new products only for men. He found that when they started to design items for women as well, their business really expanded both nationally and internationally. This was all before they were part of the cooperative, which is to say that there is a great deal of history and decades of skill in the hands of the artists contributing to Finatur Designs. Lopez describes how the artists work with caña flecha: “From the long leaves of the arrow cane, the fiber that contains the central vein of the leaf is extracted by hand. This fiber is washed with other plants and dried and divided into strips. These strips can be stained and colored with many local plants, for example, leaves, roots, mud and clays, seeds, and powdered minerals, using chemicals for the brightest colors. After being dyed, the fibers are woven in pairs. The highest quality [has the highest number of strands].” For Montalvo, these materials are familiar; he has been working with them daily for decades. “I feel very happy [and] so proud making so many beautiful things that represent us in the Zenú Indigenous community, the department of Colombia, and on an international level,” he says. “It is such a source of pride to be worthy of this beautiful culture.” Mendoza shares similar All photos courtesy of finatur design.
sentiments: “Working with the wild cane material in my hands is something that motivates [me], because it’s an inspiration for which I work every day. Also, I feel full of happiness and satisfaction.” Mendoza says she finds the weaving process easy because the material is close by, and she’s been doing it since she was so young that it feels like second nature. She is thankful to previous generations for showing her how to weave when she was so young, and feels that inheriting the skill at such a young age is very helpful and ensures the style is not forgotten. Although the process is difficult, like Mendoza, Montalvo finds it easy due to repetitive practice and all of the natural materials (cane fiber, roots, and leaves) being available on the land where their community lives. While the hardship of weaving and processing natural materials lessens with practice, daily life remains a challenge for the Zenú community. Montalvo and Mendoza name poverty, violence, drugs, and lack of access to education and sports, as well as the displacement of youth due to a lack of job opportunities as primary obstacles. Lopez, Mendoza, Montalvo, and the other artists bring the beauty and challenges of the Zenú community to the global stage through their stunning woven accessories. As Finatur Design, they make the Zenú community visible, and in doing so, to celebrate their culture and reduce hardship. All in-person Cultural Survival Bazaars in 2021 are postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support and buy directly from our Bazaar artists, visit our directory of artists at bazaar.cs.org.
Cultural September 2021 2021 •• 29 29 Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly September
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